Taking a Break, Immediate Guilt and Creative Aftermath
December was a serious recharge month for us… The first one we’ve taken in probably a decade, now that I think about it. We went on an actual vacation to Santa Teresa in Costa Rica, where we opted to NOT go on copious amounts of adventures — we took one surf lesson, and rented an ATV for one day for a hike, but otherwise, it was beach, long walks, reading, pooltime, and eating crazy-good food. After that, we had a few days of normal life at home before heading to NJ for the holidays with my family. Again, we had prepared for this, but I found myself feeling super guilty when I wasn’t starting to work at 6:30 in the morning, instead hanging out sitting on the kitchen floor with my mom and the dog (she is the alpha of the house, apparently). But having a legit vacation and an actual holiday season turned out to be the thing that I’ve been actually missing in my life for the last few years. I’m super lucky that my job is what it is, but as any of you who work for yourselves know, it can be super hard to turn off and recharge. So, here’s what I learned in December that I’m hoping to hang on to.
You learn what ‘break’ means to you
We had grand plans of going totally offline while in Costa Rica, and worked super hard in November to be so ahead of schedule on deadlines that technically, we could avoid being online while on vacation. BUT THEN. A) I was asked to speak at a conference (remotely, obviously) while we were in Costa Rica and I had CX Rankings and the weekly show to record for FloBikes, and B) the more I thought about staying offline for 10 days, the less interested in that I was. When you work for yourself, vacation means something different. You don’t have someone else to pick up the slack, and you’re the boss that can’t forgive your own sloppy work. So when I weighed having 10 days almost entirely offline versus spending a few hours on vacation checking in, I realized the more relaxing option was to actually stay on top of my inbox.
But set your limits, because otherwise, vacation tanks
When we decided we weren’t going to yell at each other for spending time working, we decided to set boundaries instead (this admittedly came after a ‘quick checking this one thing’ completely took over our second morning in Costa Rica). I decided to leave my phone in airplane mode 95% of the day, and we would choose “OK, computers open for 60 minutes this morning.” The rest of the time, offline. We took this same idea into the holidays with my family — we picked official ‘day end’ times and gave ourselves big chunks of dedicated work time, but planned it around when my family was home and ready to hang out.
You realize it’s all OK
It’s not a huge ask to have a vacation, a weekend where you don’t work, a Christmas day where you don’t check your inbox. That shouldn’t make you feel guilty…. Especially if you’re actually caught up and not missing deadlines. Get a life, Molly!
You do more long term planning and it’s awesome
This was the best thing that came out of Costa Rica — we were both reading a ton during this week, and because I wasn’t writing as much or doing all the things, I had more brainpower to read and digest the books that I’d been meaning to read but hadn’t had the headspace for. Same for Peter, and our long walks on the beach turned into epic discussions about long-term business plans for both of us, ways we wanted to restructure our habits and our condo, how I wanted to fix a tricky section of a book that I’m working on… all of these bigger ideas that couldn’t fit into a brain that was crowded with the day-to-day to-do list.
You realize how nice it is to sleep a lot
Caught up on sleep? Holy crap, you feel like a rock star.
Speaking of, your training actually improves
Long walks, short runs, casual swims, yoga and tons of sleep? Yeah, your offseason is finally actually happening as an athlete. It’s pretty amazing how happy your body is when you treat it gently for a couple weeks.
You figure out your triggers and start to break them
I had turned into an email robot. My habit of constantly checking my email was getting obnoxious — not in a cute ‘oh, I’m so busy’ way, in an offensive way — and I realized a lot of that was because it was in plain sight. For our vacation, I actually moved my email icon off of my phone’s homescreen so I couldn’t see it, and out-of-sight-out-of-mind seemed to help. My new middle ground is that I took off the badge notification so I don’t see a number hovering when I open my phone. It’s amazing how much less stressful that is, and I waste a lot less time trying to get to inbox 0 for no real reason! My other trigger? I live and die by my ToDoist app — seriously, I love it – but in Costa Rica, I moved it off my home screen as well. I realized I need to focus more on big-picture as opposed to checking off boxes sometimes, and having that taken away was a big wakeup call. I relied on one written sheet of things that had to happen (like that remote conference!) and that was enough. I won’t shift to a written to-do list for everything, but breaking that twitch was really eye-opening.
You remember you really like writing
This was a biggie — I did a couple of superhero days in November on a couple of big writing projects, so when December hit, my creative writing was at an all time zzzzzzzzzz. So taking a few weeks away from working on long-term projects like the third Shred Girls or my other two book projects (and even this blog and the Shred Girls site) was a huge relief at first. And after about 10 days of not working on any creative writing projects, my brain woke back up and decided that it really wanted to write again. Phew.
… But you don’t magically change as a human
I think this one is actually the most important, because I see articles like this one all the time and by the end of reading them, I feel like I’m a slug on a log. I went on vacation and my life didn’t magically change. I don’t think anyone’s actually does. Small changes? Absolutely. Worth it? For sure. But do I still find myself spending time reading cheesy novels when I should be working on my… cheesy novel? Hells yeah. Just because I had a couple weeks of lighter work and feel rejuvenated, I haven’t completely hacked my personality to get rid of any and all things that slow down my productivity. (I wish.) So if you’re like me and reading this and wondering what you did wrong on vacation that you’re still watching Netflix before bed instead of sitting on your meditation pillow and reflecting on your day, it’s OK. So am I, because Frasier is still streaming.