Whatever happened to valuing time away from work?

SNEWS President Michael Hodgson shares his thoughts on why July 4 isn't just Independence Day for the country, but also time to reflect on independence from work.
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It's July 4 and I'm not at work. It's Independence Day -- both for the country and for me. This long weekend represents three days of not answering my email, checking into the office, opening my laptop, or otherwise thinking about work.

I shared that with a friend last week, after she told me she’d be able to get an answer to a question I had by Sunday or Monday morning at the latest. While the key executives were not in the office on Friday or on Monday, July 4, she told me they were certainly checking their email during the long weekend.

I told her not to worry about working the weekend … I wouldn’t see her email anyway as I myself was certainly not working until Tuesday morning. She appeared incredulous, and essentially told me she’d never be able to do that – not check the email or work over a weekend or holiday – especially with Outdoor Retailer coming up.

In fact, after I informed a few other colleagues to get in touch with me regarding various business dealings on Tuesday, not over the long weekend, each responded, in their own way, that taking time off for them just was not possible. Each had a litany of reasons – editors’ deadlines, work deadlines, boss pressure, etc. Especially in this economy, there just was not enough time to take leisure time, let alone enjoy a three-day weekend away from work each told me.

I beg to disagree. It always comes down to choice...and your choice alone.

This is one of the many things I learned from my father, though I’ve just recently been putting the lessons into action: No matter how much you do in a day, in a week, in a month, there will always be more for you to do and people who will be asking you to do more. Balance in your life is achieved only when you and you alone determine how you choose to apportion your time. And in so doing, realize that personal time and space, as well as time for your family are not optional minutes to play with. They should be carved out each day before making any decisions on how to spend the rest of your time.

Finding time to take time applies to us all. My long-term creative energies, passions, imagination and health depend on it. I would suspect yours do too, whether you choose to acknowledge that now or not.

If your days are so full that you feel you cannot carve out time to listen to birds, watch a sunset, revel in the sound of a bubbling stream or the laughter of little ones, walk with a loved one, or simply sit and let your mind wander creatively, then your days are too full of things that don’t really matter in the long run.

This is not to say I don’t work hard when I am at work. And this is definitely not to say I have not had to learn to let go so I can take time. I have heard all the arguments for working instead of taking time to play. I’ve used many of them myself and at one time you could say I was the poster child for working incessantly with no time for anything other than a deadline or something to do with work.

But my father planted the seeds of change for me just a few years before he passed away in 2007. You see, instead of taking a day to be with my dad on a holiday, I felt I needed to work. So I begged off on a visit and on a promised walk. This was not the first time, and my father knew it would not be the last. Instead of lecturing or trying to change my mind, my father gently told me, “No matter how much you do in a day, there will always be more for you to do and someone else asking you to do it…finding balance in your life is a choice only you can make.”

I’m now left with the memory of too many walks I missed with my father because I was, in my mind, too busy to take the time. Personal time and space, as well as time for your family are not optional minutes to play with. They should be carved out each day before making any decisions on how to spend the rest of your time. It took me until my father passed away to really learn that lesson well.

So, this weekend (or any other weekend for that matter), you won’t find me on email or twittering and tweeting or otherwise working. Instead, I’ll be digging in the garden, playing ball with my dog, going on a few walks or long runs, listening to some fine music with a glass of wine in hand, and, too, likely spending some quality time sitting quietly by our stream either reading or just letting the water flow by, filling my mind with creative energy. Sure, I have plenty of deadline work to do that could fill nearly every waking moment,…but it will still be there when I do return to the office, no more or less important than before. It will wait. My life won’t.

-- Michael Hodgson

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