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The joy of not working.

This month I am taking a proper break from work for the first time since I started working on a self-employed basis full-time. I love running my own micro-business, but when it comes to taking holidays it’s not yet working for me. I find myself fretting about work and checking emails or committing to things because of my clients’ schedules and as a result taking a complete break from work hasn’t happened so far. Now that a long-awaited break is upon me, I want to finally get that complete break and I am preparing for two weeks without work, two weeks filled with the joy of not working.

I love my work, and I have years of practice when it comes to staying connected and working too much, so I need to make an extra effort to achieve the kind of break I dream about. In case you are looking for inspiration for your own break, here are some steps I am taking this week:

Start to wind down early: I had my calendar blocked out for a while now, but about two weeks ago I started to actively manage my schedule to protect my time off. There are 0 meetings or other commitments this time, a kind of zero tolerance policy for work meetings, calls or check-ins. Between my coaching clients, projects and upcoming talks etc I have a lot of different folk I communicate with every month, and I have tried to schedule everything so that everything that needs to happen this month happens before I go offline.

Get things off the list: I do have work things that can’t just wait whilst I am away, and wherever possible I have planned ahead and completed work ahead of schedule, so that everyone else can get on with things whilst I am away. This has meant a very busy couple of weeks for me, but it’s felt good to get things done. It also means that I feel less guilty for taking time off.

Stack up analogue activities: for me, a proper break means that I spend A LOT less time online. I won’t be scheduling any social media posts for when I am away, and I will set my out of office on my accounts before I leave. To replace a lot of my digital activity, I have a whole stack of library books to read, pens and paper to get creative and a new camera to play with. For the actual trip, I have a travel guide, yes, an actual guide book, and plenty of yoga planned, too. The less time I can spend in the company of my phone, the better. It’s always a bit of a bump for me when I let go of the pace of being online, but after a few days of doing things differently, I usually find a new cadence for my days.

The permission principle: inspired by the writing of Elizabeth Gilbert and her idea to give yourself a permission slip in order to be more creative, to experiment, explore or even fail, I, too, am a big believer in giving myself permission to enjoy not working. It sounds obvious but it remains a powerful principle. Giving yourself permission to enjoy the time away from responsibility makes it much easier to sit with yourself outside of work.

Material markers of freedom: like many people who work from home regularly or permanently I have a whole host of work-related things in my space. When I prepare for a time off work, I try to clean and remove everything, packing away the office and replacing it with things that remind me that I am off work. My desk becomes a drawing table or a new home for plants. My office chair gets covered in a beach towel. Instead of notebooks and pens, I have records and cups of coffee. Even my digital desktop changes. I change my desktop background to a holiday one. I remove all my work accounts and apps from my phone or hide them effectively enough for me not to be tempted to check in.

Logging off: Finally, when everything has been done and I am ready, I log off. And then I immediately start a list where I can dump anything that comes into my head that I have forgotten, need to follow up on or that worries me. I always, always, remember something I didn’t do. And because I don’t want to go back and have to start the whole process of separating myself from work over again, I add it to my list instead. in 99.9% of cases, whatever I have urgently remembered or worried about has become irrelevant by the time I get back to work.

So, thats me done for June. See you next month.

P.S. When I got back from my break, I recorded this podcast episode, reporting back on how well these tips worked. Enjoy!

Image credit: CC-BY me, taken in West Wales

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