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The Awesome Power of Not Working

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Most of life is not black and white. This includes the workplace, which is full of gray areas. But there’s one aspect that should be absolute—whether you are or are not working.

This is a line which used to be much easier to draw. It wasn’t so long ago that work and not-work were clearly not the same. To quote ourselves on finding balance by separating work and life:

To address this question, we need to wind back the clock a few years. All of us are involved in many different activities, but just one generation ago there was an extremely clear separation between “work life” and “personal life.” Here’s how almost every professional operated:

Home → Commute → Work → Commute → Home

Then, the next day, they would do it all over again. Remember those days in which the commute was a nice drive or a subway ride? Where you could listen to the radio, enjoy a cup of coffee, read a good book, and generally prepare yourself to change from being at home to being at work or vice versa? Those were the days!

Vacation Spot

© Flickr user Nick Kenrick.

This is part five in a ten part series on what makes a great organization. It comes from a list of what we believe makes AccelaWork a good company. Here’s the point for this blog post:

5. Take vacations. We won’t call you while you’re away, and don’t call us. Recharge and renew, and come back refreshed.

That sentiment might seem a little too common these days. With organizations offering unlimited paid-time off and generally raving about their own culture, it seems like most any modern business is likely to tout that they are pro-vaction.

But we are trying to say something different. We’re calling into question the difference between accountability and obligation. To put it on our own words:

  • Accountability is making a promise and keeping it. It’s when you do what you said you were going to do.
  • Obligation is when others have expectations of you, and then you take on those expectations as your own burden.

Work is almost entirely about results, and results can only arise when people are accountable. But sometimes, people make work about obligations. They assume others will do what they need, or assume that a particular task is their responsibility even without it being discussed.

This manifests in that bit of text at the bottom of just about every job description, other duties as assigned. For many people, those words become an albatross as they take on more and more responsibility because they feel like they have to. Or, it becomes a mechanism (even if subconscious) for bosses to make unreasonable demands of their team.

And then it becomes even bigger when we are supposed to not be working. Long-time Twitter user Scott Hansleman puts it succinctly:

That one stings, because we’ve all done it. We’re supposed to be away from work, but, we’re still working.

The Million Reasons and The One Reason

Having an organization with a firm policy of “don’t work when you’re on vacation” has a ton of benefits. You reduce the chances that someone is going to try to login to a work system from some Internet café and cause a security breach. You attract better people to apply for your jobs. You win more approval from spouses and families. And people come back from these trips feeling like a brand new human, which means they are going to be a better employee.

But those reasons (and 999,996 more we could state) don’t matter at all compared to the one reason that you should encourage your employees to embrace the awesome power of not working.

It’s because life isn’t about work. Life is for living. We may get pleasure or income or inspiration from working, but it’s when we don’t feel like we have to do anything for anybody else except ourselves that we get to truly be.

It’s the only humane thing to do.

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
Robby Slaughter

@robbyslaughter

Troublemaker and productivity/workflow expert. https://t.co/lJk8tIwe9q. Slightly more complex than 140 characters will permit.
Never go to a networking event if you feel even a little ill. - 1 hour ago
Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter

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