I recently took a week of vacation time away from my job; despite the situation that the world is currently in (i.e. pandemic) and the fact that I couldn’t really go anywhere, it was an extremely relaxing and satisfying time off. It was somewhat labour intensive at times (I built a deck, stained and put together some chairs, built some shelving, etc.), but it was a mental break for me.
I learned a few things during this time too. I’m not sure it is so much self-reflection as much as things that I found I could alter in my day to day life to make things less stressful. I wanted to share these in the event that it could help others.
GOING INTO MY TIME OFF
Going into this, I was pretty high-strung and I was very much looking forward to the time off. I hadn’t actually taken any time off since October of last year. I had a few days off (e.g. statutory holidays), but nothing more than a 3 day weekend or so. Additionally, my workload has been far heavier during the pandemic, which has led to many late night / early morning customer engagements, as well as many weekends being on the phone. In short, I really needed to disconnect.
This might sound obvious, but setting expectations with co-workers/peers is a vital first step. If you need to arrange coverage, make sure you let folks know who to reach out to, and how. I also like to start “socializing” the time off about a month out. A simple, but very effective way that I have found that works is to add a message to your email signature, and highlight it. This serves as a way to easily ensure that those who you work with regularly get the message (the highlighting really draws attention to it). That isn’t to say that you still shouldn’t verbally tell them, but it at least gets the message out there.
Additionally, I would suggest going through your calendar and clean it up. Make sure you aren’t hosting any meetings, and if you are, cancel those. Additionally, I like to do three other things here:
- Literally, clean out the calendar – remove any non-personal events for the duration of your time away. I try to avoid seeing anything that would “suck me back” into work mode early. If I don’t clear these things out, I get prompts/reminders on things like my Apple Watch or phone;
- Create a multi-day calendar invite for your OOO time. This blocks off your calendar so if someone is trying to book something based on your availability, they can quickly see you are not around;
- Create an invite for the duration of your time off, set the “Show As” selection to “Free” and send it to your team. This achieves two things (yes, I am doing a bullet list in a bullet list):
- Reminds your team, via their calendar, that you are out;
- Using “Free” instead of “Busy” prevents the invite from affecting their own personal free/busy schedules.
TURN OFF NOTIFICATIONS
Most of us tend to carry our phones around almost 24/7. One thing that became apparent to me was how many notifications I received: emails, Whatsapp, Signal, text messages, calendar invites, etc. First and foremost, I always disable email notifications when going into vacation mode. I don’t remove the account from my phone, but not receiving notifications really allows me to not think about checking it.
As mentioned above, I do try to clear my calendar to avoid any other reminders that may pop up. You’ll want to take a look at what other apps/notifications you have as well. Do you need to do something similar for Slack? Do some programs send you text notifications if you’ve been DM’d? Turn those off.
Additionally, I found that I went into my Apple Watch settings and severely trimmed down the number of notifications. Although email notifications were off, my watch would give me a haptic “bump” for new calendar invites – I get a ton of those. In that case, I made sure to turn off these notifications as well because I would still get alerted even if I didn’t check the email invite.
MAKE A LIST OF WHAT YOU WANT TO DO
This might sound counter-intuitive since you are trying to get away from work, but I found the opposite. I think the key is really making sure you don’t overcommit yourself. For example, I knew I wanted to build a deck out back (nothing crazy), and it was first on my list. The other two items on my list: go to the beach, and spend a lot of time in my hammock. I got the deck built the first weekend, and was able to complete the other two items with great success 🙂
My wife later apologized because she felt like we hadn’t really done anything with my time off; I thought she was crazy. I had a few things I wanted to do, and I loved not having anything else planned – that was how I really relaxed. Not everyone is the same, but it is nice to have something to show after time off (e.g. pictures from a trip, a new project finished, etc.). But it’s really important to make sure that you have that downtime as well.
I don’t know if it was how ragged I was running, but at the end of the day, I feel like this one week away from the office was the biggest disconnect I’ve had in a long time. I very rarely used my computer (once to record a podcast, and once to present at the Minneapolis VMUG). The only time I actually checked email was at about 21:30 on the Sunday before I went back to work – I wanted to ease back into the process. Aside from that, within a day or two, I was having trouble telling what day of the week it was – which was fantastic!
At the end of the day, we all need downtime, and we aren’t always good at recognizing when we do. A lot of us also have a sense of duty when it comes to being available while out of the office. Some organizations are better than others at handling this. What I’ve found is that putting some key prep work, as well as setting some goals (whether large or small), can immensely improve the mental, and physical effects of some time to disconnect.
P.S. Want to know a secret? I have yet to re-enable a lot of those notifications on my Apple Watch …