How I Finally Went Cold Turkey From Working on Vacation

(This post originally appeared in 8/15/12.  Not only did it inspire many interesting comments from readers, but subsequently, I received a number of “out of office” response emails where the sender said they were on vacation and declaring “email bankruptcy” upon return.

The best part was that, in a couple of messages, the sender had embedded this post to explain how they were trying to disconnect from work and take a true break.  Maybe we’ve started a movement!)

How do you take vacation and then actually disconnect from work when you are away?  These are two of the most consistent and, seemingly intractable, including me.  But, I’m proud to say that I just completed my first vacation in years where I almost totally disconnected from email (99%) and didn’t engage at all on any of my blogs, Facebook, or Twitter for two weeks.

Not only did I survive this true break from work, but I feel more energized and focused than I have after most of my previous days off.

How did I do it? I used three simple vacation tactics–day blocking, email bankruptcy, and social media fasting. I explain each tactic below. But first, you might be interested in finding out what finally motivated me, after countless failed attempts, to figure out how to truly separate from work for a few days. (Click here for more)

(Image from Flickr user Brian Uhreen)

Why I Disconnected to Draft My Book

Since late November, regular readers of this blog, my blogs on Fast Company and and my followers on Twitter may have noticed that I essentially disappeared.  I’d pop up now and then on Twitter from “my book writing cave. But for the most part, over the last two months, chose to focus my undivided attention on finishing the first draft of my new book.  Why?  For the following three reasons that will continue to inform how I approach serious, deep-thinking work in the future:

A constantly distracted brain can’t think deeply: One of the experts I interviewed for my new book was Maggie Jackson.

In 2008, I wrote about her wonderful, must-read book “Distracted” (Prometheus Books, 2008) in my Fast Company blog.  During our recent conversation, Maggie reminded me of an important point in her book that I’d forgotten, “Because we live so much in the sphere of technology, it makes us unconsciously forget the idea of slow incubation, of percolation of ideas, of sort of hanging in the moment of uncertainty and frustration that’s really part of learning or research.”

I needed to give myself the uninterrupted white space to go deeper and allow for the work to happen.

Creativity requires making mistakes and learning from them: Another amazing expert I interviewed for my new book is Julie Burstein, the creator of Studio 360 for Public Radio International and the author of “Spark: How Creativity Works” (Harper, 2012).

Over the years, she’s met with and interviewed hundreds of artists.  From those conversations, she’s identified a framework for creativity, and she told me that to be creative you have to allow time to tinker, edit, add, purge and mold.

The reality is that there are only so many hours in the day to create the room to make mistakes, experiment and revise, so something needed to go.  I still had a consulting business to run, and a family to care for over the holidays.  That meant I needed to let my virtual connections rest for a few weeks and trust that they will be there when I returned.

I am an extrovert, so to disconnect after connecting is hard for me. Introverts love time alone, which is what you must do when you write a book.  You spend hours and hours, day after day alone.  Unfortunately, I am not an introvert.  In fact, I am a pretty extroverted, extrovert.

In the beginning, I tried to connect for certain periods, then disconnect again.  But I found it was so hard to get back into the creative groove.  Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Crown, 2012), who is also in my new book, helped me realize that being alone day-after-day is not my natural habitat.  The minute I’d reach out and start connecting, I didn’t want to go back. But I loved writing my book, so it was easier for me to construct a temporary metaphorical “cave” around myself.  Thankfully, I’ve begun to reemerge.

So where am I in the process?  I’m very please to say that the initial draft is done (Yeah!), and I couldn’t be happier with the result. Now the editing with my publisher begins in earnest which will make the final product even better. I’m excited, and I’m back for the near term.  However, I plan to apply the lessons learned from this period of disconnection and creativity to future projects that require focus and attention.  So this will not be my last visit to “the cave.”

What about you? Do you think it’s necessary to disconnect to do your best work?  Why or why not?

(@fastcompany) Taking Bets: Will Real Reason for Health Care Reform–Uncoupling Work and Coverage–Come Up at Tomorrow’s Summit? (Poll)

Leading up to tomorrow’s Health Care Summit, I’ve been trying to follow each political party’s public positioning as to why their approach is preferable.

You hear a lot about the current health care reality:

  • 40+ million people uninsured, and growing.
  • Unaffordable premiums.
  • Inability to get coverage for pre-existing conditions.

You’re also presented with two very different solutions, one is more government regulated and the other driven more by the private market.  But, what you don’t hear is “why?”  Why do we need to undertake this massive, structural reordering of a system that’s worked and continues to work for many for decades?

The reason is simple and powerful:  We must uncouple work and health care coverage, because the nature of “work” has radically changed over the last decade. And, since the recession began two years ago, the shift in what it means to “work” has accelerated even more rapidly.  And it’s never going back to the way it was.

That fact needs to be much more front and center in the debate than it has been.  Basically, it’s missing.   For example, in this morning’s New York Times there’s a two page spread of articles discussing tomorrow’s Health Care Summit.  Guess how many times the changing nature of work is explicitly mentioned as one of the key drivers behind the need for reform?  Zero.

It’s not the 1950’s. You don’t get a job with General Motors at 18 years old, keep it for 40 years, and retire with a pension and company provided health care benefits.  But, listening to the politicians from both parties I seriously wonder if they get it.  Do they understand that in today’s economic reality an individual will have any combination of full-time, part-time, contract-based, entrepreneurial employment over the course of a career?  In only one of those four scenarios is there a chance for employer-sponsored health care.  One.  And increasingly having a full-time job doesn’t guarantee  coverage.

Imagine how different the conversation might be…if President Obama kicked off tomorrow’s summit by saying, “We remember a day when we could rely on our job to provide most of us with good, fair coverage for a lifetime.  That day has passed.  We live in a new global economic reality in which most of us will find ourselves, either voluntarily or involuntarily, in a position where affordable employer-sponsored care is not an option.   We must adapt our system to this new existence.”  With that fact as the back drop, it’s much harder to defend the status quo of an antiquated system.

Over the past couple of months, my readers have commented thoughtfully on the need to reform health care primarily due to the changing nature of work: (Click here for more–read comments, and take poll!)

Fast Company: “Downsizing Flexibility Champions”—Alternatives to Layoffs Honor Roll

When I recently co-presented on the “Using Workplace Flexibility as Part of a Downsizing Strategy” Flex Options teleconference for the U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau (transcript now available here), I announced that I was going to start a list honoring organizations that used workplace flexibility to manage costs and minimize layoffs.

The goal is to inspire other leaders to work with their employees and create innovative strategies to flexibly manage through this crisis beyond the knee-jerk “cut” of mass layoffs.

Here’s a perfect example of how opening the dialogue with employees can result in creative solutions to reduce costs and avoid job cuts.  A colleague sits on the board of a not-for-profit.  During their last meeting, it was decided that the organization needed to make dramatic cost reductions.  Immediately, the director said, “I’m going to have to layoff people, but before I do that let me ask everyone if they have any other ideas.”  To her surprise, seven of the 20 staff members offered to reduce their schedule and pay.  And with that, she was able to avoid the layoffs she feared she was going to have to make.

Whether it’s reducing pay and schedules, telecommuting to save real estate costs, adding unpaid vacation days to the calendar, job sharing, having former employees consult on a project-basis or offering sabbaticals/furloughs, there are many creative applications of flexibility as part of a downsizing strategy.  And it’s not just an “option to consider,” but a matter of global stability.

The List – The Downsizing Flexibility Champions… (Click here for more)

Seizing Opportunity in the 24/7 Work Reality–Beyond the Old, “9-to-5, M-F” Mindset

The work+life topic in the media this week is the downside of the 24/7 work reality (WSJ- 3/25/06, New York Times-3/26/06, NBC Nightly News). Most of these stories focused on longer hours, specifically people getting to work earlier. While I can see where this might be a negative development for some people, my first reaction was, “This is great!” I love getting up early. My optimal work day would start at 6:30 a.m., and end around 4:00 p.m. In fact, most mornings I’m at the gym by 5:45 a.m. But by 8:00 p.m., I’m worthless (I am notorious for falling asleep in even the noisiest places if I’m out too late).

There are a lot of early birds out there—catch us at 6:00 a.m., we’re on fire. But after 5:00 p.m., prop us up in a corner so we’re out of the way. There are an equal number of people on the other end of the spectrum—the night owls. These folks don’t begin to function before noon, and are at their most creative after 9:00 p.m. And, of course, there are endless variations in between. (more…)