When you're an analyst or associate in an investment bank, you need Christmas off. Not only is this a rare time of year when everyone else in the division takes time off (at least in Europe), but it's a rare time of year when clients take time off too (at least in Europe). And you need to rest at Christmas, because when you get back in January things will be crazy.
January is when corporate clients draw up their plans for the year: it's is when they want advice about all the deals they want to execute. If you work in markets, January is when you need to make your pitch to the hedge funds, sovereign wealth funds and asset managers who are your clients: their performance stats are reset and they're looking for a running start, which means the sellside needs to impress with new strategies and trade ideas. - Sure, these are readied before Christmas, but January is when you need to communicate them and to follow-up. January is when clients want customized solutions and face-time.
You need to rest and recuperate at Christmas to prepare for this rush. When you get back in January, you're going to be busy until at least mid-March.
So, how can you ensure your Christmas is as un-relaxing as possible? Simple: read the books you're supposed to read on vacation. I'm talking about the Bloomberg book list, J.P. Morgan's 'most rewarding reads', the Financial Times' best books of 2016 and the same from the Economist or the New York Times. Don't even go there. If you're supposed to do something, it defeats the purpose of leisure. Read whatever you want, fiction or non-fiction, low-brow or not. You do not have to read something just because it's recommended by some pretentious, pseudo-intellectuals at the New Yorker or The Atlantic. Equally, you don't have to read something if it's on some bland corporate list which pays homage to the deities of diversity and political correctness, has faint relevance to current affairs but says nothing of any substance. And if you do read one of these things? Make sure you're genuinely enjoying it, and that you're not just reading it because you're supposed to enjoy it.
Apply this to movies, vacation destinations etc. Remember: you don't HAVE TO go to Iceland because that's where everyone is going.
Maybe you're worried about being left out when you come back into the office? What happens if people find out you never read Hillbilly Elegy or The Euro and the Battle of Ideas? If you're worried about being left out during conversations when you're back in the office and still want to be involved, just watch the author's talk on YouTube (J.D Vance of Hillbilly Elegy gave a TED Talk here, Markus Brunnermeier of the Euro and the Battle of Ideas gave a talk here) or read an article summarizing the book (or better yet, read the original article which was eventually became the book). Nowadays, many a book started out as a TED talk, essay, or an academic paper, and only became a book when the author and a publisher decided expanding it into would yield more rewards.
While you're reading what you want to read and doing what you want to do, make sure to sleep well. Sleep and wake up at the same time on as many days as possible when you're on vacation. Stop using devices ~2-3 hours before bed to cut out the blue light which suppresses melatonin, the hormone that helps regulate sleep and the body's circadian rhythm. It's boring advice, but it's medically-sound, and it will do your body a world of good. This isn't possible when work starts. Help yourself while you can.
Jane Doel is the pseudonym of an associate at a major U.S. bank in London