I am on Nantucket this week, very happy to have a week off of work. Being happy at work does not mean being happy to work all of the time.
This week, Nantucket is like a beautifully wrapped present with my name on it. The weather has been glorious: blue skies, light breezes and temperatures in the sixties. I’ve been to the beach every day.
I have had to learn how to “not work” on my days off. Before my sabbatical, I would often take days off and find myself working remotely instead of not working at all. I’m sure you all have had the same experience—just checking e-mails quickly, hopping on a brief call—whatever it is you think you can squeeze in and still be able to call the day a day off. The problem for me is that whatever I did was not really quick; it always took more time than I had expected. And often, the topic would ricochet in my brain like a ball in a pinball machine. It was hard to relax when this was the background noise.
So what do I do differently now? If I only take one day off, I shut off my BlackBerry for the entire day. I have colleagues who can look after whatever is urgent and most things can wait a day or two. If something has a strict deadline, then the same colleagues can reach me on my personal BlackBerry. I only give this number to a very select few folks. With my current responsibilities, it’s difficult for me to be completely unreachable so I compromise and limit the folks who can reach me. This works really well.
What happens when I take a week or two off of work?
It’s been years since I’ve had a job that I could completely shut off for a week. I accept that I will need to check in periodically and keep the urgent stuff moving. I do this by e-mail. Here’s what a week off looks like: I check e-mails Tuesday morning, Wednesday evening and Friday morning for anything that can only be done by me. Everything else waits. It’s tempting—I see an e-mail that I could forward to someone quickly and get it out of my Inbox—and as soon as I do this, there are 20 more just like it. Remember, e-mails breed like rabbits! If I am disciplined and stick to this process I never work more than three hours on a week off. There’s only been one time when it took longer than I had planned. There’s another advantage of this system: it also quiets my inner dialogue that insidiously suggests—“do work, check e-mail, do work, check e-mail”—stopping the pinball in my head before it starts bouncing around.
As I write this, my system sounds easy. I found it really hard to learn. The best way I can reinforce this habit is for me to be somewhere I love on my days off—such as Nantucket—or to be with people I love, doing something fun. This is my “carrot” for good behavior because I find working on a day off is always a “stick!”