Optimization of Unexpected Time Off


For some enigmatic cosmic reason I've had four lengthy paid breaks from work since 2016. Being in my late thirties I did my best to embrace the recuperative value at an age when many Americans have to grind through life barreling toward some sort of mid-life crisis. Time off is definitely not something to complain about but somehow I did manage to do so now and then. Despite the regularity with which we say "I need a vacation" it is completely possible to be overwhelmed by unexpected free time and accidentally idle in neutral for too long.

Most recently I was expecting a month off starting early November and it became four. My intentions this time around were to be realistic about goals, to be happy with any accomplishments and to recognize an improved situation at the end of the hiatus, not that there was any specific need for improvement but it's a lifelong effort. I finally managed to do this, and considering the recent imposition of indefinite time off for so many of you I thought to share some insights, for what it's worth.

1. Try to be realistic

If you're goal-oriented be wary of the urge to set your expectations too high. This is akin to resolutions for the New Year. For example, you can't change your exercise or diet habits overnight and I've made the mistake of attempting both on many previous occasions. This is a strange and stressful time, so don't clutter it up with sky high ambition. Tell yourself "I wouldn't mind getting back to walking twice a week and maybe feeling a bit healthier" rather than "I'm giving up sugar, carbs and fast food and working out every day." Whatever you decide to do with your time, be content with some progress rather than all of it.

2. Make improvements to your living space

I can't tell you how many times I've tolerated some annoyance in my home only to be shocked at the psychological comfort earned from improving it. On this last break I found the perfect tiny shelf to fit under my bathroom sink and now it is organized rather than a pile of random cotton balls and Band-Aids hidden behind a door, and every time I open that door I feel great about it. And yes, I know this sounds like a Martha Stewart life tip or something but those little details make a huge difference in your daily mindset and will enhance the rest of your life by tiny increments.

3. Recognize the value of rest

Convince yourself that sleeping nine solid hours is a worthy achievement, because it is. Giving your body rest allows it to heal physically and mentally. If you don't have your regular task load and deadlines don't panic. In the absence of stress I often found myself creating some just to feel normal and it was difficult to learn to embrace rest, but it feels amazing. Include rest and sleep in your goals during this interval.

4. Remember the joy of learning

You all teach others for a living. I expect you get so focused on their progress that you might often forget yourself. If you have this free time accept it as a blessing and remember how cool it is to learn a totally new thing. I learned to weld, finally, after having a welder in a box in my garage for nearly a year. I welded the worst picture frame in the world and had a great time doing it. It just feels good to try a new skill.

5. Detoxify your lungs often

Thankfully spring is beginning so you'll be less likely to spend too much time indoors. From November to March in Eastern Washington and without the call of duty I regularly developed an odd malaise. I made a habit upon recognizing the feeling to leash up my dogs and take an hour's walk through the woods near my house. The air in a house can be as toxic as the smog over Shanghai and it's so important to exchange the stale atmosphere for the fresh. John Tesh told me a few months back on his handy radio show that people who have a consistent view of green plants live happier lives. If you feel crummy, take a walk.

6. Have a daily schedule

Now and then I think it's pretty good to watch four movies in a row, now and then. When presented with an unexpected break from work it is easy to fall into a detrimental routine, though. You want to allow yourself the freedom to relax but also to maintain some sort of schedule to secure your sanity. Endless days without a schedule is hard on our psyche when we typically live by the clock and its routine. I chose to wake up with the light, clean up the house, have some breakfast at the table, take the dogs for their walk, spend a few hours on projects, get some form of exercise, and then... So long as I got those things done to begin the day I was satisfied with whatever was or wasn't achieved for the rest of the day.

7. Optimize your productivity

When you aren't bound by the clock you encounter the great luxury of performing tasks when you are most capable of succeeding. I possess the most verbal clarity in the mornings so I prefer to communicate professionally just after the aforementioned morning regimen. By 1 PM that part of my brain is done and I move on to physical chores - organize the garage, install a new faucet, clean up the leaves. At 4 pm I lose the capacity to cross things off the list and I transition to creative endeavors. By sundown I'm typically worn out and the last few hours are for unwinding, maybe reading a mindless book or watching a dumb movie. If you've ever had to grind out an assignment at midnight or finish reading five chapters at 10 PM and you notice you keep losing your place, this is what you get to avoid without having to follow a clock. Take advantage of it. In fact, if you learn one new thing during this weird time that lesson would be a great one. Do things when you are mentally and physically inclined to flourish, and if you aren't then go do something else.


It'll be easy to slip into the frightful fervor of this situation but there is no benefit in doing so. Prepare yourself for the possibility and reality of free time at home and away from conventional routine. We may as well get the most out of it. Our best wishes for a healthy intermission:)

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Ike Martinson
Ike is addicted to life in the Pacific Northwest. He enjoys the mountains, the lakes, the food, the people and all the seasons. He is an amateur chef, a commercial pilot and a terrible painter.

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