Balance and respect: take your goddamn vacation from work!

It's been a whirlwind the last few months since our honeymoon. Married life hasn't changed a bit, thank goodness, but everything else has.

I've spent weeks working double time on a new team, thrown into a hailstorm project, spending nights and weekends learning--it's exhilarating, like being in college learning again, but it's also utterly exhausting. Along with my new work schedule, Jeremy's now working from home. I tore my ACL, putting climbing on the sidelines, and robbing some of my physical outlet (I've got a long recovery ahead, but that's for another post). My sister Maegan got married in North Carolina, where I saw family for the first time in 15 years; I underestimated how much the trip would affect me and start more cogs going about what we want long term.

Change: it's made me read up on the election in all my free time recovering. NOT. I still hate politics.

recovering after ACL reconstruction surgery

Let's try that again. Change: sometimes you embrace what's new, and other times change in the wrong direction makes you figure out what your balance should be. I've been toying with this idea of a post about work-life balance, but haven't nailed it until today. Ironically, I feel the most out of balance after sitting on a couch for 3 days straight after knee surgery and completely out of my normal routine.

Balance. Respect.

The Silicon Valley tech sphere drives me nuts--and is almost driving me away. People work insane hours to beat the next launch date, putting the rest of their life on hold, thinking others should make the same sacrifices, getting frustrated when others don't, and ultimately creating a terrible work atmosphere. Coworkers with balance and respect are getting fewer and farther between.

As a program manager at work, I should spend my days making teams and people productive, but I spend most of my time babysitting. When teams are pressured, and you have dedicated workers wanting to meet deadlines, they lose balance and respect, and from there it's a downward spiral of productivity loss. My job has become a lot of navigation people's emotions, which come out for many engineers in written emails (or lack of any communication in a stand-offish avoidance). Just talk face to face with others! Give them respect--show some interest in their lives, what they like, what their work-life balance is, what their family is like, what their hobbies are. It'll go a huge way in the long run.

The company and management is partly to blame for stressed workers--sure, there's going to be times when you're strapped for resources--but people (yes, you) are to blame, too. When was the last time you took vacation? Have you maxed out your vacation? Are you really balanced? Do you judge others for taking vacation and being more balanced than you?

My biggest plea is to get out and get balanced. Despite multitudes of articles claiming vacation improves productivity, there's so few people who actually max out vacation time from their company:vacation breakdown stats
Source: Glassdoor

Trust me to take a leap and change if any one of these doesn't hold true for you:

  • Max out your vacation every year. Never hit your accrual limit.
  • When you're on vacation, completely sign off. No syncing email, no sneak peeks, no checking how many emails you have growing in your inbox.
  • Don't respond to email when on vacation; completely detach. When you're half in and half out, you make it less productive for people still in the office. They don't know whether to really wait for your response or to make decisions and forge ahead.
  • Don't answer emails on nights and weekends. There's always emergencies for deadlines, but routinely doing this creates sub-threads with a few people who are online. You think decisions are made until others come back to work and question a decision made 30 responses ago.
  • Take at least one 2+ week vacation a year if you can. It takes a few days to wind down, and a couple days to dread going back; if you only take 1 week off, it's not enough.
  • Don't feel guilty (I'm working on this one). There's never a good time to take vacation. The company needs to adapt. Note, don't leave the week before every big deadline, though.

Yup, even a program manager is telling you to get away! When you're balanced, you're able to make quicker, better decisions and put issues into perspective.

Challenge question: what would you do if you had 3 months off of work? If you're pondering and thinking too hard to come up with a list, you need a break. I don't care if the answer is that you'd stay home and play video games for 3 months. The point is you need hobbies, passions, anything that engages you. If you put so much time and energy into work that you've been zapped of anything beyond couch surfing, your life isn't balanced. Take vacation off of work to find new hobbies, and don't put 100% of your energy into work every day; leave some energy for enriching yourself.

My ACL injury threw my work-climbing routine off balance, but it's made me pretty darn positive for the next year to come out of this more enriched and more balanced. My promises: I'll push myself to my physical limit this year and climb a V10. I'll become physically more balanced through knee recovery and keep up that balance once I'm healed. I'll keep engaged in quilting and any artistic hands-on outlets by jumping in rather than being scared of perfection before starting. I'll take a sabbatical from work and travel with Jeremy across the country. I'll be dedicated to my work but when I'm off, I'll feel less guilty about not working--it's not fair to the rest of my life or to Jeremy when I'm not detached from work. And I'll keep up a blog and writing.