Wednesday, June 20, 2018

"I can still work!"

I've had this conversation twice in the last two weeks with hard-working clients:

Client: I'm going on vacation, but I'm taking my laptop and I'll work on these revisions.

Me: Don't.

Client: No really, I can. I have wifi in the cabin by the beach/on the zipline/at the pool.

Me: I'm sure you do, but under no circumstance, should you pull out your laptop and work.

Client: (considering the possibility that SharkForBrains might be more than a nickname) umm...huh?

Me: Look, you're going on vacation. Go On Vacation. Don't take work with you. Be fully present with your husband/wife/kids/whomever. Don't be the person holed up in the attic trying to connect to the wifi while everyone else is having fun.

Here's why I'm pretty adamant about telling clients this:

Your brain needs fallow time. It needs time to rest, recuperate, reenergize. Taking time off is NOT slacking off. It's recognizing that your brain needs rest. That's not a weakness.
It's hubris to think you're so amazing you defy the laws of being human. You need food, you need sleep, and you need a respite from work every once in a while.

There's a hilarious meme going around on Twitter about The Most Successful People I Know. It started when some douchecanoe posted a list of what the most successful people do and populated it with things like:  gets up at 4am; reads for an hour before swilling green tea steeped in a handthrown pot from Tibet; attends daily mass, twice, and recites the readings from memory.  You know, those lists that make you feel like a slacker idiot.

Of course, there were some pretty hilarious sendups.

Laird Barron posted this one:



And there are some others that made me laugh:






And some with poetic literary references:





(please tell me you recognize both references!)

My point is this:  the most successful people I know understand they are not automatons, and take vacations, and give themselves respite time, and recognize the value of doing so.

So, if when you're tempted to take work on your vacation: Don't.

Be fully present for your life instead.


35 comments:

JeffO said...

On those rare occasions I've had something approximating a vacation, I'll take a notebook and pen, as opposed to a laptop with the latest project on it. I tend to wake up early and I'll do some scribbling while waiting for everyone else to get up, but other than that? No work.

CynthiaMc said...

I had so much vacation time on the books my company yanked some of it back. (Yes, they paid me for it, but I'd rather have the time. They haven't figured out how to tax that yet).

No one does me when I'm not there, which is both a blessing and a curse. It's tough to take much time off because it's double work before I go and double work when I get back.

I took Friday and Monday off recently. Sat in the sun, weeded my garden, caught up a bit around the house, worked on my novel.

I do think this might be what heaven looks like.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

What life am I being present for? I have a day job that I do love as I work with a wonderful cast of characters. Writing is my vacation.

However, for the normal populace that does human relationships, I would guess this to be solid advice. But seriously I would not know.

InkStainedWench said...

Like JeffO, I always take a notepad. Just in case a brilliant idea presents itself mid-zipline

Julie Weathers said...

That's why I always loved going to the mine. No electricity. No phones. No running water. No plumbing. The outhouse worked fine, though. I'd spend my days happily panning for gold or rotting through the old trash pile or cabin sites from the past 150 years or so. The men could play with their vroom vroom equipment, it was just me, a shovel, a gold pan, and my thoughts. Sometimes those thoughts were about murder after a well-meaning uncle covered up a collection of 100-year-old bottles with a front end loader of rock, but it was still me and my thoughts.

People need down time. Your brains need down time. Your families need your attention. And that means your attention not you staring at your iPhone.

Theresa said...

From Shelley (?) to Ginsberg, these tweets were great.

This year's summer vacation will be the first one for me without a computer. It's going to feel weird, but I'm sure Kauai's scenery will provide a good distraction.

Kitty said...

Vacation?

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Because writing isn't my day job (yet?), vacation from said day job is time I would love to devote to writing. I know better than to hope for uninterrupted, of course. There are Elka's needs, mealtime needs, etc. etc.

Though don't get me wrong. Time to "veg" isn't time wasted, it's time to refresh and recharge, and let that beautiful long-simmering subconscious stew do it's job. My most recent first draft (maybe it's still a wip? It's already almost 14k and I think it could comfortably become fully novella-length) came from a dream I had. Or, what I remembered of a dream I had. I still had to consciously work out a lot of stuff!

Dena Pawling said...


There is a saying in legal circles that vacation for a lawyer means doing the same work from an inconvenient location with a better view. Thankfully, my firm doesn't obsess about billable hours.

Hopefully, Janet, you are NOT counting your blog hiatus as VACATION, since you're reading requested fulls. Otherwise you need to give yourself this same lecture, then take more time off for a REAL vacation.

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

This is my first summer since I don't know when where I am not frantically video editing, planning and doing video shooting, or, glued to my jewelry bench getting ready for a month of craft fairs. We used to have a huge white board with due dates scrawled in felt tip colors.

We put some new windows and doors on the house, fixed the downstairs ceiling, ride the electric bikes into town, walk to the river. Not in a hurry to finish any of these projects, they'll get done.

I spend a lot of time out in the tea house by the brook with Ramona and a stack of books. We're really good at hanging out together. You can learn a lot from a cat.

PAH said...

My goal in life is to take brief breaks from my vacation for work...

unavoidablytiger said...

What PAH said, for sure.

The Noise In Space said...

The now-famous Yale class on how to be happy touched on that very thing. If you have time, please do give this write-up a read--it's one of the most fascinating things I've read in a long time.
Article from The Cut

One of the most fascinating takeaways for the article, for me at least, was the concept that there are two major commodities associated with happiness: money and time. From an economic standpoint, since a person could theoretically make infinite money, money is extremely elastic. Since every person has the same number of hours in a day, time is extremely inelastic. Therefore time should be more highly valued than money. However, in our society, people with an excess of money are considered successful, while people with an excess of time are considered lazy. This is backwards, as numerous studies have proven that time is much more closely linked to happiness than money.

Incidentally, there is one way in which money can buy happiness: by buying time from someone else (a maid, a cook, someone to mow the lawn, etc.)

roadkills-r-us said...

So much yes! I used to always take work with me. Now I have to take a laptop and cell phone (being the biggest expert on something is bnoth job security and leash), but other than checking email and chat 2-3 times a day, I only work if I really need to. And I define "need" very narrowly in this case.
Writing? I do it if it leaps out at me and demands it. And I *love* writing.
Hmmm. My mind is on vacation a lot. But still.

Craig F said...

The object of a vacation is to be a psychological cathartic. How that works is different for each and every person. Some of us have jobs that are a vacation while others sit in cubical hell and need to physically escape.

I am one of the previous. Therefore I do more work on vacations than others. I volunteer to help others as a vacation. Hard, physical work purges me of more nasties than a repetitive loop of Rick Ghastly ever could.

I also can not walk away from the shape the world is in at the moment. I am afraid the world might end while I am looking the other way. You can only pile up so much smoke and mirrors before it becomes a fire hazard.

One size of vacation does not fit all.

One Of Us Has To Go said...

I recently watched a documentary about how much people work and have vacation in different countries.

It's probably not a secret that, currently (and generally), Germany's economy is one of the best in the world.
Then this fact: Germany is also one of the countries with the MOST holidays per year.

Are you German, Janet ;)!?

As for a vacation that makes you switch off your WiFi:
I recently crossed the Atlantic by ship. WiFi is so expensive and sooo slow there, you won't use it much if at all ;).

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

For a busy writer's mind vacation is like Calamine for poison ivy, once the itch is gone you can't wait to go back to the woods.

Mary said...

This is why I am section hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Two hundred miles at a time, ten days of no internet (mostly) and no emails. Highly recommend it. I work with people who have no work life balance. I get texts from them on weekends and at 6 am. Those kinds of people are no fun.

BrendaLynn said...

My life is a vacation, which brings its own set of writer issues. When you have all day-every day to write it’s too easy to put it off.
I am a workaholic, perfectionist, type A personality in progress, just coming off a ten year stint in an all consuming job that I loved. As Cynthia said, “Nobody does me when I’m not there.” Until I wasn’t. And then they did.
Janet, I feel guilty as heck for being one of the writers who are burdening you this July. I do hope you get a real vacation soon.

Steve Stubbs said...

Great post and thanx for sharing.

I would say more, but my brain is in rest mode. Preparing for JR withdrawal in ten days. It's going to be seven days of white knuckling it.

I hope I don't run out of Moon Mountain Vodka before the hiatus is done.

Danae McB said...

Thanks for this. I am going on vacation next week and was considering taking my novel to work on, since I am behind where I want to be on edits. You're right, the time is better spent exploring a new place.

John Davis Frain said...

I'll take your recommendation, and lower it.

You don't have to wait for a vacation to unplug. Yesterday, I had a couple 5-miunute errands to do. Instead of driving, I walked and it took about 90 minutes. No ear buds. No deadline. No worries.

When I got back to my office, I got more done that I had in the five prior days combined. (Slight writer's embellishment here, but c'mon, I'm making a point.)

So, don't wait for a vacation to take a little time off. It'll do you good any day, including days you think you don't have the time. The time is there--you just need to use it wisely.

John Davis Frain said...

Also, confession, I looked up one of the references.

So, now I can tell you I recognize both references!

Joseph Snoe said...


I had a student - he looked a little “off” - didn’t socialize much with his classmates - another student told me his classmates considered him the one most likely to firebomb the school. He didn’t recite well when I called on him. Once I called on him and he stood there for an interminable time. When I got antsy I called on another student. The first fellow spoke. He said he had no idea how to answer my question, but he had been called on by another professor earlier that day and stood there without answering, and he didn’t want to go without speaking again. (Sadly, I don’t remember how I handled it).

He performed poorly on my final exam.

He came to talk to me. I the course of our talk, he revealed he had finished undergraduate studies in three years by going straight through, taking courses every summer. I finished his last class in July and began law school the next month. He continued going straight through in law school. I told him pretty much what Janet Reid has told her clients, and told him to take the summer off from classes to give his brain a chance to recharge. He said he couldn’t find a summer law related job. His family lived near the Gulf of Mexico. I told him, if nothing else, walk along the beach and pick up sea shells or bottle caps or something.

He took off the summer and when he returned for the fall semester, he looked much more relaxed, and actually smiled.

Janet Reid said...

Brendalynn Please never EVER think of yourself as being a burden to me. Incoming queries and requested fulls are the lifeblood that keep me employed, and Her Grace the Duchess of Yowl in fish fingers.

That I am behind on reading is my own damn fault, no one else's.

I'm taking the focused week cause, at this point, I'm mortified by how long I've asked writers like you to wait.

This is NOT on you.

Timothy Lowe said...

I must confess I lugged the laptop on a recent family vacation and dutifully plunked away for an hour or two a day. Thankfully I have a forgiving family and they didn't heave me off the cruise ship. A lot of times, I have a problem "wasting" a day where nothing gets "done." This little reminder finds me shamefaced.

Best to all of you on upcoming vacations. I hope they recharge your word-banks! (And I hope Janet finds a shiny new client in her pile of prospectives!)

Timothy Lowe said...

(Oh, and "douchecanoe" might just be my new favorite word)

BrendaLynn said...

True, the Duchess must eat.
Ok then, here’s hoping that you get a rest anyway. May someone else’s ms put you to sleep :)

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Husband Jim and I haven't been on vacation in well over 15 years. I'm not complaining. I tend to be a homebody and, bonus, we live in the middle of a couple hundred acres with a herd of horses that has numbered in the seventies (the numbers are lower these days). Another bonus, the Savannah River is a stones throw away. I find a respite from the work of tending that aforementioned herd when I spend time in the woods on our own property or go to the mighty river across the road.

I've taken quite a bit of time off from writing. But finally feel ready to embrace the joy of creating again.

Lennon Faris said...

Writing IS my time away! Writing and art. Creating gives such a mental high and those things are so different from my day job, they the perfect way to escape.

But, I know what you mean here. Family, friends, 2 legged or 4, you just gotta make sure you (sometimes) come up for air and actually interact with them. Otherwise, how will you get more good character fodder? --I mean, because it's important.

The Noise in Space - yes. I completely agree with that study. Time is the most important currency. I'm always shocked when others don't have that same thought process.



Craig Fowler said...

Such important advice that is so very difficult to follow!

Julie Weathers said...

Joseph,

The first rule of training an animal is to stop on a high note. Their brains are like sponges. They'll soak up so much and then they reach the saturation level. To make the learning experience enjoyable, they have to end a session when they've accomplished something, not when they've failed so they look forward to the next session.

So, if a dog, for instance, is starting to mess up on a command, you go back to the last thing they did well and repeat that then you quit and let them relax.

So it goes with people. Will got a degree in computer science that is normally a four-year program in two years. He was working during the first year. He had to quit the second year. It was just too stressful and it wasn't leaving him any time for his boys. He's still glad he did it, but holy crow it was tough sledding for a while.

People need down time.

Hemingway always quit thinking about writing after he quit for the day. He put his mind on something else. He read. He relaxed. He let his brain mellow out.

AJ Blythe said...

I have trouble taking time out. There is always so much to be done. Every so often I remind myself I really should take time to stop but after so many years of just not the guilt factor weighs heavy.

Stacy said...

I had a job where I was an editorial assistant at a vendor who serviced educational publishers. I worked 50-60-hour weeks. We had a small staff, so I had to wear a lot of hats, and I constantly felt overworked. So when I said to my boss that I'd check email and whatnot over my vacation, he shook his head and said, "Don't. Just take those two weeks. If you don't take a break, you'll just be burned out when you come back." I heeded that one time, but the truth is, when you're writing or creating any kind of art, it is HARD to turn off.

Also... a Rickroll! I do enjoy a good Rickroll--never gets old for me.

Michael Seese said...

So.... Writing is work?