More than a year ago, I started routinely forwarding my office email to my Smartphone. Evenings, weekends, days off, I was connected. No one ever told me I had to be, in fact my former team lead discouraged it, “When you’re not at the office, Shannon,” she’d say, “don’t be at the office.” And I agreed. But still I did it. I made the decision to do this because someone higher up that I work with took to inviting me to meetings at 6:30 or 7 in the morning to take place at 7:30 or 8am that day. When I inevitably missed these important meetings, I was cast in the light of ‘irresponsible shirker’, missing meetings I should have attended. And so, for more than a year, the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is check to see if I have any surprise meetings. Much to my own chagrin, I gradually began to check in on emails in the evenings and on weekends ‘just to stay on top of what was going on’. I would seldom respond – only when I was working on an urgent project and knew I’d have to be in touch – but still I checked.
For the past few months, it’s become increasingly apparent that making myself so available – when I was never told to be – and staying on top of things from afar – even though it was discouraged – has contributed to my increasing anxiety, stress, worry and frenzy. When I’d take a look at my email before going to bed and come across a scathing response, or a request for a particularly difficult task awaiting me tomorrow, it would throw me, making it difficult to a) fall asleep, b) sleep soundly, and c) go into the office the next day. Even if I told myself to put it out of my mind, it was already there, prickling like a splinter.
I do most of my ‘thinking’ at night – this can work to one’s advantage if one happens to be a freelance writer (I’m assuming) bound to no one’s daytime schedule, but not so conducive to waking up for and 8 to 5 job the next day. I’ve been a night owl since before I can remember. My mother tells me that, when I was a toddler, I’d sit up until the Johnny Carson show began with the tell-tale “Heeere’s Johnny!” and only then would I crawl behind my rocking chair and go to sleep. When I was writing my Master’s dissertation, I stayed up all night writing and finally gave into sleep in the wee hours of morning. I’m hard-wired for the night and still wake up in the middle of slumber to scrawl out a few bits of barely legible poetry or random thoughts in the dead of night.
It often takes me an hour or more to settle and finally sleep, so when I’ve disrupted myself emotionally with an unpleasant bought of office email, it only makes matters worse. Like many of my generation – and indeed the previous and the next – I’m tied to my Smartphone. My recent stay in Maui in March/April was truly the first time I had disconnected since I started carrying a Smartphone three years ago. I texted my sister from time-to-time, shared a few photos and made a few expensive Facebook updates (no Wi-Fi in my condo + roaming charges = $260 phone bill when you return) but didn’t forward my office email (there would have been too much anyway!) or check my personal email. To be honest, before I left on vacation, I feared two things:
1. Lack of Wi-Fi in my condo, thus limiting my ability to tweet/update Facebook/check email, etc.
2. That I wouldn’t be able to ‘forget’ work and life and simply do nothing for the first time in years
Fortunately I was wrong on both counts, and it taught me that yes, I can disconnect, maybe not forever, but from time-to-time, and especially in moments where it counts. It also proved to me the immense value of taking a real vacation. Since I finished school, I’ve had a tendency to use up my vacation days is short spurts – a day here, a few days there – rather than save them up for a block of concentrated time. While the occasional Friday off seemed like a reprieve in the moment, it doesn’t compare to the truly relaxing, refreshing and rewarding experience of really getting away.
Three days ago, when I started this little week-long journey of self-connection and re-centering, marked the first time in over a year – aside from my Maui vacation – when I didn’t forward my office email. This weekend I won’t wonder what emails are waiting for me; I won’t forward the troubles of the office to my Smartphone; and I won’t worry about it until Monday. I’ve let it go, and over the past three days, it’s been remarkable what a difference this small action has had on my overall sense of wellbeing and ease.