If, like me, you grew up in the UK in the 70s, you’ll probably remember being encouraged to “switch off your television set and go out and do something less boring instead” by the kids’ TV show, Why Don’t You … ?
I’m certainly not saying that my work is boring, but I do think it’s good to get out and do something different from your day-to-day every now and then. I’ve always been an advocate of making time in the day to go for a walk, swim or gym class, but what about literally taking your eyes away from the screen to focus them elsewhere for a whole day. That’s what I did last Wednesday …
I meet my great friend Liz every few months for a mid-week catch-up, usually over a hurried lunch because one of us got stuck in traffic on the way or because we have to leave sharply to get home for a Skype call / school pick-up. About six months ago, Liz suggested we next caught up for a whole day at a craft school rather than in the pub. At a clay sculpting workshop. Erm, ok, yes, sign me up and let me know how much I owe you. And that was the last I thought about until last weekend when she sent me the reminder email telling me to bring an apron and some ideas. Gulp!
Being pretty organised about my diary, I had remembered to avoid scheduling any calls or meetings for the day I’d be out, and didn’t have any problems moving work round to fit, which was a relief. I’d given the key people I’m working with plenty of notice that I wouldn’t be contactable for the day, and set off, determined to enjoy a full day away from all things ELT, editing and social media-related. I wasn’t sure I’d manage not to check in, tweet or download my inbox, but certainly had every intention of not doing so.
I needn’t have worried. It turns out that having hands covered in clay is the best way of avoiding checking your phone! And trying to work out what to do with a large lump of clay focuses the mind and leaves very little room for worrying whether you’ve got any Basecamp messages or missed Skype calls to respond to.
And so we spent a peaceful day with Beatrice Hoffmann and six others at the Ardington School of Crafts, shaping, bonding, digging and flicking. Once I’d been told firmly that the idea I’d gone in with was pottery, not sculpture, and had to do a complete re-think, we were off. There was no discussion of anything work-related, and even though I found out that the lady making a whale’s tail next to me was a dentist, no one even asked me if I worked. Liz and I sat in the school’s garden at lunchtime and caught up on personal stuff, and I can report that I didn’t check my phone once during the day, even though I did use it to take some photos. I did have to stop myself a couple of times, but I was enjoying being away from it all so much, I avoided the temptation. Only when I’d got home and had supper did I check in, and guess what – I didn’t have a single email in my inbox that required any action. Plan ahead, and there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t take a day out.
So, what’s the point of this post, other than to share my snaps? Excuses for not taking time out often include not having enough time, feeling guilty, or thinking it feels selfish. However …
- taking some time away from your work to do something completely different can be refreshing. As you might go for a walk to mull something over, a change in perspective can help you think more clearly when you come back to your desk.
- learning a new skill or trying something you’ve never done before could help you find a new direction or hobby. (Clay sculpting was fun for a day, but I won’t be pursuing it further.)
- arranging a day away from your desk doesn’t have to leave you panicking about when you’ll catch up with work. Plan far enough in advance to give clients notice that you’ll be unavailable and put your out of office message on your email and voicemail.
- if you’re freelance, a day away from your desk is likely to mean a day without income, and if you’re doing a paid activity, and possibly also need to pay for childcare, etc, this is a consideration. But the benefits should outweigh the costs, and there are plenty of activities that don’t cost anything. A simple day of walking would be a great tonic.
Liz has suggested I choose our next activity. Almost a week on and I’m thinking that a day at a spa might be a relaxing thing to do. But then again, I’ve always wanted to know how to ice a cake without lumps and bumps …
Have you got any recommendations for ways to take time out, or how to manage fitting a new activity in with work?
In case you’re wondering, here’s the finished article (with reference photo just in case!). Just waiting for it to come back from firing in Beatrice’s kiln before I find a home for it in my office, as a reminder that time out isn’t time wasted.