"Are you still at work?"
That was usually how the conversation started. "I'm leaving right now" I'd say. This usually meant that I was THINKING about leaving and felt close enough to fudge the truth. Sound familiar? Maybe you don't have a spouse reminding you that you're always working, but if you're honest, your cat has a more fulfilling social life than you do.
I used to tell people that I don't vacation well. That is, I found it hard to break away from my work responsibilities long enough to actually enjoy my time away from it. For me, toggling between work and recreation was like wrestling a rusty lug from an old tire. At some point the effort hardly seems worth it. But, it IS worth it. Quality down time is not only helpful, it's essential!
The goal here is balance. There was a time when I would have proudly wore the term workaholic like a badge. The truth is, it's not a badge at all. It's more like a disease than you may want to believe. Hard work is only half of the equation. Our bodies and our minds need a Sabbath, a time when we are not working and expending energy. When rest and rejuvenation are excluded from our relentless work schedules we have settled for less than what is available. It's like you've bought the most elaborate cake at the bakery, the one with several flavors all stacked one on top of the other, covered in fondant roses, dripping with expensive chocolate, yet you're only eating the crumbs that are stuck to the tray. The only thing worse than settling for the crumbs is experiencing the physical and emotional corrosion caused by continuously running your engine at full tilt. Something will eventually give. It doesn't have to be this way.
Here are some things that help me disconnect and take my down time seriously:
- Plan for it: That's right. I put it on my calendar just like I would with any other work appointment. That's the easy part. The difficulty is taking it seriously when it comes due. Don't blow it off! Give it the same attention and treat it with the same priority you would your best customer.
- Find a hobby: Not unlike the way your car needs to refuel after a long trip, at work we use valuable physical and emotional energy that needs to be replenished. Consider a hobby as the fuel that gives you energy. What is it that you enjoy? Try a few things on for size until you find something you like. Whatever it is, it should separate you from your routine and give you the opportunity to escape.
- Live in the moment: This is a toughie. Living in the moment means intentionally shutting out those commitments not in the moment you're having. For example, if you take your spouse out for a romantic evening, leave the phone in the car! Take my word on this one. Mrs. Experience wields a discipline that is much more painful when teaching this subject. Decide you're going to enjoy each moment for what it is and not reach out to the next or the moments that are already passed. Choose to be in that moment with the same veracity that you approach your professional commitments.
- Be aware of your mortality: Duh! Well, maybe you have this one down and can simply skip down the list. As for me, if I pretend each moment will always be there to experience at my leisure then I can take it for granted. Right? That's the thing about self-deception, it always APPEARS to work in your favor, but the rules are already set in stone. The rules of life are immutable. We're born, we live, and then we die. Time spent with loved ones is here one moment and gone the next. The kids are barely born and the next thing you know, they are graduating college. If I do not intentionally make myself think these thoughts, I default to blissful ignorance.
- Guard your time: The best weapon against intrusion is prevention. Stop them before they are allowed to become issues. Forward your responsibilities to someone else during your absence. Set up auto responses in your voicemail and email that protect you from the interruption before it reaches you. Once you are gone, be gone. Completely disconnect. If possible, go off the grid altogether. What?! No phone or email? I promise you'll survive. It won't be easy but you will get through this…and be better for it.
Bottom line, there is no substitute for the satisfaction of a good hard days work, a list completed, or a deal neatly wrapped. Hard work can be its own reward, but hard work without rest and a time for rejuvenation is a clear prescription for disaster. It should be noted too that it happens in that order. We rest and vacation because we have worked. It is a reward for our labor. We work, rest, and repeat. What's most important is that you find a rhythm that fits your needs and limitations. We were not meant to run at top speed from pillow to pillow. Rest is a vital component that is just as important as food is to our survival.
Now get back to work so you can get back to resting.