Insider is taking Juneteenth observed off. To prepare, I crafted an out-of-office message to let my contacts know I won’t be checking email tomorrow – and educate them on what the historic event is about.
Juneteenth recognizes the end of slavery in the US, when the Emancipation Proclamation reached Texas (then the most remote Confederate state) on June 19, 1865.
I took my usual OOO template and added a link that explains what Juneteenth is. Here’s what I wrote:
Thanks for your email! As with a growing number of companies across the country, Insider Inc. has closed today for Juneteenth observed.
I encourage you to read the linked article on the holiday if you’d like to know why this decision was made and why it’s so important to the company and its staff.
I’ll be sure to respond to your message when I’m back in the office on Monday, 6/21.
Big-name companies such as Twitter and Nike have declared Juneteenth a company holiday as corporate America facesbacklash over racial inequality. Other organizations like Microsoft have designated it a “day of listening, learning, and engagement” and canceled meetings.
45 states recognize Juneteenth as a holiday. The House just passed a bill declaring it a national holiday – it now sits on President Joe Biden’s desk to be signed into law.
I’m a proud mom to six-year-old twins and also a proud professional with a demanding, deadline-driven solo practice.
Most days – even when I’m not emerging tentatively from a pandemic like a thawing caveperson – it all just feels like a lot.
Indeed, like most working moms, I characterize myself as generally overcommitted and exhausted. But I have a strategy aimed at banishing burnout: I make my own summer Fridays.
For most of my career, I’ve wrapped up work around noon every Friday between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Up until a couple of years ago, this practice was conveniently built into my work life as an employee of various New York City-based media organizations, among which this type of structure is a common employer-sanctioned practice and a well-loved tradition among staff.
When I shifted to the full-time freelance lifestyle in 2019, it was entirely up to me to defend this sacred time from work and errand creep. But by now I’ve learned that doing so is a game-changer for my lifestyle and sense of self, so I create my boundaries.
In order to make it happen, I think of the summer as a whole, rather than looking at each week or day individually.
I get analytical about how much work and what type of work I want to take on in order to keep my summer Friday afternoons free.
Sure, work has a way of bottlenecking sometimes, and some deadlines don’t go as planned. But putting in the effort upfront – setting the intention, as I do – helps lay the groundwork that supports the structure I want.
I’m also an obsessive time manager, so I give myself – and stick to – artificial deadlines early enough that I avoid the potential for a Friday bottleneck.
In most cases, I assign myself deadlines only Monday through Thursday for the work requiring the most brainpower and time commitment – even if that means I’m delivering well ahead of a client’s drop-dead needs.
This, of course, is a good thing: It doesn’t just reduce my own stress on Fridays, but it also has the benefit of making me a favorite freelancer among my clients, and that general approach yields me more income over the course of the whole year (even if it occasionally might mean a bit less during a given week here or there in the summer).
If I’m in town, here’s what I might do on a summer Friday: Take myself to a solo matinee, get a massage, or go for a hike alone with my podcasts.
A post shared by Alesandra (Alice) Dubin (@alicedubin)
Here’s what I don’t do: Return stuff to Target, get a dental cleaning, or accidentally schedule a work meeting.
These few hours when my kids are in school and my husband is at work are reserved for joyful, indulgent, or contemplative activities – not to check stuff off a list. These 12 Friday afternoons provide my only time dedicated for this purpose in a typical year, and I believe they comprise a key pillar of my mental-health strategy.
Summer Fridays take the edge off the rest of the week. And they mean my kids get the best of me – not the smoke-breathing version of me who might be limping out of a week of meetings without having yet had a chance to regroup.
And summer Fridays are a mental-health boon throughout not just these weeks, but the whole year, too: It’s a cherished rhythm I look forward to and that makes me more productive, like a vacation already booked.
“By taking time exclusively for yourself and exclusively for the purpose of bringing pleasure, joy, and comfort into your life, [that’s] actually an act of radical self-compassion,” Leah Rockwell, a licensed professional counselor and founder of Rockwell Wellness, which specializes in therapy for burnout, told Insider.
“Yet for many overworked, overachieving women, it is an amazingly difficult concept to actually integrate into our daily lives,” Rockwell said. “While we might be the first person to rabidly advocate that a girlfriend should do whatever it takes to care for or prioritize herself, many of us cannot extend that same permission to ourselves.”
Rockwell said that by building that permission into my actual schedule, I’m showing myself (and others around me, too) that my emotional wellness is a priority for me. “Why not capitalize on how summer can fortify us?” she added.
Engaging in a relationship with what brings us joy is something that we witness our children do all day long, but we often deny it of ourselves as adults. “By structuring your summer weeks as you are, you’ve invited back into your life the bliss of summer that we often assume that adults just don’t have a right to, yet we inherently long for,” Rockwell said.
Podcast host and bestselling author Gretchen Rubin calls it “designing your summer.”
“You want there to be something special about summer,” she said. “If you don’t actually plan that out or at least be very intentional about it, it’s very easy for days to just slip by.”
Anyone can design their summer – not just people who make their own work hours or have lots of disposable income.
“It’s not about taking massive amounts of time off work,” Rubin said. Rather, it’s an attitude.
Habits and routines have the effect of speeding up time, whereas “time feels rich and slow when things are different,” Rubin said. (That’s why a three-day vacation can feel like a full chapter in our lives.) So to make our lives feel richer and more textured, we must make an effort to do something apart from our seasonally nonspecific routines.
And I need that distinction perhaps now more than ever given how the pandemic presented a seemingly endless stretch of days marked by the unrelenting sameness of staying at home.
As the world opens up again, I’m setting aside both time and headspace for novelty, for variety, for pleasurable personal challenges that stand to make time feel ever so slightly less ephemeral and much more vivid (all while actually fortifying my earning potential all year long).
A lot of moms spend their “day off” just like any other: cleaning up messes and watching the kids. In year’s past, I’ve been that worn-out momma.
For example, there have been many Mother’s Days when after opening my gift and shoveling down breakfast in bed, life would go back to normal, with a deluge of diapers to change and dishes in the sink.
But not this year.
This past Mother’s Day, I skipped the subtle hints and gave myself the one gift I wanted more than anything else: an entire weekend by myself.
No shouting toddlers. No waking up in the middle of the night. No endless list of chores. Just utter quiet and complete solitude. Hour after hour to do whatever I desired.
Fellow working moms, can you even imagine?
Even though Mother’s Day has passed, it’s not too late to coordinate your own escape. While many moms find it difficult to justify leaving their families, taking time and space for ourselves is not only good for us – it’s good for our loved ones, too.
Maybe you’re at a conference for work or maybe it’s a girls’ trip. Or maybe it’s a trip orchestrated solely for the purpose of being away. The point is that you’re not physically there to make dinner or help out with bedtime. You’re mentally unavailable to figure out why the baby is crying or carry the load of remembering to reorder wipes.
Not only does a strategic absence give the primary caretaker a much-needed break, but according to Bueskens, it can generate a “structural and psychological shift in the family” by redistributing some of the work that falls onto one parent by default (typically mom) and requiring the second parent (usually the father) to step up.
Now more than ever, families need to shake up their dynamic
I first wrote about strategic absence back in January 2020 in an article for Elemental, where I bemoaned the fact that the most time I’d taken away from my then-two-year-old were the 24 hours I spent in the hospital giving birth to baby number two.
I was long overdue for what some call a momcation – and was in the works of planning one – when the pandemic hit, adding another 14 months onto the two years I’d already essentially been sheltering in place.
A 2018 survey found the average mother ends up with a mere 30 minutes to herself a day. During the pandemic, you can bet alone time was at an even greater premium – at least it was in my household.
Now that people are vaccinated and travel is a bit safer, I could finally have the time off from mothering that I richly deserved.
The thought of just being in a space by myself for an extended period of time sounded magical: Imagine no one is touching you, shouting in your face, demanding snacks, and crying when you give them exactly what they asked for.
Give yourself a (modest) goal
Beyond leisurely bubble baths and uninterrupted sleep, experts say a strategic absence is time away to pursue other dimensions of yourself.
If you’re a type-A working mom like me – you love your job and don’t get enough uninterrupted time in your everyday life to focus on it – there’s nothing wrong with using your strategic absence to tackle a work project.
My goal for this past Mother’s Day weekend was to make a significant start into a new idea for a book proposal that’d been rattling around my head for months – exactly the kind of thing that requires significant “maker” time.
You want a plan – but don’t feel pressured
No one wants to come back from a vacation feeling like they need a vacation, and a momcation is no different. While you may use the time to be productive, it ought to be restorative as well.
After arriving at my destination, I spent an hour in line at Whole Foods. It started raining, I was cold – I’d forgotten to pack a sweater – and so instead of exploring a new restaurant like I’d intended, I went back to the apartment, zapped a microwave burrito, struggled with the beginning of my book proposal, and went to bed. It was pretty uneventful.
Fortunately, I woke up with a clearer head and zero distractions (the beauty of a strategic absence!), and I got straight to work. By day two, I knew I wasn’t going to end the weekend emailing my agent the 30 perfect pages of prose I’d promised her, but that was OK.
Ignore your buzzing phone
The most important part of a strategic absence is to protect yourself from intruders. Trust me, they will intrude.
A good friend will need to process the fight she’s having with her husband. Your cousin will want to know how your strategic absence is going or talk about where your moms went wrong when you were both kids. If enjoying phone conversations without screaming kids in the background was part of the plan, allow it, but if not, send those calls to voicemail.
The second I arrived and before I even put my bags down, I got a text from my husband complaining I’d overfilled the garbage can. It wasn’t a conversation we needed to have right then, and so I didn’t respond. I checked in with my family every night before bed, but other than that I ignored his messages.
Sure, I felt a little guilty, but they were never an emergency and I knew I wasn’t obligated to respond.
When I got home, my husband admitted that he’d actually enjoyed his time solo-parenting and said that, in some respects, it was easier. This isn’t unusual: Often without the primary parent’s micromanagement, the secondary parental figure develops competences and confidence. Do it often enough, and a strategic absence teaches your kids they can rely on both parents, not just mom.
In the end, I came back feeling more rested, connected to myself, appreciative of my family, and eager for my next escape.
Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg said on Wednesday the company would now offer paid leave to employees who suffer domestic violence or sexual assault.
Facebook staff will be able to take up to 20 days of paid time off if they, a family member, or a household member are experiencing violence and sexual assault at home, Sandberg said at the Bloomberg Equality Summit.
Sandberg said this was prompted by rising reports of domestic violence amid the global lockdowns of COVID-19, saying, “We all have a responsibility to do what we can to prevent it and help those who go through these awful experiences.”
“It’s a situation where you need paid time off, and not just for yourself but for a loved one,” she said. “This is us really recognizing that this is something that affects everyone, including our employees.”
After the summit, Sandberg wrote on Facebook that the 20 days policy could be for “seeking medical attention, or support from a domestic abuse shelter, victims’ services organization or rape crisis center, or to relocate temporarily or permanently if they need to.”
Facebook previously allowed US employees who were themselves victims of domestic violence to take unpaid leave, Bloomberg reported.
Facebook didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request to comment.
A company spokesperson told Bloomberg that employees who have told their managers they have to take emergency leave will later be identified as a domestic abuse victims in Facebook’s internal systems.
Only human resources managers have access to these systems, they said.
Facebook also provides an additional 10 weeks of COVID-19 leave for employees to recover from the virus or to care for their children or elderly relatives, Sandberg said in an interview with Axios on March 8.
Chris Litster is an executive at Buildium, a platform that helps property managers become more efficient and profitable.
Several years ago when the company he’d worked at for 10 years was acquired, he said goodbye and decided to take 11 months off from working.
For him, the benefits were huge, but Litser also says during a year like 2020 when taking time off might not be an option, there are 5 lessons that anyone can add into their daily routine to adopt the ‘sabbatical mindset.’
He encourages reframing your professional priorities, taking the opportunity to dabble and expand your network, and embracing a simplified, more personal bucket list.
Several years ago, I was lucky enough to take a sabbatical from work.
It sounds like an exceptional luxury. It was. I’ll always be grateful for the 11 months I was able to take off in the middle of my career. It was a choice I was privileged to make and a chance few people ever get.
I’m writing now in a very different context. The crisis of the last year has impacted so many people’s careers in unexpected, challenging and sometimes devastating ways. Many find themselves between careers or exploring new directions. Others are waiting for jobs to come back or new opportunities to surface.
There’s no getting around how trying this experience is. But one question may be worth asking: Can this time also be an opening to regroup, refocus, and refresh, so that you’re approaching your next opportunity with purpose?
The answer may be a flat out “no,” and that’s understandable. But for some, this unexpected break may be able to serve as a critical, even strategic, pause on the career journey. I’d like to re-share my experiences and observations in the hopes of helping others “hack” their own sabbatical, whether your break is planned or unplanned.
Among the most powerful lessons: You don’t need a few months, or even a few weeks, to reap the benefits. A sabbatical mindset can be achieved with no formal break at all.
Lesson 1: There’s never a perfect time
Plenty of my colleagues were supportive of my decision to take time off, even though I didn’t exactly have an endgame in mind. But when my kids found out, one of the first things they asked was, “Are you going to be able to find a job again?” It was a more polite version of what a search firm told me: “You’re stupid. You’re in the prime of your career. Taking a year off will make you irrelevant.”
These concerns are fair enough – but I think there’s an internal voice that lets you know you’re officially burned out. I knew for a while I wasn’t running on all cylinders. And when your work suffers, when your family life suffers, when you’re no longer in the driver’s seat of your own life, you just have to press pause and recalibrate, or you’re heading for trouble.
I had a vague plan for my time off. The first six months were going to be purely about rest and recuperation. The second half would be about refocusing on career plans and next steps. Of course, disconnecting and achieving that was easier said than done.
Lesson 2: Embrace a different kind of bucket list
As I drove home from my last day of work, I practically had a panic attack. “What did you just do?!” just kept repeating in my brain. I spent the first several days of the sabbatical just wondering constantly about what was going on at the office and compulsively checking my calendar app. After spending so much time at a company, it wasn’t exactly easy to make a clean break.
But after a week or so, I did stop refreshing my work email. Once I had disentangled myself from work life, the way my energy came back was actually eye opening. And I was able to start filling my days with the things I’d been meaning to make more time for for years.
We did do a family trip during my time off, but if anything, my sabbatical was about checking off a bucket list of ordinariness. I woke up without knowing what I was going to do that day… and that’s the way I liked it. I had breakfast with my family most mornings. I drove my kids to school. I did the grocery shopping and played tennis and even tried yoga, now that the excuse of “I’m busy with work” wasn’t true anymore. More than any grand plans or life-changing adventures, the opportunity to truly live in the moment and enjoy the people I love is what restored my energy and enthusiasm.
Lesson 3: Master the fine art of dabbling
To say I didn’t work at all during my sabbatical would be a lie. I was “working,” but it was at a dramatically different pace and with a very different kind of focus than before.
I made a point of casually messaging and connecting with colleagues and individuals in my network – the kind of people I’d met over the years and really liked and trusted, but never had much time to connect with outside the office. I didn’t have much of an agenda other than catching up and using them as a sounding board while I sketched out the next phase of my life. It was an opportunity to work through exactly what I was and wasn’t looking for next, putting me back in the driver’s seat of my career. With no real end goal to pursue, my ideas had time to incubate, and evolve.
It turned out, though, that I was engineering serendipity. Opportunities began popping up through conversation, and my new schedule allowed me to explore some exciting part-time collaborations – like an entrepreneur-in-residence role at VC Michael Skok’s new investment firm. Yes, I had planned on not working for a year, but I realized it was a great way to be exposed to all sorts of companies at different stages and test-drive different roles. It let me explore my options for the future in a low-pressure environment that still left plenty of time to be home for family dinner.
Lesson 4: The sabbatical may have to end, but the benefits don’t
These networking coffee chats eventually led to the role I’m in now – running Buildium, a SaaS-based property management software company in Boston. Sure, I had other offers come my way, but because of the reflective time I had during my sabbatical, I knew they weren’t right. This position ticks the boxes that I now know really matter to me: A work environment I love, a mission I believe in, and a balance with family time.
This was the biggest benefit of the sabbatical – I didn’t just get to sleep in on weekdays; I got a chance to reorient and clarify my priorities. I’d been so focused on striving towards an executive role that I forgot what else matters. Taking time off allowed me to find a healthier way to work, and afterwards I learned to prioritize being home at 6:30 p.m. for family dinners every single night. Sure, it wasn’t always perfect, and I sometimes I still found myself answering emails after the rest of the family has gone to sleep. But I wouldn’t give up quality time again for the world.
Lesson 5: You can find that same perspective without going on sabbatical at all
I’m acutely aware how lucky I was to take nearly a year off. More and more people are taking DIY sabbaticals like me, but I know many people in my life who simply don’t have the luxury of taking an extended break – even a few weeks off is a privilege many just can’t afford. My company does offer all employees a sabbatical for certain tenure milestones, but it’s rare in other corporate environments.
That being said, I feel that several of the benefits of a sabbatical don’t actually require a formal one. With a little mindfulness, the lessons of an extended break can be achieved on a much shorter time frame:
Identify your non-negotiables and stick to them. Whether it’s getting home for family dinner every night or going to the gym every day, if something brings you joy or clarity, make it a priority in your schedule on a regular basis. If you keep putting these things off until you “have the time,” you may miss out completely.
When you’re off, really be off. Turn off your email, stay away from the computer, and be present in whatever you’re doing. When I was fully and completely away from work the speed with which my creativity and energy returned was amazing – literally, a matter of days.
Make time to talk with people you respect and trust. The casual coffee chat is the first thing to get cut in a busy week, but having this sounding board is invaluable to clarify your goals and hurdles and expose you to new opportunities. It’s a wellspring of inspiration that offers value beyond job offers.
It’s all too easy to feel like we’re a passenger on our own career journey. Taking a moment – whether with an extended sabbatical break or just on a quiet Sunday afternoon – to ask yourself what you truly prioritize is the best way to put yourself back in the driver’s seat.
Is your current role getting you where you want to go? Is your work environment helping you make your life richer? No one wants a career where you rack up regrets as fast as bonuses and promotions. Press pause however you can, and you might fast-forward your life in the process.
This version of this story was originally published on Business Insider December 13, 2019.