Artemis Ward gives its employees the week off between Christmas and New Year’s. It’s nice. Time to sleep, time to travel, time to do nothing. I am great at doing nothing. Leading up to year’s end, I had plans to do exactly that.
And I did, I did nothing for about two days.
Then I started working again. Call it good (or, well, bad) timing, I had recently been assigned a freelance article for a magazine, due the first week of January. It was good timing in that I had time to work on it, bad in that it was in direct conflict with my dreams of doing nothing for a week. I put it off through Christmas, but after two days of self-indulgence nothingness, it was time to start.
Let me pause. I am a user experience designer at Artemis Ward, but in a past life writing and reporting was my full-time charge. It’s all I did for about 10 years after college. I right-turned into UX a few years ago, but writing and reporting have very much stayed part of things. I’m lucky to still have writing opportunities, and doubly lucky to work somewhere that encourages its employees to pursue creative endeavors outside the office. So I do. Partly because I’m paid for it, partly because I enjoy it, partly because I hate myself. (For what it’s worth: about half of other people my age take on work outside of work. In other words, I am nothing special.)
The assigned article was difficult to write. It was dark subject matter, a topic I don’t think has a true answer or conclusion, one that took me down several rabbit holes that, at one point, had me watching at two in the morning interviews with a couple people named Ted Bundy and Timothy McVeigh. (I don’t recommend doing this.) I budgeted about 20 hours to finish the story. It ended up being about double that. By Day 5, delirious and unshaven, I was drained, unable to make out many of the words on the page, rereading and rewriting the same paragraph a dozen times before moving on to the next, unsure if any of it was even in the right order anymore. (To my immense relief days later, my editor liked the story and asked for no major rewrites.)
I finished writing around midnight on New Year’s Day. I was due at the Artemis Ward offices nine hours later.
Well this has been just great, I thought. Sure, I feel a sense of accomplishment, but also I just spent my week off doing nothing but working. I’m tired and pissed off. Why do I do this?
Rest assured, this is not the point where I get haughty and deliver some holier-than-thou speech like a Super Rich Tech Person who’s Figured It All Out By Sleeping Just 30 Minutes A Week You Won’t Believe How Efficient You’ll Become. No, this is not a lesson in #blessedtohustle or #careergoals or #cantstopwontstop. Screw all that. Sit around and do absolutely nothing in your free time, who cares. That’s what I do most of the time and I have no plans to stop.
I am here to report the truth. And the truth is I was refreshed upon returning to work, much more so than I anticipated. While it’s impossible to know if I would have been more refreshed had I spent those five days skiing, I’m confident in saying that my work typing out a story about Ted Bundy murdering people in cold blood actually helped kick-start my UX work because the latter required different yet similar thinking and problem-solving. I am aware that my bosses will read this, but trust me when I say that that is not why I feel compelled to write the following: it was a joy to return to work after a week away, even if the bulk of that time was spent alone, staring into a glowing screen reading about serial killers and writing two-thousand words about them. It was energizing to again be around people, working together on a project, feeding off their energy and humor. It gave me an appreciation for my individual work at Artemis Ward along with what we accomplish as a team. I’m not sure I had that same perspective before Christmas break, nor one I’d feel so deeply had I spent the week in Vail.
It makes me curious. Why, after a good amount of misery spent behind a keyboard, did I feel refreshed back at the office? Why do I have the feeling that a week skiing wouldn’t have had the same effect? Several discussions with co-workers and friends have revealed a common theory: the work, while exhausting, allowed me to indirectly use some of the muscles I’ve developed at Artemis Ward (planning, outlining a structure on the page, considering audiences’ interests) and vice versa — upon returning to work, it felt easy to jump back into things because even though I had been working, I was sharp, creative, engaged. I didn’t have to “snap back into it,” so to speak. There was no jet lag. All the while, I wasn’t burned out by doing the same type of work — it had been a different mindset but with the same goal in mind: to create something good.
Now, of course, there is a time and place for unplugging and hitting the slopes or beach for an extended weekend. I did that in early February. But there is something to be said for pushing oneself outside of work that isn’t only for leisure, forcing work or serious thought that differs from the everyday 9–5. (My first day back from the warm weather and margaritas was brutal, by the way, and it took tremendous effort to get through. Just saying.)
A few weeks ago, an Artemis Ward co-worker of mine had been spending the better part of her few weekends — like, all weekend, all day — volunteering at a soup kitchen. When I somewhat absent-mindedly asked her on a Monday how she was doing with it, her exact words over Slack were:
“My heart could not be happier … I even ran the kitchen on sunday pm!”
I knew what she meant, and I shouldn’t have been surprised that, even on a Monday morning, she was full of energy that stemmed from working all weekend, performing the type of tasks that demanded she be firing on all cylinders, everything to everybody any minute they asked. It’s not unlike what she does here. But, it appears, because she was in a different situation while flexing the same muscles she’s built at AW, it allowed her to flourish all weekend and return to work clear-headed and optimistic. Would she have felt the same had those days been spent on Miami Beach? Maybe, but it surely would have taken a different form.
Indeed, what seems obvious here is that sometimes the best escape from work is more work, as long as it’s different and allows room to leverage existing strengths. I recommend it, at least in moderation. You might surprise yourself.
Originally published at https://medium.com on May 25, 2019.