The summer break: time to press pause
- Posted by Liz Gooster
- 0 Comments
- productivity, self-development, Wellbeing
It has been an aspiration of mine for some time now to take August off work. The idea first floated onto my radar many years ago when two independent consultants I regularly worked with told me proudly that they didn’t work in August or December. This struck me as entirely laudable: luxurious, yes, but also a logical way to recharge as well as spend more time with school-age kids. It didn’t fit with my working pattern at the time, but it lodged in my mind. When I became independent myself, the concept resurfaced as a goal, especially as several colleagues I admire, including my supervisor, do much the same.
I sometimes have to remind myself that one of the reasons I wanted to work for myself was to have the freedom to travel more – and how can I do that if I don’t take regular time off work? As the parent of a now two-year-old toddler, I have the added need to ‘practice’ being free in the school holidays (we currently have the slightly false sense of security with nursery being open year-round). Above all, my own SPACE to Grow framework emerged from my recognition that to flourish creatively, to sustain my performance and to reboot my energy, I need some space around the edges.
September always prompts in me a ‘back to school’ feeling – in a positive way. There’s the allure of a clean slate, a new sense of purpose, a fresh boost of energy. And of course, new school shoes and a new pencil case! In the middle of the summer, a wise friend prompted me to pause for thought by asking me: ‘how will you get that back-to-school feeling if you don’t down tools?’. So how did I do? There is still plenty of room for improvement, but overall, I’m fairly pleased with my ‘school holidays’.
What went well?
One thing that made a massive difference is that I only travelled into London for work-related meetings twice. As I’ve been trying to keep my number of commuting days down ever since I moved to Cambridge about 5 years ago that was a big tick. I cut down my overall number of meetings significantly and corralled those I did have into just six or seven days (in addition to the London days). Having pondered on my friend’s question, I renegotiated the delivery dates of a project I’d committed to, moving the bulk of the work beyond the end of August, and even cancelled a couple of non-essential calls. I checked my work emails infrequently, mainly at the beginning and end of the day and only responded to important ones. I accepted a last-minute invitation to join a girls’ trip to France without worrying about taking time off work.
Before the summer began, I made a list of nice things to do and looking back, I’m delighted with how many I’ve managed to do. One of my dreams since becoming a parent has been to have more free time to work on personal projects that mean a lot to me and I’ve used some of the time my little one has been at nursery to move forward with a few of those. I’ve even caught myself a few times being completely self-indulgent and doing exactly what I wanted to in the moment, such as sitting in a chair in the garden reading, cup of tea in hand.
What could have gone better?
Next year, I want to find a way to get into relaxation mood quicker, as I found it took me a while to let go of the feeling that I ‘should’ be doing something work-related. I’m good at relaxing on holiday, so maybe kicking off with a bit of time away at the beginning of the month would lay out a clear marker. I’m conscious I could also be even clearer and more rigorous about my boundaries with others, and perhaps more importantly, do some work on what makes this so hard for me – after all, I run my own diary and no one is standing over me compelling me to take meetings or make work commitments. This would mean:
• Being unavailable when I say I am
• Having no meetings unless they’re absolutely essential
• Checking emails even less frequently (perhaps designating particular times and days for this and being clear in my out-of-office message about if and when I will be able to respond)
• Being prepared to say no – this one is still a biggie for me!
What was surprising?
Without consciously planning it, I took some time off from some of my wellbeing practices as well. At first I felt guilty for stopping things like my gratitude journal and not trying to fit in mindfulness practice. Then I started to luxuriate in the break. I found myself noticing positive things that I would have captured had I been using my 5 minute journal app and using occasional pockets of time to plug into my Headpsace app or just be mindful in the moment. I missed my Saturday morning kettlebells class (the trainer was taking her own well-earned break, another admirable role model). But I did other things like going for a run and doing body pump classes at the local gym and the variety felt refreshing. By the beginning of September I was keen to restart my routines, when if I’m being completely honest, some of them sometimes had become a bit of a chore. So while I not sure it’s what the theories on habits would recommend, for me I feel the pause has injected new life into practices that could otherwise have become stale.
I’m giving myself a B minus for this year’s downtime. I thoroughly enjoyed it and have already blocked out the time in next year’s calendar!
If you liked this you might also like:
- My Time for a Holiday post
- The Productivity Paradox, my post about finding time to pause, to step back and think in order to clarify, focus and think more creatively
- This Very Well Mind article on Taking a break from work
- Psychology Today article on the impact of taking short breaks
- This article about saying ‘no’ by Oliver Burkeman – are you an asker or a guesser??
I like to describe myself as happily ‘At Large’ in an independent portfolio career, balancing coaching, leadership development, coach training and being a mum to my young daughter. Positive psychology is a big influence on my work and I’ve recently gained an MSc in Applied Positive Psychology & Coaching Psychology from the University of East London. My interests include reading, writing, travel, yoga, Zumba, coffee and wine! Connect with me on LinkedIn and sign up for my newsletter, Positive Intentions.