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Time Off Means Time Off​​

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Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about fatigue, about how — even if you love a job, the work you do, the tasks that make up your employment — you can easily reach a point where you need to make some changes and/or get away.

And then, after writing that blog post, I disappeared for a little over two weeks.

Now, in this case, it wasn’t fatigue (even though that post was based on some fatigue I was experiencing.) No, instead, it was just serendipitous timing whereby I took off for a two-week vacation. Now, I probably could have worked on some blog posts or done some editing to the draft of the book I’m supposed to be working on or prepared for some of the presentations I will be giving in a few weeks. But, I chose to do none of those. Instead, I just kind of turned everything off and allowed myself to enjoy and be lost in the city of Paris (including Disneyland Paris; anyone who knows me could have warned you that Disney would be part of the equation.)

Now, I return to the fray, refreshed and ready to take up arms against whatever deadlines may be looming their ever-present horrors above my typing fingers. (Well, kind of refreshed. There was a broken foot at the very end of my expeditions. But, the less said about that, the better.)

And, in all honesty, I really am refreshed. When I dove into the emails and deadlines this morning (Monday, as I type this) there was actually an excitement about the whole thing. There was a (heaven help me) thrill about getting back into the world of internal audit.

That isn’t to say that I went on that vacation harboring a hatred for the profession or for the work I do within it. However, as alluded to in the previous blog post (lo these many days ago), it was definitely time for a break.

So, let me ask, what did you do on your last vacation?

I don’t mean did you go to Disneyland or DisneyWorld or Disney’s Birthplace or the Bahamas or Hawaii or Vegas or Paris or Rome or London or Brisbane or Syracuse or Saskatoon or Chattanooga or Tuscaloosa or Fargo or Roswell or the Winchester House or The Enchanted Highway or The House on the Rock or Archie Mcphee’s. (Note: Those last four are real things – you may want to look them up.) What I mean is, what activities were you involved in? And then, the $64,000 question, did you actually spend more time on those activities than you did calling in to meetings, answering emails, or working on the work from which you were supposedly taking a vacation.

I know of far too many people that do not actually leave work when they leave work. Instead, their minds are wrapped up in the minutiae of their corporate existence, believing that they have to be constantly involved in everything that is going on. I don’t know if it is fear that they will be missed, fear that they will NOT be missed, or fear of having to actually spend time with the family (and, if you find yourself feeling a couple of those, then your demons are greater than anything I can exorcise in one, little blog post,) but those people just cannot cut the cord — for a two-week vacation, for a three-day weekend, or even for four hours at the end of the day.

Quick story: I literally had to mentor a friend of mine to quit working weekends. Every single weekend she would take work home because it was important, because there was a deadline, or because of some other darned important reason. I started with making her ask herself this one simple question, “What is the worst that can happen if you don’t get it done?”. If you find yourself truly believing you cannot cut yourself out of the work flow, ask yourself that question. Because, if you are being honest, the answer to “What is the worst that can happen?” is usually “Not a whole heck of a lot.”

Here’s a lesson I learned a long time ago and practiced with great diligence. Every day of my vacation I would assign 10 to 20 minutes either in the morning or in the evening – to go through emails. They got deleted, handed off to someone else to handle (the people who worked for me knew I was gone and that they would be getting some of my work,) or, in a few, very special cases, replied to

Nothing else, no other thoughts about work throughout the day, no distractions from the real purpose of the vacation.

And, upon my return, the world had never come to an end, I didn’t have a stack of emails waiting for me, and I was, almost always, relaxed and ready to go.

All of the preceding is really nothing more than a reminder that we all need to recharge our batteries. Study after study shows that overall productivity for everyone increases when an actual break is taken. (I can’t find any of them right now, but, honest, they say that.) And you have to take the idea of a break seriously. Don’t just mouth the words, but really take a break. And, if you come back talking about all the work you got done, take the personal responsibility to slap yourself across the face and say “Just how big an idiot are you?”

Now, the timing of this message, coming as it does at the end of summer, may not be the best. Many vacations are over and a lot of “heading for year-end” work is barreling down upon us. But that just means we need to remember the message next year, or during the holidays, or even during that next three-day weekend.

It’s called a vacation; actually vacate.​

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