New Year’s is a time we turn off work for a little while. We meet friends and family, reflect on the prior year and begin to imagine possibilities for the coming year. For many of us involved with startups, however, taking time to unplug can be difficult. Unplugging is challenging because startups are often very busy.
Busyness occurs because the list of things to do is always far longer than the list of things completed. On top of that, there also are many other challenges — fires to put out and urgent demands that require attention. These variables can create a constant stream of stress.
Chronic stress can result in a sort of urgency addiction, where we are addicted to the state of always being “on” (Hummel, 1994). Caffeine, supplements and adrenaline are all ways we keep ourselves moving forward with the goal of making more progress.
There are many exercises and steps you can take to better cope with chronic stress. For now, however, I just want to share a simple list of three things you can do to unplug during New Year’s weekend.
Put your phone in the other room. I’m going to leave my phone alone by physically separating it from me. If you are an addict and you struggle with food, alcohol or drugs, the best thing you can do is remove the addictive element from your life. In more ways that I want to admit, I’m addicted to work, so one way I can better manage it is to make sure my phone is upstairs or turned off, or just more challenging to access. This interrupts the pattern of phone-checking that is closely related to stress and plugging back into work.
Make non-work related goals. I’m going to make goals that I want to achieve over the long weekend that have nothing to do with the day in, day out work process. I’d recommend just making one or two goals. Here are my two goals:
- I want to spend hours and hours really tuned into my family (both immediate and extended). The last two-and-a-half years have gone by fast for me. I don’t want this holiday season to go by fast. I want to notice each person in my family and spend time really connecting with them and listening to where they are in life. My goal is five to six hours of engaged conversation a day.
- I want to run or hike three times in the next four days.
Goals should be simple and measurable (just like goals in your startup). Don’t make them too easy or too hard; instead, have them be right in the middle.
Get lost in a book. This can be fiction or nonfiction. Just get a book that deeply interests you and lose yourself in it. Don’t pick a business book. No rationalizations here. If you were to ask a friend whether or not the book was related to your business and your friend would say yes, then don’t read that book.
That’s it. Leave your phone in the other room, set some non-work related goals and read a great book. Not nearly as challenging as anything you do in normal life. You need a break right now and these three steps will help you unplug.