I work all the time. I’m one of those people that if I have an idea, I’ll go off and build it. This goes on for months at a time and my mind never gets a break. Working hard isn’t inherently a bad thing. For entrepreneurs, it’s a positive trait. After months of grinding, I’ll reach my breaking point where my productivity is nonexistent. I’ve worked a week of 14 hour days with two all nighters to roll out a new product. Afterwards, I could barely stand, let alone think. We got the product out on time, but my brain was fried for the next week. I never caught up on sleep, and I might as well have not even come into work.
Overworking isn’t just bad for our professional productivity, it can also have health effects. A study conducted in Denmark and England showed that working long hours has a correlation with higher incidences of heart disease and increases your risk for a heart attack. The stress that work induces on our bodies has a negative effect if we spend more than 10 hours at work a day. I realize that working long hours normally comes with the territory of startups or high performers, but we should all be aware of the repercussions our crazy work schedules can have in the long run.
When I need a break, I go big. I plan a trip where I can be totally off the grid with no distractions, no phone, where even the AM radio can’t reach me to recharge. It doesn’t have to be extremely extravagant or for very long, but I make sure that I will be completely unavailable for the duration of the trip. I call this type of trip a “work detox”. Work detoxes are different from other trips where I might be traveling, but still available for chat or my team to call me. It is meant to allow yourself to recharge and get your mind set for to be the highest performer possible.
My work detoxes were inspired by the ‘mini retirements’ Tim Ferriss writes about. In Tim Ferriss’ retirement, you take a trip longer than one month for it to be considered a full “retirement”. That doesn’t work out personally or professionally as I’m currently running my startup, so I wondered about how I could apply the same principles for a shorter trip. After re-reading the section in the 4 Hour Work Week and a few articles about other mini retirements online, I boiled the core concepts down to these three core rules:
– Be out of reach – No phones, no internet, not even Twitter or Instagram.
– Do something or go somewhere new – New places make it easier to fully immerse yourself your surroundings.
– RELAX – Do something that balances your mind and allows you to fully turn off for a bit.
Relaxing doesn’t necessarily mean sitting on a beach for a week, it can be anything that takes your mind off work. I personally know people who find strenuous hiking extremely relaxing and would go mad sitting for longer than one hour on a beach. Do what’s right for your body and mind to fully immerse yourself in something other than work.
In my research I noticed that going somewhere new or doing a new activity, like trying a sport, was positively correlated with feeling refreshed upon return. Many of the trip reports I read had a more positive and upbeat feel when someone was trying something new, like surfing, while staying away from work. While this insight isn’t particularly scientific, I think most of us can relate to feeling extra refreshed after an interesting new experience or traveling to a place we’ve never been before.
How to Plan for Your Work Detox
The first step to moving towards a work detox is recognizing that you are overworked. This sounds very obvious, but a lot of us don’t realize that we are in desperate need of a little relaxation. If you are constantly feeling tired, feel motivation waning, or constantly feeling stressed for no apparent reason it’s probably time to take for a detox.
Ask yourself these questions to help you determine if you need a break:
– Have you felt your motivation and passion waning at your work?
– Have you found it more difficult to be excited about the projects you are working on?
– Have you been grumpy or been quick to find faults with your co-workers or business partners?
– Have you been windows shopping vacations more frequently than normal?
If any of these are a yes, it might be time to look into getting away for a quick detox.
2. Set Aside Time
Talk with your boss, co-founder, or business partner and tell them that you need a bit of time off to get your head on straight. Most people will be supportive and hopefully you taking some time can set precedent for others to do something similar when they are feeling the same way. Just make sure you take some time in the near future that is relatively convenient for their schedule and doesn’t put them in a jam. A good rule of thumb is to not take a vacation one week before a product lunch, except in only the most extreme cases!
If money is an issue, try to plan your escape over a long weekend. You won’t have to take off as much time from work and can still have enough time for a weekend getaway.
3. Find the Spot
Where have you always wanted to go? Is there somewhere in the next state that you’ve always wanted to check out? Maybe there’s a new activity that you want to try? Make a list of places you’ve been curious to see and things you’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t made the time for. When I did this I realized that I had always wanted to try surfing, but had never made the effort to just go do it. I have been to the beach many times, but now I am going out of my way to make sure I check surfing off of my list.
4. Book a Ticket
Book the location you’ve chosen for the dates you want. There are a ton of guides out there on how to save money booking or finding a cheap hotel for those of us on a budget. I prefer to use Google Flights to get an idea of what prices are and then book the cheapest ticket that’s within a week or two of my preferred departure date.
Plan goes last, and you know why? Everyone loves to sit at their desk and plan a vacation all day long, but not many actually book it. Booking before you make all of the little plans like where to stay or what you’re going to do ensures that you actually take the trip, and you need to get away!
Tips for a Stress-Free Detox
Set an Auto Responder
Email runs my life more than I’d like to admit. I sort through over a hundred emails a day and I know that my load seems light for heavy email users. In today’s world people expect some sort of response normally within 24 hours. Setting a good autoresponder that gives another point of contact to direct all immediate questions too allows for your contacts to get the answers they need while you’re away. You can deal with the unruly inbox when you get back home.
Have a Contingency Plan
If you tend to worry a lot, having a contingency plan might be something you want to do. If something catastrophic happens and your partner needs some advice or login from you, give them a number where they can get ahold of you. This number is meant only for emergencies and you need to communicate that you should be called only in the most dire of circumstances. I realize this is 100% counter work detox, but sometimes those random situations arise that need to be taken care of and it’s worth having a piece of mind so you can actually relax.
If you are a founder or manager, you likely make a lot of decisions for your company. Day to day decisions can often be delegated so the company can continue to function as normal. Delegate those types of tasks to a top performing employee that you can trust in your absence. It shows them that you are comfortable with giving them responsibilities and could serve as a way to test if you can delegate those tasks in the future. A win win.
On Thursday I leave for Costa Rica for a 5 day work detox. I’ve been spread too thin the past couple months and need a few days for myself. I took my own advice and decided to book tickets about a month ago when I could feel that familiar feeling of being overworked. During my trip, I plan on trying surfing to try something I’ve always wanted to do. I’m using miles to save cash and am staying in an AirBNB (a tiny house!) to save on costs. The timing isn’t the best and I definitely have work to do, but I realized that making this small investment in my mindset and sanity will pay off tenfold down the road.
Fit, well rested, and well rounded people do better work and can contribute at a higher level than those that have been battered down by stress. The next time you’re feeling this way, refer to this as a guide on how to effectively escape for a short work detox to fully recharge.