Before we talk about how I got more productive, I want to share a story about a recent vacation.
I went to Ireland for an extended weekend in early February with a girlfriend, two kids, and my parents. We had tickets for a tour to discover the wonders of Emerald Isle culture. (Tours range in length from an afternoon to a week.) At the time, I was flying back from the Super Bowl, where I had watched two epic games in a row — football has always been my love, even as my fandom waned while I got older and our favorite teams grew.
After all that football, I could have easily used this trip to laze around, get fat, and eat nothing but Big Macs and Coke. Instead, I got to do those things — except for drinking Big Macs. (You can bet there were more than two.) I also learned a valuable lesson about worrying about not having enough to eat.
The tour guide didn’t waste a minute — they started with an appetizer served in one of the local pubs and took us to places we’d never seen, like a cottage where women with plaster casts on their arms work and bathe in baths made from leaves. In the afternoon, we did a perfunctory tour of the U.S. Embassy, past the statue of Magna Carta, and ended with a tour of the General Post Office (which was more like an election counting center) and my first sight of a shower, and more drinks. (From the outside, the buildings look like embassies, except they are streets that have been paved over with asphalt.)
The night before we were scheduled to depart, our tour guide made one last pre-trip call. “We have two more guides coming to fill in the gaps,” she said. “My advice is to enjoy yourself, and to really enjoy yourself. If you are feeling any kind of stress, you should probably go home.”
I could easily have buckled down, listened to her, listened to him, and not made it to bed. I have thought about the fact that, while we had an incredible time on this trip, it would have been great to have come back feeling less than wiped out.
But then I went back to work. And I never looked back. It wasn’t long before I knew exactly how to get my day’s work done.
It was an interesting realization: I wasn’t in Ireland to knock off at seven so I could go to bed. I was there to give thanks for the things we did see and the people we met, and keep up with the projects we had already started. My goal wasn’t to work until nine, or even eight, and then do a marathon binge of binging. I was grateful for the people I was with, and for the trip itself. To use the mother of all thought experiments, I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
Whether you’re in Ireland (or just halfway there) or anywhere else, I think there are three things you should try to embrace:
1. The Workday You Already Have – and Do Not Miss
Before you embark on any trip, start your task list with the work you know you’ll be able to do and those things you will really like. Be specific and don’t get bogged down by the “cool ideas you’ve been hearing about that could make you some money.” Set priorities and priorities only.
This one was particularly difficult for me, as I had taken on a host of projects just to say I did, like help the tour guide organize a cooking class. But that weekend, I did a lot of work that I liked and that let me simply relax — even if it was behind the scenes. I made planters, which I’m a sucker for, and looked at archives from the General Post Office. I also watched a documentary I had been researching about Ireland’s capital, Dublin. It was really an achievement for me just to put the laundry on the line. I can’t wait to try to maintain that workday in the coming months.
2. The Summer Ahead
I think the lesson from Ireland is that the time I’ve had on each day for the past few months doesn’t have to be spent in a constant state of worry about work. It can feel easy to do when you’re in other countries, like in Ireland, that have only two working weeks on the year, but maybe that’s the point.
Although summer gets around soon, it’s always important to understand your own limits. Knowing how much work you can possibly handle might also let you more effectively manage your vacation time.
3. Some Recalibration Is For You