An Experiment in Downtime (But I love work!)

Everyone that’s a workaholic raise your hand…..

Ok, now that I’m able to put my hand down and type again, I’ll continue.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a life outside of work. I just really love working. You know what I’m talking about. Those times that you’re watching your favorite show but your laptop is in your lap; or you’re checking messages on your phone while at dinner; or you just can’t help but to bring the computer on vacation with you because there might be something important.

I do all of the above most of the time. It’s not because the world would blow up if I didn’t respond right that second, it’s because I really love what I do. Not just the company, or the people, or the job, but the entire package of my career choice. I eat, breathe and sleep what I do. I have dreams about working and that makes me happy.

I decided to try an experiment this last month though. I took vacation time. Just a few long weekends and a break around the holiday. While I was off, I didn’t work at all.  Didn’t open my laptop, didn’t check emails every five minutes (well, to be fair, I did read the emails once during the latest weekend), didn’t have conference calls around the pool. What I experienced was absolutely amazing and terrifying.

To give a little background, prior to last month, I hadn’t parted with my email or laptop for over a decade.  All the vacations that I took were “working vacations”. I also found myself recharged and having a blast through these getaways. I hadn’t really thought much about doing them differently.

You’ve probably read many of the same articles and books that I have about how you should turn off your phone and not check emails as often. If you’re one of those people that have already figured this out, kudos to you for being awesome. If you’re one of the people like me that can’t force yourself to take a break, high five! Don’t worry, you can do it too.

Here’s why it’s actually important.

When I came back to work after my last trip, I felt like a totally different person.  I felt purged. I felt like I did on the first day of work at any new company, completely revitalized and refocused with a set of fresh eyes to every problem I had been working on.  It’s a bit hard to explain actually. If you’ve ever had that new job where you were so excited to be working and couldn’t wait for the next task you needed to complete so you could make new wrinkles on your brain and learn all about it, you’ll understand what I’m trying to explain.

This was a terrifying experience because at first I thought I’d somehow magically forgot all the things I’ve been spending over a decade to learn. That wasn’t the case as it turned out.  I had just managed to shrug off a ton of the burdens and preconceived notions that (hindsight is 20/20 right?) were actually causing me to not be as productive as I thought I was. It was truly a fresh approach.

So yes I took time off and that could seem to many of us (as it did to me at first) that we are going to get behind. The actuality of it is that I’ve been so much more productive, it’s countered the downtime.  I feel like I have the same energy that I had when I first started a new job, combined with the experience and knowledge to direct the efforts 1000% better than when I first started.

I’m not sure how this new experiment is going to turn out for the long run or how often I’ll need to rinse and repeat, but I’m excited to find out.  How do you make use of your downtime? Do you get to completely unplug? If not, what’s holding you back? I’d love to hear your perspective on this and see if I’m just late to the party.

Until next time, stay positive and most importantly, be bold!

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