This week was spring break for our kids, and I planned to take work off for the whole week. I never take time off work. And when I do, I still work the whole time. This year was going to be different.
We made our calendar back in January to make sure that we protected the time. I carefully rejected requests to travel, meet, or train for that week. And I did everything I could to get ahead at work so that things would run smoothly in my absence. A great colleague and friend of mine covered my phone for the week. I was set to go.
So, when Monday morning finally came, it only makes sense that I worked a full day from home. And then I worked a big chunk of Tuesday. And then I started to work on Wednesday. That’s when my boss found out and put an end to it. I accidentally did a “reply all” email from my work phone and it included her. I got an immediate reminder that I was supposed to be on time off and needed to break away and spend the week with my family.
Some time later I thought of an important report I had forgotten to send out the previous week. I got back on the computer and sent it to my boss. I thought this would make me look really good. “That Rick!” my boss would think, “He is a real go getter.” But instead she just replied curtly: “Thanks. Go Away.”
I showed Wendy and we both laughed out loud. Then I sent an email out to all my employees and included my boss:
As you know, I’ve been on PTO this week, but I’ve also been checking in a lot. That not only sets a bad example, it’s also a real disservice to everyone. I’ve been just available enough to be confusing and not helpful.
As of this moment, my phone is off and I’m powering down my laptop. I’m headed out of town with my family and won’t be checking in.
This time I made good. We ended up having the greatest spring break we could have imagined. We camped out on a friend’s ranch and chopped all of his firewood for him. We also cleaned out our back yard, built a storage shed, helped a family move, watched Frozen a few times, went to the temple, drove to Utah, visited both sets of grandparents, went to Lagoon, ate at restaurants, and stayed for free two nights in a hotel from all the points I’ve built up with my new job. Did you see the part about going to Lagoon? We went to Lagoon.
That’s not easy. And it requires a lot of work. My favorite example is from Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen. As a brand new employee in a consulting firm, he let his chagrined employer know that he couldn’t participate in the routine Saturday and Sunday work meetings since these were days he devoted to worship and to family. He put it simply: “If that means I should not be working here, it’s better to recognize that now.”
Now, it’s not enough to just draw a line in the sand. I know I’ve got to work to back it up. Christensen got to work hours earlier than everyone else every day and brought a sack lunch so he wouldn’t have to leave the office at mid-day. As I come back from this wonderful week and gear up to re-enter my job early tomorrow morning, I’m thrilled at the thought of the changes I can make to work harder and smarter so that my nights, my weekends, my holidays, and my scheduled time off are spent doing the most important work of my life.