Playing The Long Game - “a letter to myself”

To be creative forever, to really love what we do and to run back to it with passion and inspiration, we need to have rest and separation. We need to long to get back to the work at hand when away, not dread the thought of the first day back from vacation, or the coming Monday morning grind following the weekend. The rest and recovery makes us long to work and stretch our capacity, separation gives us the space to have original thought and not to mindlessly pursue the same old. We are creative workers and when we don’t make the time and space to recover we turn into an assembly line doing the same old, day in and day out. Very risky business when we allow this to happen, or worse, cause the situation to happen by pushing people to work beyond their creative decision capacity.

How do we plan and win at the long term game?

  • Keep the work day to what has proven to be the most effective. Work about 8 hours, 35 hours per week is apparently our optimum. Take a mental break every hour or so. Don’t watch YouTube, get up, stretch, go for a walk, have a chat about something other than what you are currently doing, walk away from that computer screen. Do the dishes is my personal favourite.
  • Take at least one, and preferably two days of every week to unplug completely.
  • Take a vacation every quarter. Real vacations. Not working holidays.

How do we achieve this? How do we have an organization that can pull this off? To successfully achieve this time away we have to be disciplined in how we go about it:

  • We plan the week. We set realistic expectations for it. We communicate those expectations. We identify blocks and make it known loud and clear what we need to get our week done. Everything starts with communication.
  • We make our work day the most focussed that we can. No distractions. No context switching. Kanban style we do one thing at a time. We hit our flow and we stay there until break time comes around. And, we make absolutely sure that we don’t slam anyone else’s flow. We don’t needlessly distract our co workers. We don’t hand off half baked worked to anyone. We don’t make messes. We don’t delegate our work to others. We show up on time, we do what we say, and when we screw up (because we are human and we make mistakes) we come clean with an apology. We respect the work of all around us just as we want our work respected.
  • And then we close the week cleanly with a plan for the coming week. We have no open or miscommunicated issues when we head off for a couple of days of unplugged recovery.
  • We plan our vacations at least 90 days in advance. Planning doesn’t mean you booked your flights. It means that you have coordinated with your peers, delegated to your designates with authority and full disclosure of everything that they must cover, they will face no unknowns. You have made absolutely sure that you are covered while away and that you haven’t set anyone up for any nasty surprises to manage while you are gone. This is vacation planning. This is on the vacationer to figure out. No one else. The two most important days of your vacation planning is hand off day before you go, and the hand back day when you return. Schedule them. Plan for them.

And of course, if we create the space for rest and separation to achieve the long game then we expect that individuals within the organization won’t use their remaining waking hours and vacations to work on side projects that leave them exhausted. If you are full-time, focus full-time, on us, and when not working, rest, and enjoy. If you want to work for us and do side projects that’s no problem, be part-time.