Here at Atomic, we work to maintain our sustainable pace on a number of levels. I typically think of my pace on a weekly granularity because of our team’s iterations, invoicing cycles, and the intervening weekend breaks. There’s a rhythm in which I can feel the ebb and flow of my energy level resulting from the week’s efforts and accomplishments.
Atomic encourages employees to take a consecutive week of vacation at some point during the year, and I recently took 10 days off to travel with my wife and disconnect. Having the opportunity to disrupt the rhythm, to disconnect and re-energize, is important. But it isn’t always easy, especially for people who are deeply engaged with and care about their work (as we do here at AO). Here are a few things that can help make it work.
1. You can’t always wait for an ideal time.
I scheduled my time off several months ahead of time. It can be difficult to know exactly where a project will be on a precise week months in the future, but I shot for a point a couple of weeks past a defined project milestone.
As the date drew near, it became apparent that my week away was going to be a phase of heavy design and a lot of discussions with our customer. I wouldn’t have called it an ideal time to spend time away from the project, but an ideal simply may not exist, especially in longer projects. Just make sure to plan and prepare accordingly.
2. Set expectations.
y project team, customer, and other people I have contact with on a regular basis knew I was going to be gone. Most people don’t want to bother someone on vacation unless there’s an important question or concern, so this was my first step toward reducing interruptions.
I also set an email vacation message, both for my own reassurance (I know people can’t forget I’m gone) and to handle other messages that might come my way in the meantime.
3. Equip your team.
We tend to extend the paradigm of pair programming to other aspects of our projects. This helps share knowledge of ongoing design, discussions with our customers, short- and long-term goals, and project status among many team members. As a result, I only had a few in-progress tasks to review with other team members prior to departing.
One of those more formal hand-offs was passing along the mantle of project lead. We designate someone to fill that role on our teams to ensure that we consistently handle project management needs, and we want someone who will be present to formally carry on that level of attention and responsibility.
Feeling that my team was well equipped, with directions set for the next couple of weeks, made it easier for me to fee confident that my departure would not impact our project.
4. Trust your team.
With my team well equipped, it was time to leave and let them carry on. After months of having my pulse on the project, it could have been a bit disconcerting to feel disconnected for ten whole days. There was temptation to check in, to cruise through my email, but I knew I left it in good hands and resisted re-engaging. I cared about the work that was going on while I was gone, but I knew my team did, too, and that they would handle it with aplomb.
5. Leave the laptop at home.
I use my laptop a lot. I decided that part of what I wanted to disconnect from was that pattern, work or not, and I really wanted to leave it at home. My temptation to take it anyway was put to rest when I asked myself, “What question could the team in the office not answer that I could answer by having my laptop?” There was nothing.
The team has all the same code, documents, basecamp posts, etc. that I have. My laptop slept soundly, fully powered off, at home. I never needed it.
6. Disable notifications.
Wanting to reduce the chance of getting drawn back in to the fray unnecessarily, I turned off email notifications on my iPhone. Then, I disabled anything that might tempt me to dive back in to my off-vacation habits, like the unread message count on the mail icon and emails appearing in the notification center.
Effective email silence. It reminds me of the day my college dorm lost power and all the computers on the floor spun down their fans and high-RPM hard drives reminding us what silence really sounded like. It was a nice disruption to the normal sound and rhythm of my day, and I knew that if anyone really needed me, they could still call.
Disconnecting from work, from interruptions, and from the normal rhythm of life is good from time to time. My wife and I enjoyed a good balance of relaxation, adventure, and good food that was altogether beyond our norm. And now I’m back, digging in, refreshed, and ready to go.
You should really give it a shot.