Switching Off

Since last night I’ve been terribly sick. I slept fitfully, if at all, all of last night, and I’ve been totally out of action all day today. It’s nothing particularly serious – just a bad attack of the common cold, and I expect it to take its normal course. Yet, through the day, as I’ve struggled to think, I’ve realized how hard it’s become for me of late to switch off.

When I tell people that I freelance and lead a “portfolio life”, the first question I usually get asked is if  I can separate my work and non-work lives. This is especially important since my office is just a room inside my house. Usually i say that I do it pretty well. I have some strict rules, for example – I don’t work beyond 6:30 pm. I don’t work on weekends unless absolutely necessary (this includes Saturdays when my wife goes to work). In the last six months, I use my iPad for reading, so that I don’t use my work computer for non-work purposes – so of late I don’t even switch on my work computer on weekends and holidays.

Yet, I think I have difficulty switching off, especially on an unplanned basis. I took a vacation in December, and didn’t carry my work with me (for the first time since turning freelancer I even put an Out of Office AutoReply into my email). Yet, when I got back ten days later it seemed like I hadn’t taken a break from work, and could actually continue from where I had left off before I went (this is a good thing).

I have no difficulty taking my mind off work on most weekends, and on holidays. Yesterday, for example, was a general holiday in Bangalore (on account of Makara Sankranti). I had no problem switching off. Yet, despite being terribly sick and unable to work today, it has been really hard.

The downside of a “portfolio life” is that at any point in time  there is something pending. It is seldom that all your responsibilities close at the same time, and you can declare yourself to be “free” (which is why it is important to switch off in the evenings, on weekends, etc., and take the occasional vacation irrespective of whether the “work” is “finished”). So it is very rare that you get to your desk some day and realize there is “no work” – there may be no immediate deadlines, but there is always plenty to do.

In this context, today has been hard. I realize today that the common cold not only affects you physically but also mentally – it eats into your mindspace, and doesn’t allow you to think, which doesn’t allow you to work. And when you decide to declare a holiday for yourself and not work, things you do, such as the things you read, remind you of one aspect of work or the other – another downside of a portfolio life – too many non-work activities have a connection with work. And then you feel guilty about not working.

I think I need to figure out a policy of “casual leaves” for myself, where I tell myself that it is okay to not work on certain days, despite all that is there to be done. I’ve done it for myself for scheduled holidays – such as weekends or vacations. I need to convince myself to do this for the occasional unscheduled holiday, too – days like today.

2 thoughts on “Switching Off”

  1. Karthik, I totally empathise! Having run my own consultancy for a decade and mostly enjoying it, I used to feel that I took a salaried job fr the holidays it offered. Needless to say, switching off on a working day too is a prerogative of the salaried class. That would explain the mushrooming of the productivity consultants. I also want to add that it is a personality thing. The last lap of my consulting period we moved to a virtual office with time sheets. Though I relaxed better and legitimately for a time and then the feeling of unease during the so called work hours to used to bug me. Ironically, when I was loaded with business working was fun but when business thinned out it was impossible to relax. So either way ……….. maybe giving yourself sick leave/casual leave will help. You could also try fixing deliverable for the day…easy on days when u have a cold…so u can see the stop sign!

    1. I don’t think I’d ever want to go back to a situation of maintaining time sheets! Have done so in the past (very loosely, though) and it just isn’t fun. And especially for someone as unstructured as me, it just doesn’t work!

      And on most days I start the day with a fixed deliverable for the day and work towards it. Sometimes, though, I set deliverables for several days together, and then when i fall sick I find I’m unable to hit that day’s and things go for a toss! maybe I should build in more slack into my system!

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