Two years ago, we recognized the fact that no one on the team was very good at taking time off. Despite unlimited PTO and a (nearly) weekly reminder that time away is necessary to recharge, the team just kept working. And working. And working. So we decided to shut down the whole company for one week every July, giving everyone a chance to completely unplug.
That shutdown week has been a greatly appreciated break for everyone, myself included. For my family, this year meant a vaccinated lake trip replete with s’mores, swimming, jet skis and relaxation. It also meant my wife sharing a story about seeing a pale older guy jumping crazily on an inflatable trampoline on the water. And then she looked a little closer... (insert shocked face here). Imagine having to live with me every day -- the horror!
One the work front, the permission to tell clients and coworkers alike that you will not be online is liberating, and it’s an important reminder that we don’t do it often enough. Despite all of the focus on self-care, emotional wellbeing, and work/life balance, most cultures struggle to bring these high ideals into the day-to-day environment.
As much as we want to believe that we are good at protecting our time, we need to admit that the struggle is real. And while not everyone can accommodate a company-wide shutdown, there is still one thing everyone can do to protect themselves and their teams.
Set boundaries and hold to them.
You’ll face pushback - we all do. Truly well-intentioned people will ask for “just a minute.” They’ll send you a text that starts, “I know you’re out of the office, but….” Next thing you know, you’ve scheduled three meetings to help a peer or colleague talk through a tough work situation or to brainstorm the best way to handle an upcoming board presentation.
It’s important to hold yourself accountable to your own boundaries. We’re all facing increased pressure to stay available. The Pavlovian “ding” of your favorite messaging app during the most inopportune moments still doesn’t stop the sly check-in and quick reply.
And let’s face it -- you’re not fooling anyone, least of all yourself. The continued merging of work and home life, coupled with the globalization of work, means the 9-to-5 work day is a thing of the past. It’s not uncommon to receive texts as late as midnight or as early as 3:00am, depending on what time zones you support. And while it’s good to feel needed, the constant demand can wear on you, leading to burnout or affecting your health.
I’m working to set those boundaries - for myself and for my team. We’ve put into place tools to help raise the visibility of the hours we’re actually working so we can be more thoughtful about capacity. We’re trying to be more intentional about the timing of our meetings and what type of work gets done when. We’re encouraging each other to block out time on the calendar to step outside during the day, or to even (heaven forbid) grab some lunch away from the desk.
We aren’t quite there yet. We still struggle with scheduling too many meetings each day. And some of those days will stretch from very early to very late. But we’re trying, and we’re equally determined to protect ourselves from ourselves.
With warm regards,
Founder/Managing Principal/Boundary Setter, IA