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Please, President Trump, take a real vacation

Dear President Trump: It’s time you took a real vacation. You’re at a golf course; go out and play a round or two. We’ll forgive you. Have the grandkids over. Invite some friends for dinner. Sit down and read a book. Not much of a reader? Fine, watch a movie. This “working vacation” thing isn’t working — for you or anyone else.

Already, in only a week, you’ve threatened to attack North Korea with nuclear weapons, repeatedly. That knocked the financial markets off their all-time highs, and it didn’t make the rest of us feel safer either. You attacked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, your most important ally in Congress, as a slacker. You praised Russian President Vladimir Putin — sarcastically, your aides insisted — for expelling American diplomats from Russia.

If this is your idea of a vacation, we can do without it.

Yes, we know you mocked Barack Obama for the time he spent on golf courses and the vacations he took in Hawaii. We know you promised that you’d work so hard for your voters that you’d never take time off.

But we’ll let that go. It was a dumb promise when you made it.

Know who was the champion vacationer among modern American presidents? Ronald Reagan. He abandoned Washington joyfully every summer to ride horses and chop wood at his ranch outside Santa Barbara, sometimes for six weeks at a stretch. The media made fun of Reagan’s long California sojourns, but his presidency turned out pretty well in the end.

The key word may be “joyfully.” You may be the only president who ever managed to look resentful about taking your vacation — a pause you insist was required solely because the West Wing is getting a new heating system. (If that were true, you could have simply moved your office across the street, but never mind.)

“Working hard from New Jersey while White House goes through long planned renovation,” you tweeted defensively on your first day at the country club. “Going to New York next week for more meetings.”

Here’s what you get wrong that Reagan got right: Vacations are good for everyone, even presidents. Decades of academic studies have shown that workers are more productive when they get time off — real time off — for several weeks a year.

Henry Ford, not a slacker, was one of the first industrialists to realize that giving employees breaks could make them more effective. Ford noticed that assembly line workers were less productive after they had clocked 40 hours a week.

More recent studies have sought to explain a riddle: Employees in France and Germany take much more paid vacation each year than Americans, but they’re more productive during the hours they spend at work.

The cause, researchers have concluded, is that people who know they have vacation time available become more efficient when they’re on the job.

“It’s not that taking a break will refresh your brain and let you get more done,” Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman wrote in Harvard Business Review. “Spending less time at your desk forces you to waste less time.”

Reagan’s version was homier. “There’s nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse,” he often said.

It’s good for anyone, even a Type A mogul, to break out of the cycle of nonstop meetings now and then to carve out time for long-term thinking. Trump’s not doing that on his non-vacation. He’s holding plenty of meetings with aides, on opioids and Afghanistan as well as North Korea. He’s watching lots of cable news. On Wednesday morning, he retweeted five items from “Fox & Friends” between 6 and 6:30 a.m. After his meetings, with fewer staff around, he’s holding impromptu news conferences; he took more questions from White House reporters in two days last week than the entire month before. (That’s how he surprised his staff with that unscripted threat of “fire and fury” against Pyongyang.)

“When you put this guy in a cage and think you’re controlling him, things like this happen,” a Trump confidant told the Washington Post.

I was on a working vacation last week too, at a cabin on a lake in Canada. No “Fox & Friends”; no television at all, in fact. I did have access to the Internet — but I stayed off Twitter. That turned out to be a wise decision, especially last week.

Here’s what I got done: I swam across the lake with my daughter. I helped a 10-year-old take her first solo canoe ride. I repaired a sagging wooden dock.

No meetings, no conference calls. But I did read four books and watch two movies. I even managed to write a newspaper column.

I had the luxury of unplugging from the world, at least partly; a president can’t do that completely, even if he wants to. But Trump, and the rest of us, would be better off if he spent more time on the golf course.

So, Mr. President, take some time off, please.

doyle.mcmanus@latimes.com

Twitter: @DoyleMcManus

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