Balancing act: Experiment brings break from work, connection to family
When I was young, I didn't always like family reunions.
I loved seeing my cousins and other close family members, but I was shy around more distant relatives whose names I couldn't remember. The entertainment often consisted of slideshows (real, old-school slides, loaded into a tray on a projector and shown on a pull-down screen), which wasn't exciting for a kid. And as a picky eater, the food could also be, ahem, challenging for me.
But as I prepared for a recent trip to my hometown of Yankton, S.D., and then to Kansas City, Kan., to see many of my family members and friends, I was quite excited. In part, that was because it was my first real vacation in quite a while. More importantly, I couldn't wait to see people I genuinely enjoy and love.
And beyond that, I was looking forward to conducting a little experiment.
I've written before in this column about how hard it is for me to disconnect from work when I'm out of the office. I get so many emails every day that I hate to let them pile up. And I usually can't resist giving an answer when someone poses a question.
But this time, I decided I was going to take a real break from work and focus on my family. That meant I needed to prepare.
I started by leaving detailed, step-by-step instructions for my co-workers on duties they'd need to cover for me while I was gone. On most trips in the past, I would just fire up my laptop from my parents' house or a hotel and take care of some of those jobs remotely. But this time, I decided I needed to be disciplined and trust my colleagues.
It turns out that was the easy part. I knew the duties I described would be managed perfectly by my talented friends at work, and I was correct.
What proved more difficult was avoiding the email checks that tend to drag me into the little office "emergencies" I was trying to leave behind for a few days.
I confess to feeling guilty having fun while my co-workers are struggling with a particularly busy day, made more difficult by my absence. It's hard not to jump in and offer an opinion or lend a hand from afar, just to lighten the load.
So, before I left on my recent trip, I vowed to cut way back on checking email. I would still go through it and clear things out every few hours, but I wasn't going to meddle in activities back at the office.
As I put this plan into action, you'll never guess what I discovered. Shockingly, those little emergencies were resolved without my input. I may have been able to help had I been there, but everyone seemed to get along just fine in my absence.
That wasn't really a surprise, but it was educational for me, and it helped lessen my guilt a bit.
Still, I knew the real test of whether or not my experiment was successful would be shown in the response of my family. So I asked my wife how I did.
She said she would give me an overall grade of A for effort and B for execution when it came to my attempts at disconnecting from the office while we were away.
"I think you've made an effort, but it has been an effort," she said as our trip neared its conclusion. "You've been really tempted, I could tell, to ... take responsibilities back that you've given other people when you're gone."
She said she knows I would have "cracked" and turned on the laptop if things weren't getting done, so my good grades are, in part, a credit to my co-workers. That's a fair comment.
I asked my children how they thought I did at disconnecting from work, and they didn't really understand what I meant at first. When I explained that I had been trying to check email less, they said they thought I did better than usual, but it was obvious that they don't pay much attention to my phone habits. They had much more important things to do, like play with toys, read books and make up games.
These aren't perfect reviews from my family, but I think I'm making progress. And that's a good thing.
I enjoy my friends and colleagues at the office, and I'm sure my reunion with them will be a good one. But now that I've grown out of some of my shyness, developed an appreciation for old family photos and expanded my culinary horizons a bit, I'm an even bigger fan of reunions with family. If connecting with them means my emails stack up for a while or I miss a few discussions back at the office, I'm really OK with that.
In other words, I'm ready to declare my experiment a success. And I look forward to repeating in the future.
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