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Vacations, Sick Days and Productivity

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Stephen P Smith.

Author’s note: I have a fever of 100 degrees and feel really gross, but if I don’t write this post now it’ll never get written. See what I go through for you?! I love you guys!!

On Monday I returned from a week’s vacation with my Lovely Bride to Minneapolis and Chicago. We visited with my family in Illinois, had coffee with Patrick Rhone and lunch with Kimberly Sellnow in MSP, and then more fun than you can shake a stick at in Chicago with the SOBCon folks.

The highlight, of course, was my annual “Pizza Party” with Phil at Pizzeria Due in Chicago (three years straight now, IIRC). We shared our time with Jesse Petersen and Chuck Frey and had a very nice evening. Unlike the unfortunate travelers a few miles away at O’Hare Airport whose flights were being cancelled due to high winds and golf ball-sized hail.

Upon our return we spent Monday afternoon relaxing with each other and went straight back to work on Tuesday morning. It was the usual routine, just Super-sized, with hundreds of emails and other inputs to process through the system. For me Tuesday was intentionally designated as a day to catch up, process, organize and communicate.

E-mail

The first thing I did was sort my in-box by “From” and started deleting things that I didn’t need to worry about. Then a quick second-level sort into the Today, Tomorrow and Later folders. Finally I opened the Feeds folder, where all of my blog and other subscriptions go, and triaged those messages by sender as well. Pretty much all of those emails were deleted.

Communication

Many of these emails required a conversation of some sort, whether in a digital response or the need for a phone call or meeting. This area was of primary importance to me, as I do not like to keep people waiting for information.

Organization

By the end of the day I had communicated with nearly everyone who had reached out to me, either by email or telephone or Facebook or Skype. I had a good list of things that needed to get done over the coming week and a tightly-focused list of tasks for Wednesday. I was ready to get some serious stuff done, and I did. I had an amazingly productive day on Wednesday.

Thursday morning at about 3:30am I woke up choking and strangling from the Alien Face-hugger that was trying to jam its tentacle up into my sinuses. Well, something like that anyway. I had been feeling a “tickle” in my throat the past couple of days but I wasn’t worried – I’d been going to bed early and behaving myself. Har. Too bad. Fever. Phlegm. Watery eyes. Aching bones and joints.

Yep, I was sick (or rather, am sick, as it’s Thursday afternoon as I type this, in between naps).

I can’t get sick, I have too much to do!

How many times have you said this to yourself? Or how about the first topic of this inane, rambling post, Vacation? How can you take a vacation and go out of town when there is so much work to do?

If you are anything like my Lovely Bride you will start working extra-time for a week or so before you leave, to get those important things done that no one else is going to do while you are away. You also need to make sure that everyone knows what is happening, what events or activities are planned for that time, so they don’t get dropped or missed.

You plan ahead. Way ahead.

You probably also took a look at some of the things that were on your plate and decided someone else could handle them for the time that you are going to be away. Or you decided they could go in the trash because no one would miss them. The rest, the really important stuff, you took care of. You completed those tasks, filed those reports, prepared the briefs, whatever. The point is, the big rocks got processed. You completed tasks and assignments that weren’t due until after your vacation, so you wouldn’t have to scramble to complete them when you returned.

Facing the deadline of your vacation like a man staring down the barrel of a gun, gives your mind a remarkable focus, your attention became disciplined and you did what you needed to do.

A similar thing can happen when you get sick, unexpectedly, and you miss out on work time. For me, this morning, as I sat there on the couch making tuba-like noises with my face into tissue after tissue, I decided that there were really only two things that I needed to accomplish today. One of them was this post, the topic for which came to me as I lay in bed during my mid-morning nap. I can’t be sick, I have to write a post for Phil. His readers are counting on me to show up and do the work. What the heck am I going to write about?

I looked ahead to my deadlines for this week and decided while other things could wait, this particular task needed to get done. And because the fever was messing with my ability to concentrate I decided to write about this process of deciding to write this post. (is that too meta??)

The “Vacation Razor”

That’s what I am calling this effect. The ability of a scheduled absence from work to become a tool for slicing away everything that is not important, a method for eliminating all of the distractions and side-tracks.

What if we could work like this all the time?

No, I am not talking about the extra hours and increased stress and the other, negative aspects of the Vacation Razor. I am talking about thinking further out, eliminating useless BS and being true to our real work.

Imagine that you have just won tickets to fly to Fiji for an all-expense-paid vacation, starting a week from tomorrow. You will be gone for an entire week.

What will you do with this weekend?

How would you prioritize your tasks and activities for next week?

Let’s do an experiment. Let’s do this for real, preparing to take a week off. Make some notes as you go through your week and we will re-group next Friday and share our experiences.

Stephen P Smith

Add Stephen on G+

About the author: Stephen Smith teaches Productivity and Social Media Literacy skills at In Context MultiMedia. He will be publishing a compilation of best practices based on his popular Weekly Letter this month (special pre-order offer for Work. Smarter! here).

You can follow him on Twitter at @hdbbstephen.

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