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Having relaxing time off when you are remote

I think one of the most challenging part of being a remote worker is taking time off. When you work at an office and take a day off of work, all you need to do is not show up at the office. But if you office is in your house, it can be really tough to get away from it. And since people aren’t used to seeing you in an office to signifying that you are available, it can be really tough to get that message across.

I’ve been working like crazy lately. Tons of travel taking me to many locations across the US, Brazil, and Europe, lots of hours in getting various projects and programs going, and many late nights processing emails, reviewing pull requests, and doing reports, has really kept my head entirely into work. Which is good in one sense, as I’ve let my passion for what I do professionally really help me grow, but sometimes you need a bit of time away from it all to clear your mind and reset the engines, so to speak. So with the  end of the year holidays ( and a glut of PTO time in the bank ) I decided to take two full weeks off from work.

So knowing that I’m a remote worker, and getting pinged by everyone under the sun every day, how did I get this done without the temptation of slipping back into work?

Well, for starters, I knew I couldn’t completely ignore work for two weeks. I of course sent out an email to all of my co-workers to announce my intentions, and set my out of office reply to remind everyone when emails come in that I don’t respond to. But I also know from past experiences that I didn’t want to come back to a mountain of email, and so every day of vacation I knew I would be stressing about that first day back. So everyday, I spent 10 minutes just processing thru email; just clearing out things I knew didn’t matter and making sure anything of super urgency didn’t come in. My goal? To make sure that January 3rd isn’t spent processing and dealing with email for an entire day.

Next, I knew I needed something to do. One of the easiest ways to slip into work is to have too much idle time, and then you can rationalize opening up the laptop and starting to work on work stuff. So I planned to have several projects to work on as a part of our basement remodeling project; doing some plumbing work, pulling some cabling, and so on. We did a lot of different family activities together; from get togethers with family we don’t see as often to taking the kids to see Christmas lights. All in all it has been rejuvenating.

So far, this mix of managing my work life while taking more time in my personal life has resulted in a very relaxing and enjoyable time away from work. I’ve realized that cold turkey is just a recipe for disaster, but learning how to turn down work has given me the freedom to enjoy being away from it rather than stressing about the disaster that could be lurking upon my return.

What’s your secret? Sound off in the comments below….

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Categories: Life
  1. December 30, 2011 at 9:43 am | #1

    Hi John

    I only work from home 2 days a week (the rest in the office) but I can still relate to the issues you described. Its all too easy to log in and tinker with work and, I find, this creeps to more and more each day. Minimising idle time is key, as you say, but still requires willpower :)

  2. Roman Marintsenko
    January 2, 2012 at 2:42 am | #2

    What works for me is to treat remote work as if I was in the office. i.e. at 8-9 am I imagine that I came to office and shut down all irrelevant sites and then at 5-6 pm I shut down all work stuff and refuse to read work emails. In the long run it’s much better performance wise as I don’t burn out as fast.

  3. January 2, 2012 at 8:22 am | #3

    Hi John,

    Remote work was really hard for me, until I tought myself the GTD methodology (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Getting_Things_Done). It really works!

    BTW: If you get some spare time, I’d be glad to cooperate with you on some research on community driven innovation (see your LinkedIn inbox).

  4. January 4, 2012 at 5:55 am | #4

    Getting a break was made easy for me this year since we had a record number of visitors over the festive period and I was mostly keeping the home fires burning and feeding people. I did manage to do a little bit of editing and keep on top of my email, but nothing more – and that’s fine with me. I was so glad to be back at it this week as a result!

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