2020 and 2021 were … difficult years. Less so for some and more so for others. We have all been through a lot. Nobody knows how much more we will have to endure, but at some point this summer, I came near my upper boundary. This is why I decided to emphasize recharging in August and this is why I am writing my monthly post in September.
In this article I would like to share my tips for making the most of your downtime so that you can recharge and get back to your normal life and routine with full strength.
Time to read
Time to read: 12 minutes (based on 150 words per minute).
Gliding into burnout
Are you feeling tired, stressed out, and maybe even burnt out? How could you not feel that way given everything that we had to endure. Do you feel that even a long weekend dedicated to recharging is not enough? Welcome to the club.
I would like to share some of the mechanisms that I used for myself to prolong the burn out as much as possible. And some of the mechanisms that I used during my downtime in August to completely recharge and get back to my life feeling at 100%.
Out of balance
I think that the main problem with all of us is that we got knocked out of our macro cycles. This term would probably mean different things to different people, but to me it meant March Break in the Caribbean; summer trip to the country I was born in; a long summer with a lot of tennis and running; another short vacation in the fall; a few business trips; maybe a conference here and there. But what I got in 2020 was WFH. The dreaded three letters.
The benefit of this article will be a way to position your thinking for future crises like the global pandemic (admittedly, it is so much easier to think about this in retrospect), but most importantly to inspire you to carve out some time for yourself in September and use it for recharging. I am sorry, I could not post this earlier. It would have been better to publish this in Jun/Jul.
Tin Mayer and the pandemic
The pandemic for me started in Mar 2020.
I was paying attention to the news even in December, but just like many others back then I considered COVID-19 as just a flu. So in March my whole family and I flew to our native country in Europe despite all the warning signs. Even though one of the people I trust the most in situations like this (Tim Ferris) posted in Feb/Mar 2020 something about the severity of the situation (note: I looked for the actual post to link, but I could not find it) and how we should not underestimate it. But anyway there we were when the mayhem happened. Our return flight got cancelled, because the country where we had a layover sealed their borders. We had to scramble and get new tickets, fly through another country, without having masks, gloves, or any other equipment which we thought we needed. Luckily, we made it back to North America, only to find everything except grocery stores closed. My kid was 4 facing months learning from home with a system which was not designed for this.
This was when I borrowed some more wisdom from Tim Ferris. I asked myself, how I can make this time the best period of my life. It was clear that life was going to suck for the next few years, but could I benefit from this? I plunged into self-awareness and tapped into any resource out there that could help me prepare and benefit from the times ahead. So I tackled a lot of topics that should already be familiar to my readers: Working From Home: Working Hard Or Hardly Working, How to Organize the Free Time of Your Kids, The Habit of Embracing Change, Deliberate Thought Against Distraction, Zero Inbox for the Mind, How to Uncover Your Core Values, How to Self-organize Your Personal Finances, Gamify Your Running.
I adopted or further refined many habits: daily meditation, gratitude journaling, morning exercise, running. I spent more time with my kid and my family than the previous four years combined. Instead of investing the extra time, which I saved from committing, working, I invested in myself and in my family. I read more books than I have read in my entire adult life (check out my profile in Goodreads).
In my professional life, I changed teams (How to Gracefully Move to a New Team) and helped my spouse do the same. We moved our kid to a new school, which had a much better remote program and helped us survive the beginning of 2021. And last but not least, I finally published the book which I started writing in 2016 and which inspired this very same blog.
Finally, in Aug 2021, it was time for recharging. I am not sure that the pandemic crises is over. On the contrary, I am skeptical that we are going to get back to normal for a couple more years. Actually, I am not even sure that we are going to get to the old normal. So I needed this time to get back to balance.
How can you spent a month fully recharging?
Below you can find my simple steps to tackle the badly needed downtime. You can also review my tips for a normal vacation (i.e., not an I-am-burnt-out vacation): How to Get the Most of a Mid-winter Vacation. Some of the tips might be similar, other might contradict, but, again, the situation is different.
Step 1: Disconnect
Yes, you’ve grown very attached to your work more than what is normal (or healthy). And yes, your boss or your colleagues depend on you more than normal (or healthy). But all this means that you should let go. No matter what you do for a living, it can survive without you for a couple of weeks (hopefully more). Put the phone on silent, do not check your email, stay away from the social media. You have set your out of office reply in Outlook, so let people read it and contact you after you are back.
Step 2: Simplify your morning routine
You know that I am a huge fan of routines and habits. But this time, I just dropped most of it. For two wonderful weeks, I was only doing my meditation and a daily walk of 5 km or more. No exercises, no workouts, no running. No self-organization, no task or time management.
For another week after that, I was only doing my meditation, light exercises in the morning, and the daily walk. And now, in September, I hope to be back to normal, but I already feel so energized.
Step 3: Go with the flow
If this is the the first of my articles that you read, you probably don’t know how rigid I am with my routines and managing my days. But this time I decided to go with the flow. I was totally flexible with my opinion. Beyond the framework of habits above, I tacked every other decision based on my gut feeling. If I wanted to go to the beach, I would go to the beach. If I wanted to stay lazy and sleep late, I would stay lazy and sleep later.
I recently purchased the book “Be Water, My Friend” by Bruce Lee’s daughter, which is based on his wisdom (link to Goodreads). I have not read it yet, but this is how I wanted my vacation to be – fluid. Fluid opinion, fluid needs, fluid life.
Step 4: Keep your food habits
I put a lot of effort over the last two years to change my nutrition habits. I dropped carbonated drinks, coffee, dairy, and trans fats. The results to my overall well-being, energy levels, stamina, and moods were so great that I insisted on keeping all my food habits in tact. In normal times I would let myself succumb to some gluttony when I am on vacation. But this time, I felt strong about this. For as much as possible I kept my diet in tact (which is not always possible with so many relatives around).
Step 5: Need less
During the pandemic I added this principle to my list of Life Principles. I realized how little I actually need beyond food and safety. I took a quest of simplification which I also took on my vacation. There are many quotes that come to mind (e.g., “How much does your life weight” from Up in the Air with George Clooney), but the essence is that life is about omission and not about addition. You need this especially now and especially when you are recharging.
Step 6: Be present
Wherever You Go, There You AreJon Kabat-Zinn
This is the title of a book about mindfulness and mediation (link in Goodreads), which you need to take to heart. On your vacation concentrate on being rather than doing (anything). Don’t think about the future or the past, but concentrate on the present.
Step 7: Observe impermanence
The beach is an awesome place to observe impermanence – one of the main teachings of Buddhism. The tides come and go each day. The sun rises and sets. You can even notice the sand castles – these massive projects in the minds of our kids – rise during the day and fall during the night tide (or thanks to the kid next door).
You can always notice that in people who live next to the sea. They are calmer, happier, they smile more. I personally think that is because they constantly notice impermanence and they live in the moment. Day after day. Season after season.
Step 8: Re-evaluate your relationships
This can be a controversial topic (at least it is among my close friends), but I do believe in pruning your friend list from time time. And I think that the pandemic is the best time for this. Naturally, you severed the ties with many of the people whom you considered friends, acquaintances, even relatives. When you start coming back to your quasi-normal life, just ask yourself if you want to get back in touch with everybody. The relationship in your life are among the most important predictors of success and happiness. Do you really want to leave all this to the chance encounters in your youth on which most of your friendships are based.
Every athlete knows the importance of downtime and recharging. For good or for bad, most of us became endurance athletes in the last two years. Juggling work, family, and kids, while spending most of your time home is a feat of endurance. Now, after 1.5 years, most of us are burnt out and we need this downtime and recharging.
What are the next steps?
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