Unplugging to Reboot: Taking a Real Break, and Making It Count

I invite you to plagiarize this email to my team, on how to unplug and reboot.

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For those of us who’ve been privileged enough to work from home in the time of COVID, we’ve all seen the lines between work and life blur – sometimes beyond distinction.  As one colleague aptly observed, “I’m not sure if I’m working from home, or living at work!”

Given this, it’s more crucial than ever that we find ways to take a REAL BREAK between the end of this year and the beginning of the next.  

I’ve written before about the myriad reasons why I unplug regularly.  But, I’m the first to admit how hard it’s been to keep these commitments — especially during a year when it’s often felt easier to escape into work or doom-scrolling, than to be present to what’s around me.  

But just like our devices, we cannot operate at full capacity unless we make space to unplug & reboot. 

Last year I sent the note below to my team at Global Citizen Year, encouraging everyone to take the time between Christmas and the New Year to hit CTRL-ALT-DEL.  I cribbed the idea from Caroline Webb and (with her permission) repurposed much of her language — so all credit goes to her for the brilliant & timely nudge.  

Ultimately, we teach (and preach!) what we most need to learn.  My choice to share this message with my team — and, at their encouragement, beyond — is as much about holding myself accountable as it is about inspiring others to do the same.  And if the message resonates, I encourage you too to plagiarize freely, and pass it on!

———

December 18, 2020

Dear Team,

As you know, we’ve made the decision this year to officially close our office between Christmas and the New Year.  In past years, with Fellows around the world, it wouldn’t have been responsible to pause our global operations — but, obviously, this year is different!

As we approach the break, I thought I’d take a tip (and, with permission, some language!) from a brilliant friend who wrote a note encouraging her team to plan on taking fully unplugged time off — and, importantly, the steps we can take beforehand to make it easier to do.

Speaking for myself, I usually approach holidays and vacations while still running at full speed. Work thoughts continue to rattle around my mind, and there’s still a nagging sense of ‘to do’s’.  And while it’s an incredible privilege to be passionate about our work, keeping these plates spinning in our minds can get in the way of a break that is refreshing, recuperative and rejuvenating.  

We’ve decided to close our (now virtual) office so that we can all take the week+ to prioritize our physical, mental and emotional health.  It obviously hasn’t been a normal year — and 2021 is not going to be “normal” either. So many of the challenges we’ve faced this year — from isolation, and school closures, to health concerns for ourselves and our families — are likely to continue for at least another 6 months. 

So my encouragement to all of us at the end of this not-normal year is to truly switch off for this vacation, in what may feel like a not-normal way.  

To do this, we have to stop those plates spinning in our heads. Of course, I’m aware that many of us are still very busy. The continued dedication we all see in each other after such a hard year is seriously inspiring. But I want to encourage you to start wrapping things up and mentally winding down now.

Here are some specific suggestions for how to do this:

  • Brief your future self. For each major task that you need to set aside and pick up again in January, write yourself a note that will remind you of where you got to, and what needs to happen next. It will make it easier for you to stop thinking about it for a while.  (And on this theme, as many of you know, my favorite New Year tradition is sending a letter to my future self.  Since if I can’t hold myself accountable, no one can!)
  • Sweep to January. Look at your calendar and to-do list, and if you see something that could just as easily happen in January, move it to January. Especially anything that might require fresh thinking – you’ll be better at that after a break.
  • Hold off on new initiatives. There are so many rich conversations happening now on important topics that will bear fruit for us in 2021. As important as those are, most can wait. Make a plan to connect as needed in January.
  • Create your ‘2021 ideas parking lot’. As you have ideas about next year, scribble them down somewhere so you can get them out of your head and get back to preparing for break/being on break. Don’t feel you need to finish everything now. 

I am outrageously proud of what we’ve accomplished together this year, and hope you are too.  At the same time, I’ve never been more optimistic about what we’ll be able to accomplish in 2021.  

And right now, I’ll be proudest if all the achieving stops and we come back in January feeling truly refreshed, and renewed.  

As you’ve heard me say many times, we often teach what we most need to learn.  So take this as a pledge to myself to do my best at the above (!), and I’m sharing it with all of you with the hope that you may find something useful here too!

Yours in rest & relaxation, 

Abby

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