What I Did On My Holidays: Or the benefits of taking some away from it all

It’s Thursday night and I’ve been working for over 12 hours already in a desperate attempt to see the bottom of my inbox before I go. I have 45 left in my action folder and have reduced the inbox itself from 1250+ to 0. Sounds great, right? It definitely is but the act of getting to this point has left me so wound up about what I might have missed that I’m in a bit of a panic that I’ve forgotten something crucial. I’m thinking from the graph below that I’m not the only one who finds the build up to stepping away super stressful. So in an attempt to persuade myself of the benefits of a break and to lull my brain into some form of relaxation I’m going to focus on why holidays and taking time away from the inbox is so important.

As I write this my out of office is on. It says that I am away and will not be accessing emails whilst I’m away. More than that it states that I will delete any emails that arrive before I return from holiday, with a request that if it is still going to be relevant the sender should re-send after my return date. For many years I took laptops and phones away with me, in recent years I’ve decided that I will no longer do that. I can’t trust myself to not take it out and just ‘take a quick look’ or ‘do one quick thing’. Before I knew it I had always spent every day of my leave working and came back more frazzled then before I went. If the opportunity presents itself I will also become the person who is a walking version of the tweet below.

The ‘I will delete’ section comes from the fact that I will return to over 1000 new emails. My diary for when I get back is already full to bursting, from all the meetings I have to squeeze into less time because I’ve been on leave. This means that I will have A LOT of emails and no actual time to read them. I may or may not delete the intervening ones, but this message means that if anything is important it isn’t up to me to email dive to find it, it’s up to the sender to re-send. This means that when I come back I will panic less about the amount of time it will take me to catch up with having been away.

So given that even the process of going away drives me to a special level of stressed out, why am I doing it?

I think everyone in healthcare is run down and tired. When I’m this tired I lose the capacity to put things into perspective, everything is a disaster, my anxiety levels go up and I find it hard to see the wood for the trees. Going away and spending some quality time with my family enables me to recharge. It helps ground me and reminds me of what’s important. It enables me to become something other than Dr Cloutman-Green and spend time laughing, reading books, indulging in bubble baths and possibly even managing to have a lie in past 6am.

Letting my brain experience other things and stepping away from the day job also allows me to recharge my creative batteries. I come back able to look at problems from a different perspective, increasing my chance of solving issues. It also enables me to get inspired and remember why I have the best in the world, in order to help me plan and engage with change with a re-energised passion. Within 48 hours of being away I always have so many thoughts and plans that bubble up due to having a change of scenery. It’s another reason why I have to leave the laptop behind, as otherwise the urge to act on them immediately is too great. I keep a notebook to write them down so I don’t fear forgetting them but then can move onto the next book. It makes me better at my job when I return.

Not only is it good for me but it’s good for my team

It’s really easy to fall into a trap where you feel like if you aren’t there things fall apart. To be honest for me it’s less about this but my imposter syndrome telling me that if I’m not there to catch and double check myself people will find that I’ve made some huge mistake (let me be clear I’ve never found this to be the case – it’s why it’s irrational). It’s really important for me to go away and find that this doesn’t happen. It’s a little bonkers I know, but the more tired I am the more this fear grows, and the harder it is to step away and become less tired. It is quite the cycle, but knowing that it exists is 50% of the battle of controlling it.

Although I fear stepping away it’s easy to ignore the opportunity that this gives to my team(s) to try things out, to take on tasks or sit on meetings that they don’t always have access to. It gives them experience of a slightly different role to decide whether they enjoy it and supports their career development and networking. We are a team and I am not a one woman army, so it’s important to acknowledge that.

Not only is stepping away a development opportunity for teams, it is also a needed piece of leadership by example. I would hate anyone I work with to feel they can’t take breaks and recharge. I don’t want them working stupid long hours and fearing what happens if they are not ‘always on’. I need to lead by example and therefore give implicit permission that others also fully step away. For example I took the ‘I will delete’ message from my Clinical Lead. She led by example and I therefore feel able to adopt her practice. I want to make sure I also lead by example.

Finally, it makes me a less grouchy human being! When I’m tired, like many people, I get tetchy, read more than is meant into communication and frankly don’t communicate as well. My patience and tolerance become stretched wafer thin. I think that everyone around me has a much better experience of working with/living with/being friends with me when I’m refreshed, recharged and ready to go.

On that note this is my final job of the day, apart from packing and all that jazz, so I’m outta here.

See you all when I get back!

All opinions on this blog are my own

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