This column originally appeared in The Tennessean.
In my last column, I talked about my life-long struggle with vacations. Unable to either physically or mentally unplug in the past, I made a list of all the things I would do to break my workaholic habits on our first vacation since the pandemic started last year.
A couple of weeks later, with our post-pandemic trip in the books, the results of my efforts to relax are in, and my wife gives me a “strong C.” Not great, but also not bad considered my F average going in.
To review, my “work on not working” strategy took a three-pronged approach.
The first part of my strategy was purely mental.
I planned to focus on living in the moment, recharging my batteries (my brain, not my laptop and phone), and accepting that my co-workers are right– I am not as essential as I might think.
This shift in mental attitude worked (mostly.) For the first time in years, my mindset was to prioritize taking time off, spending time with family, and to make a genuine effort to avoid thinking about all the to-do’s I had put on pause before we left.
The second part of my strategy was to proactively turn down the pressure that I often feel when I take a forced break.
I set an “Out of Office” message not only on my email, but on my texts and phone as well. I had a trusted colleague check my voicemail and email once a day to ease my mind. I preemptively contacted co-workers and customers to let them know I would be out of touch for the week.
This also seemed to reduce my workload for the week. So far so good.
But the third prong of my anti-work vacation strategy was where I completely failed.
I had planned to leave my laptop at home.
As we were pulling out of the driveway, I just couldn’t bring myself to leave my trusted companion behind. I ran back into the house and grabbed my computer, promising myself that I would only use it in the event a work emergency came up.
This of course turned out to be a mistake. Although I spent less time working on my computer than on past family trips, I found myself sneaking out to a coffee house for a couple of hours a day to keep work momentum going.
So, while I made at least some progress in my quest to unplug, like most other bad habits, going cold turkey proved to be too hard.
But in the spirit of always trying to improve, I have not given up.
With the benefit of hindsight, I realized that part of my problem is that I actually love my work. Call it crazy, but just like the “runner’s high” that keeps people jogging long after their body tells them to quit, work for me is frequently gratifying and fun.
Still, vacations are gratifying and fun as well. They give you a chance to spend quality time with family and friends and allow you to see different parts of the world. Just like a job you enjoy, a vacation brings with it a sense of satisfaction that can last a lifetime.
So for me, I am going to continue to just find the right balance.
Moving ahead, for my next trip, if I can’t leave the laptop home, I’ll try to schedule using it only at limited, predictable times, like 8 to 10 in the morning. Or perhaps I should schedule more adventurous vacations that preclude taking it along—like scaling the Himalayas, or maybe bungee jumping? (That is, if my wife even agrees to come along…)