Hello everyone! I’m back from my brain-mandated vacation, by which I mean I spent several days with the wife simply eating and sleeping and watching TV. It was exactly what I needed. I will no doubt feel like complete garbage tomorrow morning, but for now I’m riding high off of 35-40 hours of sleep since Thursday night, and it’s affirmed my belief that 50% of the burnout I’ve been feeling has been from not forcing myself to get 8-9 hours a night. Which is an insane prospect for most people, but is one that I’m going to dedicate myself to, because I feel amazing.
I have to admit that I haven’t stepped away from work in years - not simply because work (and life) has been difficult, but because taking time off usually requires me to put some faith in the fact that every client will remember that I am off, that no crises happen, and that everyone’s in a good mood with me before I leave. This isn’t a complaint about my past or present clients, but just the nature of what it is I do every day - having an assortment of clients with an assortment of announcements, each with their own levels of importance and details to be aware of.
Going on vacation becomes a surgical operation, making plans months in advance and then organizing things on your schedule as the date gets closer so that you don’t have any interruptions to relaxation, or arrive back into a week of nightmares. And for the first time in memory, I think I actually pulled it off - in no small part thanks to the people I work with, but also because I actually took a risk and talked to clients about it.
I’ve usually avoided the conversation as much as possible - I always gave a cursory warning in advance and then another closer to the time, but never really wanted to remind them of it repeatedly for fear they’d be mad. This time I took a slightly different tact - no, I didn’t constantly say “hey I’m going on vacation,” but I made sure to have an actual (albeit short) conversations during weekly Zoom calls leading up to the vacation about it. It’s scary - I’m in a business that effectively gives me 7-10 bosses at once - but I was surprised (I shouldn’t have been) to see that everyone was basically like “oh cool see you when you get back.” I expected emails that required urgent responses and, well, didn’t get them. There was one Slack message that I missed, and that was quickly sorted with a “hey I’m OOO.”
It feels weird. I’ve taken time off maybe four times in the last five years, and aside from my honeymoon have felt there was always this unavoidable pressure to be available. It’s not even that the demand is made - it’s that it’s just so easy to respond to stuff, and it’ll only take a minute of my time, maybe two, and then I can get back to whatever it was I was working on.
There’s a lot of literature on the effects of interruptions in the workplace, but not a ton on the same phenomena when relaxing. The interruptions of having to respond to emails, and even know they’re there is something that has a habit of interrupting my post-work hours, and I have no real good solution to it beyond mental designation of work and relaxation hours. I’ve found that the little emails that pop up after hours do gnaw at me - they push me a little further from relaxing, a little further from peace, but so much of that mostly comes from me looking at my emails. I’ve had to start forcing myself to not look at my email at all until the morning - and if I know about it, it adds a weight of dread knowing that I’ll have to deal with it then.
I think a lot of it comes from a force of habit - that I don’t consider the individual actions of my job too taxing and fail to consider the gestalt of having to do them a few hundred times a day. Sending and responding to emails is a job I consider myself extremely lucky to have, a job that is significantly easier and less demanding than doing manual labor, or being a lawyer, or being a doctor, and thus I assume as a result that I’m being a baby by not responding to each email and text the moment it comes in.
I think some of this is internalized from how I started work - again, I was incredibly lucky and got a job at a games magazine, and I’ve always felt incredibly lucky to have that job, and thus from day one I’d take any work I was capable of doing. I had to work to live in America, so my first job in PR I basically worked every day knowing that if I failed, I had to leave the country. My agency started quicker than I expected it to, and thus from the get-go I was focused on trying to get work done because I was lucky to have it. This isn’t to say I’m even some sort of paragon of hard work, that I haven’t had lazy days, that I haven’t burned myself out quite a few times - just that I think my work ethic is ultimately “I got a job to do and it’s better than milking cows or whatever.”
What this mostly means is that I have realized I am actually an extremely poor judge of how much work it takes to overburden me. I don’t have any task that’s in my day that I consider necessarily hard - they’re just vague and/or numerous, requiring a lot of writing emails to reporters and reporting stuff to clients, and endless reading that I truly enjoy. But I can’t really feel the pressure at the time it’s happening, and thus I’ll find myself three or four weeks into a brutal phase of work burned out but not able to specifically point at one thing and say “oh that did it.” It usually compounds and compounds until sleep on its own doesn’t help.
I’m sure this is a problem that applies to a lot of knowledge workers - the actual work itself is not demanding, but the katamari of tasks eventually gets to you. And I think that even writing it down helps. That, and understanding that even if it doesn’t feel like I’ve done a ton of stuff in a day, I still have, and I have to treat it as real work.
All in all, I’ve got to start taking more time off. If only because I didn’t realize how much I missed it.
Anyway, it’s the one year anniversary of me putting on joker makeup for my guys to cheer them up during the beginning of the pandemic, a time of great uncertainty. So that’s how I’m ending this.