Avoid Meh. Make Time to Get Away from the (Virtual) Office. We'll All Thank You.
About July is when the team began talking about fighting a lack of motivation and the sinking reality of working 100% remotely for the rest of the year and likely into early 2021. They shared feelings of restlessness and lack of focus. The word someone so sagely shared was "meh." I just feel "meh." We paused a second then all giggled. Yes, that was the word exactly.
We were totally feeling "meh." What a great, brief word to express those feelings of being bored, un-motived, uninterested, restless.
I wasn't surprised, and of course we talked as a team on a few strategies for tackling those meh feelings with some fun throughout the week.* There's a lot happening in the work environment these days in spite of not being able to collaborate together in person. We wake up, do our morning thing, then head to a desk that's likely a few steps from where we just got up. We sit on conference calls for most of the day, which can be tiring. We put in a few extra hours for good measure, then hang out with the family for a few hours in the evening. Rinse and repeat, except many of you are also dealing with child and parent care, school, domestic duties and more. It's overwhelming and of course the mehs will set in at times.**
I don't know about you - for me, a case of the mehs is a signal that it's time to get away from work to give my brain a rest and let work neurons fire in the background. In research for this article, numerous articles popped about the value of a vacation to both employees and their employers.
A few tidbits from those articles (sources at the end of the article):
Time away from "the office" improves our stress and immune functions
Detaching from work gives our brains a rest and lets the neurons work in the background to make new connections, increasing innovation and creativity
Disengaging from work when we're not at work (ie, not at our remote workspace) increases resiliency and productivity
Neglecting to take time away from work decreases our ability to relax, as our brains forget how to do so when we stay keyed up
Finally, in an article published this March by Arianna Huffington about leadership in today's environment, she shares that: "We can’t perform at our best if we forgo sleep, overindulge in stress eating, soothe our anxiety and uncertainty with alcohol or — does this sound too familiar? — forget to take even a minute to move between back-to-back Zoom meetings.
When we do take care of ourselves, we see benefits to our physical and mental health, performance and productivity. When we don’t, we pay a price: innovation, creativity, resilience, empathy, decision-making and team building are the first to disappear when we are burned out and depleted."
I'm sold. We need to be finding ways to unplug from work and our remote work spaces to "get away."
These days that might not be super easy, as we are staying safely contained and/or juggling family commitments. But let's see what we can do. Here are a few ideas:
Shut work down on Friday at 4:30pm (be daring!) and enjoy the weekend. Plan a walk or try a new dinner recipe. Catch up on a book on your TBR list (that's "to be read" list).
Take the family on a day trip over the weekend. Start researching on Monday when you have a quick break and by Friday, you'll have built some excitement for a day trip adventure.
If you're comfortable, book a long weekend at a remote-ish cabin, lake or beach house. Colleagues have shared that they are fairly comfortable with the safety of containing as a family in a vacation house. A change of scenery does wonders. Oh, and don't bring your work laptop. Leave work on your work desk.
One thing I can promise is that your work will wait for you. No one is going to swoop in and do it for you. And maybe, unplugging for a few days will provide increased innovation and a sense of renewal so that you have a better idea for that tricky project. Oh, and you know what? I can always tell that my team was great with me taking time away. They got to handle things they didn't normally do, I'm not crabby (though they would never tell me that… oh wait) when I'm back and I'm not stressing them out inadvertently. Trust me, everyone wins when we take time to care for ourselves.
Taking My Own Advice
A couple of weeks ago, I took my own advice. We loaded up The Palace (that's what we've been calling our newly acquired RV*** — because The Palace is a totally bougie way to travel), and set out to Colorado to explore new places. I've figured out that I start getting a case of the mehs about every two months or so. My ideas stop being as innovative, I get grouchy and overly focused on being productive and proving my performance. I get that feeling that if I miss a meeting work as we know it will end. Stress breeds anxiety that breeds stress. I'm sure you know exactly what I'm talking about, you over-achiever, you.
It's when I get that wrapped up that I realize my brain needs a break to let the ideas, problems and general work stuff filter to the back of my head and let fun, exploration and time with my spouse take the forefront.
My husband and I are taking the guidance to wear masks, wash hands and limit contact with others very seriously. Quarantining in The Palace is feasible and we made it happen while also hiking, biking and enjoying the lovely splendor of the San Juan Mountains. Others have shared that a better fit for them is a fishing trip on the weekends and in the wee hours of the morning when others are still snoozing. For others, it's a long weekend at the beach. You do you; just do you safely, with a face mask and much washing of hands.
Can you tell that moment when you realize you've been keyed up and carrying unneeded anxiety? We were in day three of our trip and setting out on a hike for the day. The first steps of the hike were up, up, up. I'm huffing, grumbling and already feeling like this is going to be a long day. My husband is up ahead, just letting me do my thing. Mid trudge, I look up and get an eyeful of golden wildflowers.
Beautiful. I pause and take a big breath full of mountain air. Clear and renewing. I breathe again, then turn around.
Wow. Majestic, lovely, humbling. Just breathe. And the coach that I carry around in my head advised that I don't have to tackle this hill with the same fervor that I tackle work projects. It's not an achievement. Relax. It's just hiking. Enjoy the process. And so we did. The day was awesome, full of beauty and wonder (and tired legs).
…and I forgot what day it was until it was time to head home.
Your action item this afternoon: block time on your calendar to be away from the (remote) office. Do it. School is about to start and we're getting busy with projects in the latter half of the year. Take a long weekend. If you're feeling meh, you're probably acting meh, too. We'll all thank you for taking time for an investment in yourself. You're worth it.
Articles referenced in no particular order:
*Side note: I'm no psychologist, but I am a leader, and sometimes the lines can blur. Keep an eye out - there are times when as leaders we can be fantastic coaches, listening well to our folks, and then there are times when meh become something more and it's time to use your resources, such as employee assistance programs.
**If you're dealing with more than a light case of the mehs, please reach out for support to a trusted resource or an employee assistance program if available.
***Please don't take this post as encouragement to purchase an RV. We've been discussing it for years, and this summer happened to be the optimal time for us to make that decision.