When June started it marked a big milestone for me, it was a full year since I’d had any time off. Ok I’d had the odd bank holiday to myself here and there, but Christmas was written off by the flu and a big house move. It had been a long time since I’d had more than two consecutive days away from a screen, and it was starting to take its toll on me. Fatigue was setting in and the result was confusion, carelessness and a grumpy attitude.
My wife spotted how worn out I was and staged an intervention. So a few weeks ago we took a five day break in the beautiful Llyn peninsula, North Wales. It made me realise how important it is to ring fence some time off regularly. I’ve discovered that aside from a chance to rest, time off can actually help improve your design skills when you get back to your desk; here’s what I found out.
1. Get a fresh prespective
Do you ever get that feeling when you come home from a holiday that your house looks, smells and feels completely different to how it seems everyday? You suddenly see your home through the eyes of a visitor and it can be revealing. I get this with my design work to. My own tropes and styles, to which I’ve become blind, suddenly stand out. I notice things I never noticed before, like if I’m getting into a design rut. Returning from holiday offers a great opportunity to shake things up.
2. Prioritise what’s important to you
It takes me a good two days to switch off, but once I’m into the holiday groove I don’t go anywhere near my inbox. But despite that, certain projects will keep popping into my mind demanding my attention. Its usually the ones that I’m really enjoying or the ones that are really urgent. Bottom line is, if it didn’t play on your mind while you were away, its probably not that important to you. This can help you reassess your priorities and reorganise your to-do list when you get back.
3. Realise what needs to change
You’re enjoying the last meal of the holiday, chinking glasses with your loved ones. You should be pretty chilled after so much time off, but instead you’ve got that sinking “back to work” feeling? Holidays are a great time for reflection, getting some distance from the daily grind can make us realise what it is we want to do more or less of. What is it that’s making you feel reluctant to head back into the office? Can you change it the short or long term?
4. Invest in recharging the batteries
You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that working long hours sat in a chair staring at a screen is not going to “optimise your wellbeing”. But so many of us freelancers continue to put off time off, because if we don’t work we don’t get paid. The sheer tiredness I felt before going away was frightening, I was struggling to get up and log on. It reminded me that you can plan a holiday but you can’t plan time off for the effects of stress or illness. Look at it as an investment and block out a week in your calendar for next year, do it now.
5. Get back into a good routine
The internet has a huge amount of information about how to form good habits. A lot of it advocates that whatever it is you want to start doing you should start today. Want to get up earlier? Set you alarm right now. Want to eat healthier, throw the goodies in the bin pronto. But the reality is human nature likes the finality of a milestone. I find that getting back to the office after a break can re-set my brain, and I can start up good habits that I might of been slacking on. As of my first Monday back I’m drinking a lot more water and ignoring a lot more non-urgent emails.
6. Form good habits with your clients
Freelancing can be very reactive and I’m always half expecting a call asking me if I can squeeze in another day. Taking time off was something I used to feel nervous about, because I didn’t want to let my clients down. But I’m now realising that as long as I give clients plenty of warning and get my work done on time or ahead of schedule, they really aren’t going to mind if I take a week or two off during the year. It also communicates that you are a human with other things going on in your life rather than a designing machine that’s always on call.
So that’s what I’ve discovered, and thanks to this period of refreshment and reflection I’ve managed to crack some really tough design challenges that were frustrating me before I left, including branding for my new venture (more news to follow!)
To all my fellow hard working freelancers, directors and other self-employed people, I hope these benefits will make you realise that time off is more than just a holiday; its an insurance policy against sloppy work, complacency, bad habits and of course, stress. I wholeheartedly recommend a week in beautiful Wales, or wherever it is that gives you happiness and relaxation.
What do you get out of time off, other than the obvious R&R? Any recommendations for good places to visit for downtime? Leave me a comment below or tweet me at @zer0mike
Mike Hince is a UI & UX Designer and the co-founder of Bossanova Design.