During the holidays, a senior executive I work with unplugged and loved the time it gave her to think, to enjoy breathing space, and “feel more sane.” At the end of the long first Monday back, her non-stop schedule with too much work and too many meetings left her wanting to do nothing but stretch out on the couch and watch Downtown Abbey. Yet she found herself in work mode, sitting up and tensely typing tweets instead. She had to make herself stop and enjoy the show.
Harper Reed, Chief Technology Officer for President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, was used to receiving thousands of emails a day, but when the election was over, he chose to put distance between the campaign and what was coming next in his life by giving himself a week away from the Internet and 140-character tweets to read a 1,000 page history of the Stalingrad Campaign.
I like these examples of creating a healthier balance between time spent on- and offline because they represent conscious choices that are far removed from all the hype we’re hearing these days about “digital detox.”
My husband and I have a standing joke about traveling Amtrak. When we first started doing it, it seemed like there'd always be someone who would board, take a seat in front of or behind us, whip out a cell phone, make a call and say, “Hello, I’m on the train.”
And so now, whenever we settle into our seats, we look at each other and one of us will say, “We’re on the train!”
This Christmas our little joke took on new meaning. When we arrived in New Haven, our usual point of departure, the long-term parking lot in the station was full and so were all the others in the surrounding area. This had never happened before. It was beginning to look doubtful that we would be able to get on that train.
As the minutes ticked away, my husband drove around like a maniac, hopping from red light to red light, looking in vain for a lot that didn't have a sign that said FULL in front, while I kept saying we needed to pull over, get information and pause to consider our options.
On our third circuit of Union Station, he finally heard me. He pulled into the passenger drop-off area in front where just it so happened that Santa Claus was waiting to give us what we most needed for Christmas—a parking space.
I usually begin thinking about a column a few weeks before I sit down to write it, but the month of January flew by so quickly and the approach of the deadline for this month threw me into a panic.
How could I possibly attend to the client work on my calendar, prepare for a strategic planning summit a week from now, and write a newsletter?
The more I stared at the calendar, trying to find open space, the more inaccessible a topic seemed. I not only couldn’t think of anything to write about—I also couldn’t remember anything I’d written in the eight years I’ve been producing this newsletter!
People who vacation on Cape Cod would probably find it strange that someone who lives here would leave in July.
Nor would they be likely to see the connection between their arrival and my need to get away.
Initially our annual mid-summer escape was motivated by the desire to leave our tourists behind and become tourists ourselves.
We have come, however, like many others, to love the meandering coastline of Maine, with its rugged coves, smooth-as-glass inlets, and sailboat-dotted harbors.
This year we made it the last stop, a place to pause to take in the beauty of the natural world before turning our backs on the sea and facing the five-and-a-half hours of highway ahead of us.
Some places never disappoint, and when you know this, it adds to the joyful anticipation of returning.
Because October's post spoke to so many readers about the need for renewal, and because the upcoming holiday season offers the opportunity for time off to regroup for the new year, I have decided to share my takeaways from this year's trip to Skaneateles sooner than I had originally planned.
My time at the lake this year was about being in the here and now. I try to do this at home, but being away frames it differently.
There's the packing and the unpacking, the seven hour trip there and back, the joy of arriving and the sadness of leaving. Going to the same place every year has sharpened my awareness of these dichotomies, and I know the alternating rhythm well enough that sway with it immediately.
Unlike the frog who failed to realize he was in boiling water until it was too late, I fortunately became aware that I was chronically tired before the downward spiral this form of self-abuse inevitably triggers had taken me to the danger point.
The breakthrough came when I participated in a leadership program with Joan Goldsmith, where I was introduced to the self-assessment survey in the book Tired of being Tired: Rescue, Repair, Rejuvenate by Jesse Hanley and Nancy Deville (for details, see last month’s column).
It's 3:30 in the afternoon and I am writing this with a large pot of tea beside me. It sounds very civilized, except that I made the tea because I am tired, and I felt compelled to work on this column. Instead of taking a nap, I chose to take a stimulant and fall back into my pattern of overwork.
The good news is that I rarely do this any more, and when I do I am conscious of the choice I am making. For years, I just pushed through my fatigue and remained a victim of my own calendar and “to do” lists with absolutely no awareness of how damaging being a supercharged performer was both to my professional life and to my health.