Time Out!

March 20, 2012

Over the past several weeks I have been putting in long days at the office, going in on weekends, and bringing home work in an effort to meet a permit submission deadline for a large adaptive reuse project. As the deadline approached, my stress increased. I dreaded last-minute changes by the architect. Small mistakes by my overworked team felt like insurmountable obstacles. When the submission date came, we pulled together and submitted the best product we could, knowing that there would be many more stress-inducing deadlines before construction actually started.

I took the next day off – a beautiful Tuesday. It was the best stay-cation I’ve had in a long time.

Ping Tom Park Chicago

I slept in until 8:00 but awoke with more energy than on most work days. First, I helped get my daughter ready for daycare and walked the dog. After a relaxed breakfast, I took my car in for an oil change. On the way, I stopped at the Verizon store to inquire about new wireless options and swung by my storage unit to retrieve my mountain bike. Before noon, I had traversed town and accomplished several errands, and I relished the opportunity to take care of my needs – instead of some client’s.

My sister happened to be in town, so we planned an afternoon adventure together. After some quick bike maintenance, we would ride down the lakeshore path to Chinatown for a refreshing bubble tea. It was the perfect day for a ride: 75-degrees in mid-March is unheard of for Chicago! The bike ride was the perfect antidote to a month of work-induced stress.

Chinatown Gate, Chicago

At the end of the day, I reflected on my relaxing but productive day. The day seemed longer than most. It was almost strange to mark the passing of time by feeling the sun move across the sky. Most days at work, I’m so swamped that I sit down at my desk 8:00, stare into the computer screen, and then… Shoot! How can it be 5:00 already? Where do the days go?

I reassure my wife that I’m better than most engineers about getting home at reasonable hours. At least, that’s what I tell myself. I don’t have a company issued Blackberry, and I do not check company email from home unless I’m “working from home.” Even so, the gravitational pull of the office is strong. Getting up to leave at the end of the day is often physically difficult, like removing Golem’s precious ring. Let’s hope the consequence of failure isn’t so ugly.

Perhaps feeling some of the same pressures to stay late and remain connected to work at all times, a colleague recently sent me a link to an article in the New York Times titled The Joy of Quiet. The author describes his own efforts to stay disconnected in order to be more present. One of the more interesting notions is that guests to some of the most exclusive luxury vacations actually pay a premium to escape TV and Internet access.  “The central paradox of the machines that have made our lives so much brighter, quicker, longer and healthier is that they cannot each us how to make the best use of them.”

Chicago River South Branch

I returned to work on Wednesday. I’d like to say that I solved many problems with the enlightenment that a day of rest can bring. Actually, I spent almost the entire day responding to emails; my sent count at the end of the day was over 50. At least at lunch, I had the wherewithal to skip the lunch-n-learn in the conference room and take in some more sun on the plaza.

What would you do with one day off? Do you ever shut out your work life entirely? How do you manage stressful projects? Would you pay extra for the privilege not to receive an Internet signal? Please leave your comments below.

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