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.