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What we can learn about relaxing from these super-busy CEOs

Joanne Chang, owner of Flour Bakery in Boston, works over 55 hours per week. The Boston Globe/Getty

Joanne Chang is a busy woman.

Chang opened Flour bakery and café in Boston’s South End in 2000, and its success led her to open Flour branches in Fort Point, Cambridge, and Back Bay. When she’s not overseeing her four booming cafes (they’ve been featured in The New York Times, Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, and Conde Nast Traveler), she writes pastry articles, publishes cookbooks, and teaches cooking classes. An avid runner, Chang has found time to compete in every Boston Marathon from 1991 to 2006.

Success often leads to long hours, and Chang is no exception. She told Boston.com she works between 50 and 55 hours per week, and might take one or two weeks off per year. Like other workaholics, finding relaxation takes some improvisation.

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“I bike from location to location, which forces me to focus and relax,’’ Chang said. Because of her minimal vacations, Chang has to find other ways to detach from work. “I try to exercise every day – either a walk or the gym or yoga – all of it helps me relax.’’

When she is on vacation, Chang focuses on savoring each moment. “I sleep and eat and walk really slowly with no destination in mind!’’ she said.

Chang is not alone in her quest to find moments of tranquility within unending work. The trend of working ridiculously long hours and taking minimal vacation time is growing in the U.S., especially among white-collar workers.

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Massachusetts’s leaders first jobs:

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According to a recent Glassdoor survey, only half of American workers are taking the full amount of their paid time off. Project: Time Off, a group supported by the travel industry, said in a survey it released this summer that American workers hit a record low for days off, at just 16 days a year. Fifteen years ago, Americans took about 20 days off per year.

A recent New York Times article pointed out that high performers often fear losing ground in the office if they take time off. Workaholics the Times interviewed turned to increasingly eccentric forms of relaxation – yoga, boxing, acupuncture, and something called cryotherapy, in which people spend time being blasted by air cooled to minus 260 degrees – just to unwind. But many also said that practicing meditation and mindfulness could have similar desired effects. It’s all about keeping your job in perspective.

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Peter Waszkiewicz, president and CEO of Randolph Engineering, a Massachusetts-based sunglasses manufacturing company, told Boston.com he works about 60 hours per week, but less in the summer to take advantage of New England’s brief reprieve from the cold.

His source of peace? Getting exercise and passing time outside.

“I love being outdoors in the open fresh air,’’ he said. “My wife and I spend our vacations at our second home [in New Jersey], enjoying many outdoor activities year round, followed by a relaxing read by the fire at night.’’

Day-to-day, Waszkiewicz said exercise is essential for him to stay healthy. “Learn to keep a stressful job in check by working out daily,’’ he said. “If physical activity is not your game, then pick up a hobby that you enjoy doing. Anything that gets your mind off work will help. The key to a healthy life is everything in moderation.’’

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As Chang said, “I always think (as morbid as it sounds) if I dropped dead right now would I be happy [with] the choices I’ve made [and] the decisions I’m making? I try to remember that in 100 years whatever I’m stressing about will make no difference at all.’’

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