Archive for the ‘Work-Life Balance’ Category

ClockWhat do you do to wind down? Maybe at the end of a long day or a long week or even a long project, you have something that helps you put that chapter behind, rest up and recharge for what comes next. So what helps you wind down when you need to do so?

Today, what helped me was to basically ignore my to-do list for most of the day. I’ve grown to somewhat resent my unending to-do list that sits on one shoulder and whispers in my ear constantly including evenings and weekends. So today I spent the majority of the day doing things I hadn’t planned that served as a good diversion and helped me feel like I was in control of my day rather than a list of tasks controlling me.

I did the following out-of-the-ordinary (for me) activities:

  • Browsed a Best Buy store looking over tablets in anticipation of getting one in the next few months;
  • Roamed a mall and serendipitously happened to be there at the same time as my son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter, so we ate lunch together (she gave me a tiny sliver of french fry which she dipped in ketchup and fed me, had me carry her through the mall, and gave me a nice hug before we parted – the day could have ended there and been just fine);
  • Did some online research about the tablets that interested me in the store to learn more and to help refine my possible choices;
  • Took a long afternoon nap with my dog in my man cave with lights out and the sounds of silence;
  • Took a longer than normal walk with my dog at a nearby park that was blissfully empty of many other people for a change;
  • Watched a little football;
  • Ate two good, healthy meals (one a day is normal for me).

I still did a few usual things like making my online social media rounds, email checks, a few minutes of work, playing Frisbee with the dog, making sure I got at least 10,000 steps in (actually more than 14,000 today) and duplicating some CDs to give away at church. But what I didn’t do was anything at all on my to-do list except for making the CDs which only took about 30 minutes.

This was a long, tiring week for me at work. It was more frustrating than usual in one aspect. I needed to wind down. Tomorrow may be another day of largely ignoring the to-do list.

As I look forward to setting goals for 2014, some different priorities will influence how I plan my days next year compared to what has driven me this year. I’ll write more about that at the end of the year, but I look forward to taking winding down to a new level for me not too many weeks from now. I’m excited about it.

So I’ll ask the question again: What do you do to wind down at the end of a day, a week, a project, assignment, or even a career?


some recent fun time with my granddaughter Abby

My work colleagues and family are very accustomed to me giving too much time to work during my supposed vacations.  If, for example, I take a week “off” from work, I usually end up working 2-3 of those days anyway.  It’s usually by choice that I do so because I love what I do.  Therefore, I gravitate to it in my time off because it’s enjoyable.  But with normal work weeks being 50-55 hours and normal vacation weeks only being half vacation, I thought it was way overdue that I force myself to take some time off, not succumbing to the temptation to check voice mail or email or the internal social network I manage.

With this as my last day of vacation, I am glad to report that I did, indeed, avoid opening my work email for the past eight days.  I have not once checked voice mail or my internal social network messages.  I disabled the software that notifies me of voice mail messages.  I muted the sound on my work laptop so the work-related Twitter notifications would not be heard.  (I still use my work laptop at home because it’s faster and larger than my netbook PC at home, so that’s why the disabling had to be done.)

I did end up working a total of about one hour over the past eight days, but that was to go purchase some items I need when I return tomorrow and to check up once on ongoing technical issues related to the internal social network.  I needed to know what I would be facing when I returned Monday and whether the issue had been resolved in order to know what I might need to do quickly my first day back.

Given my past history, I count working only one hour over the past eight days as a roaring success!  So much so, in fact, that I think I’ll schedule another one in September and perhaps monthly until I’ve used up a lot of my accumulated days off.

What did I do instead of work this week?  I stayed home, mostly.  I read a lot in support of some of my personal goals for the year where I had been lagging seriously behind.  My wife and I took our granddaughter to the zoo one day.  I went to the state fair with my parents.  I took my dog for far more walks than usual and threw the Frisbee with her more times than I can count.  I got a few other errands done that had been hanging over my head for a while.  I wrote more blog posts than in a normal week.  I made sure I got in many more steps on my pedometer than usual, averaging close to 30,000/day for the week.  I took more naps.  I slept when I wanted and got up when I wanted.

“Staycations” at home may well be my favorite vacations of all.  I set the agenda and the time frame and go about my days as I see fit.

I did not disconnect electronically during the week, however, nor did I intend to.  I checked Facebook as I usually do for personal content.  I checked Twitter and posted to it, although I only checked it rarely since most incoming posts are work related.  Whereas I might normally spend two hours an evening on Twitter catching up for the day, this week I scanned it during commercials of a single 30- or 60-minute TV show and let most of it slide on by unread.  I still checked on my blog’s activity, promoted my recent blog posts across multiple social networks, and kept up with personal email.  Technology and vacations can go together just fine as long as the use is personal and not work related.

“So what?” you may ask.  Why make a fuss over doing something that most of the world has no problem doing when they go on vacation?  For me, it’s a pretty big deal because it represents a milestone in my ten-year history at my current company.  I honestly don’t think I’ve disconnected from work that completely for a solid week in the past ten years – not during traveling vacations with my wife, not even during an eight-day trip to China last year.  So this shows me that it is possible and that the world won’t end if I do so.  I have no idea how many emails, social network messages and voice mail messages will be waiting for me tomorrow, but I’ll deal with it and gradually dig out from under them over the next week or two.

Even for those who love their work, it is refreshing and helpful to walk away from it from time to time.  There is value is refusing to let yourself get sucked in to emails or issues that easily and quickly consume more time than you intended to give.  There is a sense in which I can go back with fresh eyes and enthusiasm and dive back in, ready to tackle what lies ahead.

Now that I’ve done it once, I’m looking forward to doing it again.  Soon.

Vacation Day 1In yesterday’s post, I bemoaned how difficult it is for me to avoid working on days I’m supposed to be on vacation.  I thought I’d reflect on this first day of vacation and tell you how I did…

I didn’t avoid work completely, putting in about two hours total over various sessions from a few minutes to maybe 30 minutes in length.  That isn’t too bad, but it’s still more than I hoped to do.  Part of the issue was the need to redo an expense report that I didn’t complete correctly last week due to new procedures in place I hadn’t used before.  When the report was rejected today, I figured I needed to do it over and resubmit since I was at the time limit for submitting it.  I also spent a few minutes here and there deleting emails or dealing with very quick ones I could knock off.  A few other random matters took a little time, but not too much.

The pressure came when every instinct in me wanted to grab my work laptop and dive in to something that would suck me into some black hole of more time that I should spend working today.  I successfully avoided that temptation, I’m glad to say.  In fact, I started the day with a task list of a number of things to do, none of which were work-related, and I returned to that throughout the day to guide how I spent my time.  The second item on the list was spending five hours reading, so that fortunately took a major chunk of the day.  I’m still working on the list and may not complete it, but I put a serious dent in it.  I’ll add the undone items to tomorrow’s already long list.

Tomorrow won’t be much different since it is the one day this week I actually must go to work for a meeting, but I have a host of other things that must also get accomplished, so I’ll try to keep the work hours to 2-3 for the day.  That isn’t ideal, but there’s no way around it tomorrow.

Overall, I did better today than I normally have in the past, but I still have a way to go to be able to walk away from work on my days off as I should.

Make A LifeExcept for one meeting which I must attend in two days, I have scheduled time off from work for the week.  Part of the reason is that I’m officiating at an out-of-town wedding next weekend and I want plenty of time to edit and rehearse what I’ll be saying at the ceremony before I travel to the destination Friday.  The other reason is that I’m almost at the maximum vacation days that my company allows us to build up before we stop accruing more.  I can’t let that happen.

My problem is that I haven’t successfully walked completely away from a week of work in a very long time.  My pattern is that if, for example, I plan five days off, I end up putting in the equivalent of 2-3 full work days during the five.  Or if I schedule two days off, I end up working two half-days during that time.

I know that I need to be able to walk away from work, but it’s really hard for me.  I’m not bragging about some exemplary work ethic.  I’m honestly asking for advice on how to get better at waking away for longer periods of time.

Here are some of the factoids that relate to this issue for me:

  • I really love what I do, so it’s actually fun and fulfilling for me to spend time doing it.
  • Since I’m the only one at work who does what I do on a daily basis, it is hard for me to step away knowing that not all that I normally do will be done in my absence, even though my colleagues who back me up will take care of the bigger, more pressing matters.
  • I don’t like coming back to hundreds of emails that accumulate during a long absence, so I opt for less stress upon my return by handling some of those emails on days I’m supposed to be off.
  • My work to-do list is always long, so it seems less stressful to take the time to knock things off the list during days I’m supposed to be on vacation rather than allow the to-do list to get longer and longer while away.

What do you think?  Do you share my dilemma or does it sound totally foreign and weird to you?  What advice do you have for me?

For the next seven days I have the chance to work less on a vacation than I have in years.  How do I resist the temptation to work instead?

Say Yes To Saying NoThis weekend is the annual big event at my church where we have our Christmas program repeated multiple times from Friday evening through Saturday afternoon.  While four performances is significant, it is nowhere near the time commitment of some previous years when under different leadership and with a different focus we had as many as 20+ performances spread over a couple of weeks.  That previous pace was killer for those involved and came not-so-affectionately to be known as “The Tree That Ate Christmas.”  The current schedule is still demanding for those involved, but doesn’t leave one completely exhausted, so kudos to the current music leadership for changes in the right direction.

While I have only been among the choir or on-stage participants for this event a few years over the last 25+, all of the other years I have served in some capacity, usually on the tech crew where I operated a spotlight or TV camera.  I think my favorite place of service has been on a spotlight because it gives me the chance to climb up to the top of scaffolding near the rafters of this giant, gorgeous old sanctuary and get a bird’s eye view of it all.

This year, however, I said no when asked to help out.  That felt odd because I haven’t said that for this event in over a quarter of a century.  The reasons for my answer are not the purpose of this post, so I’ll pass on explaining why.  The fact that I lived through saying no is the point.

Some always say yes to requests because they want to satisfy others, or they don’t want to disappoint anyone, or they feel obligated, or they fear what might happen if they say no, or they feel like they are only valuable as a person if they are constantly busy, or perhaps a myriad of other reasons.  It’s important, though, to know your limits and to know what is healthy and what is not, and to say no when it seems like the best thing to do, even if it is something you have said yes to many times before.

Leap year lesson #341 is Say “yes” to saying “no.”