Three Weeks Off Series, Part 1


Costco Lines:  These people looked forward to their weekend for this?  Oh wait.  I did, too.

Most weekends don’t feel all that restful because of errands.

You struggle to get through the five day stretch of commute-work-commute-dinner-decompress and when it’s all over, there’s a pile of things that need to be done around the house.  Dishes, laundry, trips to the town dump and library, dry-cleaning, grocery-shopping, vacuuming, de-cluttering, bills and other odds and ends — they all need your attention.

Worse, hordes of stressed out, anxious people will be joining you because everyone shares the same two measly days off work.

On top of all of that, no doubt you have family visits.  Maybe you’re going to grab coffee with your brother or take a trip out of state to see your Mom, your in-laws are coming over for a day and a half, or your cousin is in town.  While some of these visits may be enjoyable, they’re usually not exactly relaxing either.

So when exactly do you get time to unwind and get some me-time?

It’s no wonder that people so desperately look forward to having scheduled time out of the office.  If you ask me, they’re few and much too far between.

Three Days to Decompression

Even when you do manage to finally get away from it all, the feeling of release isn’t immediate.  I’m sure you’ve heard people say, “It took me a few days into my vacation to get really relaxed.”  It took me three.  The first two days — Saturday and Sunday — I treated as regular weekend-errand cycles, so I predictably ran myself ragged doing all of the stuff that I thought needed doing.

Yes, this included a run to Costco, my warehouse-shopping store of choice and sweet mother it was crowded. Fewer people attended some concerts I’ve been to recently.

Chores Aren’t Chores

I didn’t stop doing productive stuff around the house after the initial weekend was over.  But it became a lot more pleasant.

I won’t list everything here because it’d be immensely boring to read about and this is a finance/RE blog, not a home improvement journal.

The important thing to note here is that I’ve had a shift of attitude.  I’m not struggling to fit in a few DIY tasks against the backdrop of another insane weekend of stuff that needs doing.   Instead, they’re fun — honest-to-god fun.

For example, let’s say I needed to repaint a room in my house.  I’d likely pick Sunday because of the large quantity of built-in errands that need to be processed on Saturday. So I would get up at seven to bang out a quick jog, then hit the hardware store to pick up paint, returning home to do the deed to the best of my ability.  In the middle somewhere, there’d be lunch.  By the time I am done with cleanup, it’s at least three, maybe later.  Although the painting had been fun, I’m pretty tired at this point.  But now I’m staring at the yard-work that would have otherwise gotten done that morning had I not painted.

At that point I have choices:  Stubbornly grind through the yard-work even though I’ve had my fill of physical chore-type work, or let it go until next weekend.

If I let it go, this stuff is going to hang over my head like a stormcloud because my neighbors will get irritated if the landscaping falls behind.  And speaking of clouds, I’ll also be praying for decent weather.  If the following weekend turns out rainy, my lawn is going to start resembling an open field, full of weeds and grass going to seed.  No quantity of nice weekdays will allow me to mow my lawn while I have a day job.

The end result is that I almost always will choose to plow my way through the yardwork in this scenario, even though I’m already completely burnt.  All of this makes me dread above-and-beyond DIY tasks for the simple reason that they eat into my very limited free time outside of the workplace.

So what I’ve found, even after just a few days, is that there’s a huge mental shift in how I feel about all of this.   Now I can labor for a few hours knowing full well that there’s plenty of time afterward to spend on more relaxing activities, i.e. work becomes spaced out, pleasant and rewarding instead of feeling like a barrage of dumpster trash poured over my head for eternity.

What I’m trying to say is that it’s not the work itself that’s difficult or unpleasant.  DIY work is pretty terrific if you have the time and energy.  It’s feeling forced to work when you’re already exhausted that’s the key component, turning regular labor into miserable toil.

No office job = reasonable daily loads.


Exercising is Easier and More Fun

Normally I exercise during the day at work.

My schedule is a slightly longer-than-normal 8-5.  This includes a two hour break to exercise and eat lunch.  I negotiated this schedule with my manager to make it easier for me to work out.  (You can probably tell by this point that I’m addicted to exercise.  Eh, there are worse things, right?)

A bit of explanation: I’ve always had difficulty exercising either before work (pre-commute) or after.  Studies show that working out late isn’t great for your sleep cycle, anyway, so it’s best to take care of it earlier on if you can manage it.

Even though I’m grateful for this flexibility of schedule, it remains challenging to fit the workout in between the bustle of meetings and other tasks.  I frequently shift the actual time I spend away from my desk around to accommodate the changing business needs of each specific day.  For example it’s a common thing for someone to schedule a last-minute meeting over my lunch hour, so in that case I’d do some juggling and take that break from 2-4 instead.

Since I’m not stuck in the office, the difficulty in scheduling exercise has gone poof.  I’ve been able to exercise whenever and however I like — a huge lifestyle improvement.  Have to say, 9AM jogs around the neighborhood are a terrific way to start the day.  Tomorrow, I’m going hiking for a few hours and bringing lunch.  I can’t imagine this flexibility ever getting old.   Once my blood gets going, my mind and body loosen up and I see colors instead of gray.  My brain turns off, that incessant internal chatter that continually analyzes the current state of things and your place in it.  In the resulting silence, the world appears to be a pretty terrific place.   Being outside and free has me feeling absurdly, irrationally, blissfully optimistic about basic human existence in a way that being cooped up in an office has never once managed to do.  I am alive.

Another surprise:  I’ve been able to work out harder.  Granted, this is a small sample size of days 3 — but M through W this week I’ve consistently been able to crush it.  Since I don’t have to keep any gas in the tank for the upcoming afternoon of office drudgery, I can keep my foot on the pedal.

Love that.

Limited Media

I don’t watch a ton of television.  But I do play video games and view the occasional movie.  Limited, mindful media consumption has a high payoff and makes me happy.  I watch something and then think about what it is that I’ve watched.  Talk it over with my wife — what was good or bad about it, aspects of construction, cinematography or music, which actors were any good, that sort of thing.

On the other side of the coin, there’s binge watching.  This is the practice of consuming an entire seasons’ worth of shows in a day or sucking down movie after movie until you can’t remember when the last time you took a shower and your living area is littered with snack items and dirty dishes.

I can’t binge-watch, unfortunately.  Or binge-game.  I could in my twenties but something has changed inside of the mid-thirties human unit I occupy.  If there were an instruction manual for my brain, it would read:

Input no more than three hours of daily media for optimal machine performance.  Warning: Failure to comply will result in malfunctions and reduce the life expectancy of the product.

In English, watching too much stuff makes me sort of stressed out and tired.  I’ve come to recognize that I need time to process the experience after viewing, and hopping immediately to something else prevents me from clearing out the bits that need to be either cataloged or discarded. (Interestingly, reading does not have the same effect on me — I can read for hours without issues.  I think it has something to do with the images.)

So far I’m consuming about 2 hours of video-related media a day, which is about where I want to be.  This ends up being one movie,  a couple of television shows, or a decent gaming session.  Yesterday, I watched a movie with my wife, and today I played an old Nintendo game for a couple of hours.

I have to say, even these activities are more pleasant without work — there are no distracting thoughts in my brain, like things I should be working on instead and did I remember to send so-and-so an email with a status update on problem X — fairly typical crud that lurks in the background of every professional’s mind.

For the record, if I start parking myself in front of the television for entire days, this three-week-off experiment will be considered a serious fail.  I’m not pursuing RE in order to impart a permanent indentation on furniture: Ass on Couch.  If anything, this would probably be a sign that I’m miserable.  Happy people don’t watch television or play video games all day.

They live life.

Moments of Bliss

Throughout my career, every day I’m not at the office I’m constantly thinking:  Jesus, I’m glad I’m not at the office.

This holds up even during days that are filled with challenges and activities that appear, on the surface, to be crap.  Cleaning my mom’s kitchen, helping a friend move, doing my taxes.   I quickly visualize myself seated at my cube looking at a Powerpoint presentation for a vendor product or updating a budgeting excel spreadsheet, and whatever it is that I’m currently doing instantly seems like the best thing in the world.

I’ve had several moments of almost unbearable joy over the last three days.   Most recently, last night, it struck while I was outside walking with my wife.  We were just doing our thing, living out a completely unexceptional evening.   We strolled down the street under the open sky, passed couples with cute kids and peeing dogs, noticed grass sprouting as New England shrugs off the last of winter.   I was able to see these things because I was calm and relaxed instead of still shimmering from the blinding combustion of a typical work day.

Then that familiar happy thought struck me.  I’m not in the office.

But this time it continued:  I never have to be again.  This could be my life.  This could be the norm, this peace.  

It’s all I’ve ever wanted, really.

Well, that and the occasional McGriddle Burger.

Geeking It Up

As great as all of this is so far, I’m constantly aware that my current state of freedom is temporary and I’ll be back in the caves before I know it.

I feel a bit like Bilbo leaving the grimy tunnels of the Misty Mountain, ring in pocket, Gollum in the rearview mirror.

Sure, he’s escaped for now, but a return to darkness isn’t far away.  The Lonely Mountain awaits.


Don't be fooled:  Bilbo will be spelunking again, soon enough.

Bilbo:Gollum::Me:Cowokers.  One of us is leaving this cave and the others ain’t.


Part 0   << — >>  Part 2

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10 Responses to Three Weeks Off Series, Part 1

  1. Thegoblinchief says:

    I’ve worked weekends for eight years and counting. The few times I’ve had a day off and tried doing stuff I’d normally do during the week, I wanted to crawl in a dark hole and cry myself to sleep.

    And I don’t even live in that big of a city!

  2. Moooooser says:

    Whoever came up with the 40 hour work week (which really consumes 50 or 60+) must have been a business owner and not an employee. You’d think that will all our recent advances in efficiency we could scale back the workweek to 2 days on and 5 days off (or 4 months on, 8 months off). In that instance, it wouldn’t bother me to work until I was 65. Instead, we’re basically forced to abide by societal norms, all tilted towards the employer, until we can walk away indefinitely. That is why I might consider running a micro-business… it could consume 1-2 days a week of my time (max!), while still allowing me to walk away at a much earlier age and still giving me the lion’s share of the benefits (thank you Vilfredo Pareto!).

    • livingafi says:

      The 9-5 office day is inherited from industrial times, i.e. factory life.
      When the shift to white collar jobs occurred, they just inherited the same schedule. There’s no practical reason why people should be doing brain work for 8 hours a day, but the system was never updated to reflect the functional differences in office requirements. Most people do their real work in 3-5 hours a day and are forced to fill the remaining time with meetings, inane socializing and boring, demoralizing paperwork because they are simply not allowed to leave early.

      I agree that it would be great for employees if there were incentives to finishing your work early, such as being allowed to leave. If it was suddenly ok for me to go to work at 9, do what I needed to do, and waltz out immediately after, I’d be done by noon most days with absolutely zero reduction in the quantity or quality.

      The problem is that we all play the “I’m really busy” game. We tell each other that we’re super busy even on the days when we’re not. And it’s logical for us to behave this way, as a defense mechanism, because telling your boss you don’t have enough to do is an invitation for more work. So instead of finishing early, we space the work out and eat up the hours because that’s better than the alternative (more work.)

      So I agree, working 4 hours a day would be perfect and much more tolerable, but good luck getting full benefits or making a salary to support a family with that proposed schedule. I remind myself that employers aren’t simply paying you for your output — they are paying for your time. They want you to be on the clock and available during the same stretches as all of their other minions. That’s how the system works and employers have no real incentive to change it.

      • The book “Early Retirement Extreme” has some great sections on that topic. Generally, I’m fine with the work 40 hours and then be done after 10 years, give or take. I’d personally negotiate a 4 day, 10 hour workweek. Maybe with one of those 4 being a telecommute.

      • Moooooser says:

        I work in a big company (thousands of people on site), and I’ve seen a few people try REALLY hard to negotiate less than the standard 5/40. A few (mainly females that just had kids who were legitimately willing to quit) have succeeded temporarily. A couple months later though, they’re back to the standard grind.

  3. Pingback: Three Weeks Off Series, Part 0: Prelude | livingafi

  4. Pingback: Filling in the Gaps |

  5. Pingback: Three Weeks Off Series, Part 2 |

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