Have you ever written an email that began with “sorry for the delay,” when replying in less than 24 hours — how about 12 hours, 6 hours, 3 hours? I know I have. Hell I’ve responded to emails in less than an hour and apologized for the delay when it was a conversational, back-and-forth thread. The unfortunate reality is that since the advent of email, and more specifically smartphones, the expectation is that you’re available and reachable 24/7. It’s for that very reason that it’s more important than ever to unplug and disconnect on a regular basis.
Work fatigue and burnout are very real and it affects all of us in different ways; you often don’t even realize you’re suffering from burnout until you’re able to get away for a few days. You’ll be amazed at how refreshed and re-energized you’ll feel when you come back to work after time off the grid. I’ve found that the weekend is not quite enough time to get everything out of your system, so ideally extend it with a Friday or Monday off. It’s remarkable how much longer a 3-day weekend feels as compared to a typical weekend – certainly more than the 50% longer simple arithmetic tells us.
Every June for the past few years, my dad, brother and I take a four-day trip where we completely unplug. It’s a great opportunity for us to catch up and be present in the moment. And for my brother and myself, who both work at startups, it’s a great opportunity to take a much needed technology timeout (my dad is mostly retired so he’s always recharged J). Plus, I always feel that the following week at work is one of my most productive of the year. Email, social media, Reddit, etc. all have serious habit forming loops, and if you’re able to break free from them for a few days, it can help reset your equilibrium. That first week back, I feel I’m far more focused on what’s actually important and better able to block out the noise (email, damn you!) we all deal with on a day-to-day basis.
When you work at a startup, going completely incommunicado can seem scary and downright impossible, but it’s not. Take a deep breath and remember that (until very recently) it was the norm to be difficult to reach when outside of the office. The most important thing will be communication with your team — you need to let them know well in advance that you won’t be reachable. That means you need to make sure all of your work is in order and that you won’t be the blocker for anyone else’s work. I’d also advise against disconnecting right before or after a big project (and obviously not right in the middle of one either!), because not only will you likely need to be available but you’ll just end up stressing about the status of said project.
I know it’s hard to pump the brakes in the fast paced, always “hustling” and “grinding” world that we live in, but think of it as an investment. Because if taking complete ownership of a few days will help you come back to work with renewed focus (and believe me it will) then it’s well worth it, for you and your company. It will be tempting to check you phone occasionally, but do your best to resist the urge. If you do feel that checking in will help you manage your stress levels, go ahead, but only get involved or respond to something if it appears absolutely mission critical — anything else can wait until you’re back.
Give it a try this weekend: Friday after work, turn off your laptop, phone and any other device that you get email from and keep them off until Sunday night, or if you’re feeling particularly daring, wait until you’re back at work on Monday. I think you’ll feel particularly ready to kick some serious ass at work; hell you might even be able to skip the morning coffee.