The Importance of Time Off

Our Wedding

When I got halfway through planning my wedding I had the great idea to take the entirety of September off, as our wedding was on the 10th. That way, I would give myself, and my clients, enough time to prepare for my departure the entirety of September.

The plan, didn’t go to plan, instead I ended up probably the most stressed out I have ever been in my life, I would go as far to say I was on the verge of a meltdown, I wasn’t coping with everyday tasks such as doing the washing or making decisions about dinner, I was crying all the time and simply because my job was causing more stress than I ever imagined possible.

It actually wasn’t my job, it boiled down to two clients, the rest were being absolutely brilliant. My friendsĀ Colly and Dan Rubin, gave me some great advice and enabled me to see things a lot clearer, I had to be firmer and perhaps have some awkward conversations with the clients in question, but doing nothing wasn’t an option. I completely played down to everyone at that time just how bad things had got in my head, probably even to Colly andĀ Dan, but at home, my poor husband-to-be had to one day deal with a proper girly meltdown, while I was holding a very large kitchen knife, chopping a carrot, and wailing about an HTML/CSS problem that I was finding hard to solve but normally would have done in two seconds. Looking back on it, it was pretty funny actually but hindsight is a wonderful thing.

So, after being away for a month with surprisingly little fallout, I thought I’d share a few things that calmed me down and have since sorted me out, being away for a long time gave me real perspective to see what was stressing me out in my work life and what I could do in the future to prevent me from having another meltdown.

  • Tell clients far in advance when you are going away. By far in advance I mean, like by a month, or more if you can. I gave mine 3 weeks notice and was still dealing with tons of last minute requests.
  • Keep a clean and tidy workspace. Seems simple but before the wedding, my workspace was cluttered with various things but “clutter” was just what it was, it’s hard when you work from home to keep that line between the two things clean, but ultimately, it will stress you out if your working environment isn’t in order (which mine still isn’t, a job for tomorrow!)
  • There is such a thing as being too connected. While I was in America I had an AT&T sim, I replaced my o2 sim card with the American one and in an instant, all my ties and worries to England were cut and there was nothing anyone could do about it, it was my honeymoon after all. I then began to realise, back home I have the office line, Skype, Adium, Twitter, my mobile and Facebook chat (in Adium) to contend with, this is far to much distraction in one place. Before I left, my clients had multiple channels upon which to get me, just having the dings, pings and bongs every 5 minutes was stressing me out. I’ll be limiting myself in the future and might even go as far as to change my mobile, as on a personal front, my mobile is now getting spammed with various call centres and SMS’s in the middle of the night.
  • Have the realisation, nothing is that important. I made a deal with myself that nothing and no one was going to ruin the week before my wedding, I plan to be married for life and therefore this would be my only opportunity to enjoy the build up. In my head I went as far as saying I would happily loose the clients that were causing me stress in a barter for one of the most important times of my life. When my Grandfather passed away and I took a week off work (bearing in mind, I normally work 50 weeks a year!) a client decided to tell me exactly what they thought of me taking time off – that person is no longer a client. Realise that some things should always come first and are far more important.
  • Plan and schedule for when you come back. So everyone dreads the post holiday inbox huh? I’ll admit, I had my iPad on me and free Wi-Fi in every hotel we visited, I was checking my emails as I went along but left them all for downloading when I was back. I switched the iMac on and I had 1008 messages from nearly 20 days away, not too bad. Out of that 1008 messages, 71 need responding to. Holiday inboxes are not as bad as you think.Before I left, I also made a note of anyone that contacted me recently and needed responding to when I got back, I had so much faith in myself that “I would remember” but ultimately, now I’m back, I haven’t and it has saved me time and stress trawling back on email conversations. I just made a note in “The Hit List” and now have a tidy list to refer back to, complete with email addresses. I also scheduled all my work in iCal from the 4th of October to give myself two days to readjust to the time difference, sort emails and admin tasks before starting work again.
  • Take time off. If I go downstairs and turn the TV on in the middle of the day, I feel like a naughty school girl bunking off school, I am always at my desk, morning noon and often, nights. Being away for a month has made me realise that as long as I get my work done, I need to give myself more of a normal work/life balance, walk the dog daily, get fresh air and not have a rigid 9-5 timetable when I’m more than likely working 3-4 hours in the evening too, but above all – to not feel guilty about taking time off as in this creative industry, you really do need time away from the screen to find inspiration in everyday life, and also feel like a human being and not a machine.

I think I’ve just summed it all up myself, I had started to feel like a creative machine rather than Sarah and thankfully had the realisation myself before it got too bad.

I know not everyone is fortunate enough to have a month long holiday, for whatever reason, so I hope me writing down what helped me, will also help you, one day.

NB. I am fully sane, blissfully de-stressed, back to my former self and accepting work from Mid-November January.
(that’s a whole other blog post!)