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Out of Office

Out of Office

By Kristie L. Wolfe

This summer, I did something unusual. All at once, I increased my productivity, enhanced my creativity, and enriched my problem-solving abilities. My energy level increased and my tension decreased. It didn’t require a prescription or a co-pay. It cost my employer not a cent, but improved my mental and physical health, nevertheless. What did I do?


I set my out of office reply, and I walked away.


Not permanently, of course. I’ve been back for quite a while now. But like countless others, I am constantly accessible. Technology has robbed us of any moments of peace or quiet. I’m not lamenting the connectedness of our world. I love being in instant contact with friends and family from near and far. I am, however, lamenting the loss of rest.


I do it to myself. I know this. When I am stressed about work, I work longer and harder. I stay up late; I get up early. It’s easy enough to carry work through the weekends and into every evening. I find myself feeling guilty if I have an unexpected 20 minutes in my day, and I’m not checking my email. When I work nonstop, I get more tired, which means I get less productive. This increases my stress, so I stay up later and get up earlier, and get more stressed and less productive. It’s not a good habit, but I am learning how to break it. Setting that out of office reply was a good start.


In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey relates a story of some lumberjacks who toil to cut some wood. They work and work and work. As they work, their saws become dull. And so, they work harder and longer, trying to accomplish their work with dull sawblades, which only become more dull with each cut. The wise lumberjack will walk away when the blade becomes dull, in order to sharpen it. For a short time, his productivity ceases, but it’s worth the time away, for when he returns to his work, his blade is sharp, and he will produce many times more work than the lumberjack who refused to stop to sharpen his saw and continues to labor with a dull blade.


Google, too, has embraced this notion with their Genius Hour. Engineers take up to 20% of their time to step away from the daily grind, and work on a project that they love. Google has found that allowing their employees to renew themselves actually increases their creativity and productivity.


Go figure. It’s almost like man was made to rest.


Not surprisingly, every major faith tradition on earth includes the exhortation to rest, to observe a Sabbath. We weren’t created to work every minute of every day of every week. I’m sure we knew this at some point, but the iPhones and iPads and laptops and tablets and smart phones and smart cars and smart houses have invaded every moment of our existence.


This summer, I called a time out. I walked away for a bit. I sharpened my saw. I gave my God a chance to work on me, by being still and letting Him do His work on me, instead of me constantly doing my work. I truly experienced a Sabbath.


Now, I am back in the office. I’m ready for a new day, a new month and a new school year. I am rested and refreshed. And while this lesson may have already been preached by Steven Covey, Google and Moses himself, I just figured it out.


The next time I find myself buried in work and stress, I will try not to stay up late, get up early and wear myself out. I’ll set my phone to Do Not Disturb, turn on my Out of Office reply, and rest a bit. I’ll sharpen my saw and, truly, myself in the process.

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