I am a list-maker. Mainly, I love scratching things off the list. What a feeling! One I can only realize by making the list in the first place. And the act of scratching off? Think about the sound and what goes into making it. A beautiful, organized list on actual paper. Pen in hand poised above that to-do-just-done. Then pen meets paper and the sound of ink on ink on paper shouts, “You did it!” I love that.

I put my legal pads and pens away for well over a year and determined to get with the program syncing my to-do list with my calendar and contacts and emails, courtesy of Outlook. Fancy stuff, but the feeling was gone. I’m back to my old ways these days forcing my paper list into an otherwise largely technology-driven life.

Hundreds of emails pile into my inbox every day. It’s overwhelming. I know, I know. Your heart bleeds for me while you sort through your own hundreds of emails every day. Visiting with friends recently, various ones lamented email’s leg-irons and handcuffs.

“I can’t take more than a day or two off in a row, or I’ll never catch up again,” one said. “Even on vacation I check email, so it’s not so bad when I get back.”

“When I’m sick, I check email. I feel sicker at the thought of what’s piling up while I’m not at the office,” said another.

The conversation went on to include the heavy weight of keeping up with Facebook, LinkedIn, and other “vital” social channels as though to check out for even the shortest break could sever our tethers forever.

And yet a break is what every one of us really needs. This past Tuesday, U.S. Travel Association CEO Roger Dow was on CBS This Morning talking about “The Travel Effect,” a recent study by Oxford Economics that concluded that Americans lost 169 million days of paid time off in 2013. That’s right. We simply left some $52.4 billion in benefits surrendered, untouched, unused, never-to-be-reclaimed on the table. A nation of “work martyrs” Dow called us, unmatched anywhere else in the world. “America’s work martyrs aren’t more successful. We need to change our thinking. All work and no play is not going to get you ahead—it’s only going to get you more stress,” he said.

I think most of us are trying to hang on and not get behind more than we’re trying to get ahead. We’re not prideful about it. We just can’t figure out how to take a week without working two-in-one later to pay for it. And yet, millions around the world are somehow doing it.

A couple of weeks ago, a group of three travelers were in our lobby at the Chamber office loading up with information about seeing the North Texas Horse Country. They were from Belgium. “How did you hear about Denton?” I asked. “We heard of the beautiful horses and live music in Denton, Texas,” one replied. “We are visiting America for a month and Denton is a must-see.” The lady in the group held out her travel journal to me. It was a wonderfully old-fashioned spiral notebook with hand-written highlights and things they would see before heading back over the big ocean. Things were scratched off (such fun, she explained!) and the page she showed me had notes about Denton to-dos. What a joy it was to guide their experience in ways that would make Denton’s scratch off a treasured memory.

From Beligum to Denton. On purpose! I’m not sure I can even name a city in Belgium. Yet here they were, a stop on a month-long, work-free international adventure. How marvelous!

According to the Texas Office of the Governor Tourism Division, travel in the city of Denton during 2013 accounted for $179 million. People are moving around and taking vacations. Denton is definitely on the travel radar, but what about us?

Break the chains, folks. All the research shows we are more productive after time off, even emptying that worrisome email inbox on return, than when we grind on with gritted teeth working ourselves to early graves. So, be daring. Unplug, step off the grid and out of the grind, and make a list. Look around, see stuff, do things. If you don’t know where to start, make like the folks from Belgium and begin right here at home.

The main thing is, take your vacation. You've earned it.