Unplug

TL;DR: Use your paid time off if you’ve got it.

There’s kind of a lot going on in my world right now, a conflux of “things we should have known better” and “things we had no idea would happen”; as my job is professional Anvil Spotter these things touch me in one way or another. (Typically: “Yes we saw that anvil, here’s proof we saw that anvil, here’s how we will duck out of the way of said anvil”, or, “Nope, didn’t see that anvil, but here’s how we dealt with a similar anvil, and here’s how we’ll keep from being under this anvil next time”.) So far none of the anvils have landed but there’ve been some close calls.

What this means in a dynamic, hybrid work environment is a finely controlled chaos. In a meeting talking about interpersonal dynamics the other day a graph popped up to show all the interaction capabilities in a group of say, six people — and it’s factorial. Which means that if you have six people then Person A can have a “group” with all 5 other people, or 4, or 3, or 2, or 1, and as you whittle down the numbers the combinations increase as to which people they can be interacting with. Which in turn means that a group of “six” people is actually something like 720 “groups”. Which is why at the end of the day you and I and everyone are exhausted when working on a “small group” project (never mind 3 or 4).

The privileged luxury I have is to be able to take a break. This break has been like a few others where I’m actually not completely removing myself (even though that is/was the stated purpose) from work, but it is a departure from my normal work habits and a drastic reduction in the amount of mental involvement and time spent in front of a machine (for work). It’s that last that gets to the crux of it – the same machine I would log in to for fun or just routine access to docs and such, is aligned with my work. I can remove work notifications from my phone relatively easily (without having to remove the apps) but removing those from my Outlook, for example, is a bit more of a project. Thusly I’ll log in to say, update my grocery list or check in on something outside of work and I’ll see the little red bubble and it will entice me to go pay attention to that Teams chat or email. These sporadic check ins are not as tiring as a full day of work but are, as you can imagine, not as relaxing as one completely departed from it.

The fact that I *also* stacked this “break” with my to-do list of non-work stuff makes it feel like less of a break — car maintenance, catching up on house stuff, etc. means that my eternal fantasy of sitting on the couch systematically eating the marshmallows out of a box of Lucky Charms while watching Jaws and Aliens still eludes me.

That said, this “break” still provides respite and is necessary to ensuring that when I do officially return, I’m a sane, practical, rational person, whose job it is to identify anvils as they hover. The takeaway here for you, is to use your paid time off.

FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is a thing – and probably drives some amount of “nah I’ll just take a break later”. It’s not necessarily fear of missing out on the fun stuff, though, but rather fear of missing out on crucial information to a given project, or the nuance in a meeting, or having the time to catch up on XYZ technology, or getting your administratea done. The objective horror of coming back to literally hundreds (thousands) of emails can also be a deterrent. Much as lying down without sleeping can offer an incomplete yet still valid rest, so too can be the “break” with a teeny check in here and there. In my case, the little red bubble will not be too scary when I return.

Does this sort of “semi break” take the place of a real, honest to goodness, vacation? Heck no – no more than that 20 minute beanbag loll takes the place of 8 hours of sleep. But it can give you the respite you need to keep going until you can get to the *real* break. Just remember to actually take that real break. I’m scheduling mine shortly… you know, while on this one.

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