Imagine taking an entire day off. No cell phone. No one calling your name. No computer. No client calls. No children begging for ice cream. Just you, yourself, and, well, YOU!

Yesterday I declared a sabbatical from my every day life and headed for the hills. Well, not really. I first headed for the woods. In fact, I left my iPhone, with little battery power left, behind. After an hour power walk, I went to the gym to enjoy the sauna and a hot, albeit short, shower. Browsing the supermarket aisles for a snack, I took my time with no real purpose or timeline. I even waited patiently in line while two women and a two-year-old unloaded their heavy shopping cart onto the conveyor belt. I had two items, but didn’t mind just standing there soaking in my surroundings. What an fabulous feeling not to try to squeeze time like an orange!

I missed the train to Munich so had to wait 30 minutes for the next one. So what. I called my husband with 30% left on my iPhone battery to say I’d be home in the evening or later, in case I found a movie I liked.

When I finally got to my destination, thousands of people rushed to and fro. Seeking refuge (and warmth) in a bookstore, I sat amongst the others on a long bench made for book lovers who just want to focus on one thing: the book or magazine they were reading. I found a book on burnout, which felt purposeful enough as I am doing research for a new book on it myself.

It was there that I realized how tiring a purpose-driven life can be. When we do everything on purpose, with focus and intention, we have no real time for Bacchalian enjoyment. To do a thing simply because we want to resides outside the realm of our vocabulary. In our achievement-oriented society, having a ‘be’ day seems extravagent indeed.

But it was just the thing I needed after a string of successive achievements. When we keep our eyes on accomplishment only,  we have no time to recuperate. With all our time spent on going for the gold, we find our worth only in the doingness of things instead of realizing just being is more than enough.

Did you know you will continue to exist — that is, to be — even when you don’t ‘do’?

Where did our drive for constant activity come from? According to the book I just read, Warum Burnout Nicht Vom Job Kommt by Helen Heinemann (in nearly one sitting – it was that good), burnout comes from the blurring of the lines around our specific roles in public and private life. If we live with uncertainty as to where my role begins and, say, my partner’s ends, we are left with a domain over which we will combat. Combine the lack of clarity with a lack of pause to reconsider which direction each of us should go and a wildfire ensues. Each of us, running as fast as we can, toward an ill-defined end goal can lead to burnout faster than you can say, “Call 911!”

Slowing down and taking pause really do help because in those pockets of air we allow ourselves come the solutions to many of our issues we otherwise quickly try to sweep under the carpet.

Take the Slow Challenge and call a whole day off for yourself. What do you think you’ll discover?

Vacate the premises

April 16, 2010

If you’re anything like me, you start dreaming about summer vacation the moment the first bulb sprouts from the earth. Vacation planning is not just about flipping through catalogues and finding the right place to go, however. It also involves a great deal of preparation, especially if you are steeped deeply in your work life.

The stacks of files, the influx of emails, unanswered voicemails you have to address! The horrors of returning from vacation almost make you not want to leave at all. No matter what your envious co-workers think, that trip to the beach will contribute to the bottom line as you take off your thinking cap and put on your bikini. After all, a well-rested worker is a productive one.

Karen Matthews of the University of Pittsburgh’s Mind-Body Center knows the importance of leisure. According to her 2009 study of 1399 people as reported on NPR.com,  survey respondents who had experienced leisure, including vacation, said their time off had vastly contributed to more positive emotions and fewer negative emotions and depression. (That the U of Pitt even has a mind-body center speaks volumes about them!).

See! Time off is really good for you! So before you start hemming and hawing about how impossible it will be for you to leave the office for a few days, listen up:

With a little preparation you can save yourself a lot of time and heartache on both ends of your trip. If you dread the pre-vacation jitters and the post-vacation blues, follow these few simple steps to ensure a smooth transition from board room to boogie board and back.

Before you leave:

  1. Give people fair warning so they can play fair, too. For vacations that are a week or more, alert your clients, co-workers and colleagues a full four weeks before you leave. Remind them again two weeks before, then again a week before to manage their expectations. Giving them plenty of notice will decrease the chance of last-minute deadlines.
  2. Delegate routine assignments to your co-workers. Answering standard queries or sorting through mail can keep you available for more pressing matters when you come back. Return the favor when they go on vacation, too.
  3. Use your tools. A vacation reply can be helpful to remind people of your return and to provide alternative contact details so easier questions can be handled in your absence. If possible, add one stated day to your absence to give you a chance to catch up when you get back. Pre-pay any bills due in your absence or instate an auto-pay function on your online bank account.
  4. Hire a plant sitter. To give yourself peace of mind while you are away, ask a neighbor to bring in your mail, take care of your plants and pets, and start your car periodically so it won’t freeze.
  5. Unplug major appliances. Believe it or not, your electrical devices still use energy when they are ‘off’. Unplugging them will not only save on your energy bill but also eliminate the possibility of damage sustained by an unexpected power surge during a storm.
  6. Turn down the air conditioning. You can save on your electricity bill by turning off the A/C while you are gone.
  7. Vacation unsubscribe. Take a few minutes to unsubscribe from unnecessary email notifications such as Facebook and LinkedIn while you are away in an effort to tame the inbox shrew.
  8. Provide emergency contact details such as the hotel where you are staying, but not your personal mobile phone. To avoid carting the office with you, plan to leave your work-related gadgets at home.
  9. Check in online. If you are flying to your destination, take advantage of your airline’s online check-in service where available. It can save you the hassle of standing in line.
  10. Don’t forget Plan B. Create a back-up plan ahead of time in the event your flight is cancelled. Alert your designated co-worker that you’ll contact him or her in case of unforeseen delays.

When you return:

  1. Plan for continued leisure. It is possible to sustain a saner pace of life by integrating some fun into your every day routine. Taking a vacation is a great reminder of how good relaxation can be for you. Nurture your creative muse by engaging in at least one leisure activity a week going forward. Mini-vacations are a great alternative while you wait for the real thing to come around again.
  2. Organize your inbox by sender. It gives you an overview of essential emails while offering an opportunity for a quick mark and delete of non-essential ones. You can even do this the night before you return to work to combat post-vacation stress come Monday morning.
  3. Write down all the voicemail messages by date. Prioritize them in order of urgency. Decide which method you will use to respond. Sometimes one email can answer several voicemails at once.
  4. Be generous. Your diligent co-workers had your back while you were on vacation. Bring them a small gift of thanks to brighten their mood (because they weren’t away) and yours (because you’re already back!).
  5. Be gentle on yourself. Getting up to speed after a prolonged absence can be overwhelming, to say the least. Let people know you are digging yourself back out of the details. Give yourself a few days to get back into the swing of things.
  6. Don’t forget to dream. Sometimes the best way to combat post-vacation sadness is to promise yourself a retreat in the future. Part of the fun is in the planning! Having things to look forward to can keep you motivated while you await your next vacation adventure.

Leisure is an essential part of your life. It affords you an opportunity to reflect, regenerate and rethink many aspects of your daily routine. It is one of life’s marvelous paradoxes that free time is indeed time well-spent!

Have you ever noticed how much brighter things look after a good night’s sleep? When we have our sleep-deprivation goggles on, we see things differently.

Max Ehrmann says:

But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Stay connected to that which matters to you most. If you love animals, spend time with them. If you have a circle of friends, nurture them.

In response to my question “Do you ever have a day off?” my daughter’s riding instructor said “This is my life. Take a day off from my life? These animals and children mean everything to me.” Well said!

The best way to banish our fears is to embrace them. When we share our fears with others, the burden feels lighter.

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As we head into the holiday weekend, I have happily put on my autoresponder reminding people I will not be available until late Monday. Sure, I put the usual mobile phone number for emergencies, but who’s really going to call an international number over Easter?

toolsIn today’s 24/7 world of instant availability, it is tempting to always be ‘on’. While chatting with a client the other day, we agreed it is good to unplug.

“Are you really going on vacation or will you secretly be checking email?” he asked me.

“I’ll be in turtle-speed Internetland so there’s no way I’ll be online. Trust me.”

It is a relief to not have wireless access or high-speed Internet at my in-laws house. It is a safe haven of unplugged fun.

Need a slow vacation? Use those tools that normally keep you chained to your desk to unleash yourself for a few days! Autoresponders rule!