Episode 2

#002 - Take a Break! The Importance of Intentional Downtime

Published on: 28th August, 2020

In our first ever episode recorded as a group, Charles, Igor, and I discuss the importance of taking a break. We talk about the tricks our brain plays on us as we think what we are doing in this moment is too important to put down and some of the motivations behind such thinking. We also cover some of the physical, emotional, and relational health impacts around deferring intentional downtime. And, finally, we share some practical tips for leaders and individual contributors around how to take a break, even on a busy schedule.

Special shout out to Tara Haelle who wrote a great piece on Medium about surge capacity and emotional wellbeing in a crisis.


Robert Greiner 0:01

Welcome to the Wanna Grab Coffee podcast. In our first ever episode recorded as a group, Charles, Igor and I discussed the importance of taking a break. We talk about the tricks our brain plays on us as we think what we are doing in this moment is too important to put down and some of the motivations behind such thinking. We also cover some of the physical, emotional and relational health impacts around deferring intentional downtime. And finally, we share some practical tips for leaders and individual contributors around how to take a break, even on a busy schedule.

What's up guys? Hey,

Igor Geyfman 0:36

do you want to hum our song? intro? Okay,

Robert Greiner 0:40

I do have a very important question. Mm. Igor. Yeah. How are you and what are you drinking?

Igor Geyfman 0:46

Ah, I am. I'm distracted really. You know, got this big project that's a has a pending deadline this Friday. But I want to take some time out with my friends and chat with you today. So that's gonna energize me to to actually get that project done in a better way. And what I'm drinking today is while I'm mostly done, but it's a shot of espresso always comes out perfect. No user error. And you getting me caffeinated.

Robert Greiner 1:19


Charles, how are you and what are you drinking?

Charles Knight 1:25

I am quite tired. Actually.

Haven't been sleeping well, the past couple of nights. Had a big sales meeting earlier today. That always kind of gets me on edge. And I love coffee, but I can only drink a little bit of coffee in the morning, otherwise I can't sleep. And so right now I've got a little corkcicle tumbler full of ice water. So that's what I'm drinking right now. But this morning, it was just drip drip coffee community. Coffee

in a,

you know one of those drink coffee makers. How about you, Robert?

Robert Greiner 2:07

Great. Yeah, I'm I'm doing well, similar to Igor I have under the gun to get this project done. So I will be glad when that's all wrapped up at the end of the week. And kids have started full in school. And so now I'm a homeschooler in addition to my full time job, which is always fun. And I'm drinking la Colombia coffee, cold brew mocha. You'll recognize the can because this is a frequent choice of mine when we're actually together drinking coffee by the office and so I ordered a few and stocked up on them ahead of the quarantine, which was a good choice. And so I'm just burning those down.

Igor Geyfman 2:52

Walk over to the whole foods.

Robert Greiner 2:54

Yep, Whole Foods and then Foxtrot has it as well. Yeah.

Igor Geyfman 2:57


Robert Greiner 2:59

Yeah. So I break these out on special occasions and and this is one of them.

Charles Knight 3:05

Well, I've got one of those,

like single hand press espresso shot things. I don't know if y'all have seen that before.

Igor Geyfman 3:12


Charles Knight 3:13

You could, you could put the ground in there. And then you just pour the water through the top and you press it down. And it makes a single espresso that's what I was planning to do. And then I just ran out of time. So sorry, guys.

Robert Greiner 3:29

Hey, no worries.

Igor Geyfman 3:30

Might have to record some of these in the morning. So Charles can actually drink the coffee he makes for the for the podcast.

Robert Greiner 3:37

We know that for the next time now for sure.

Igor Geyfman 3:40

Well, that's true. I think most times when I go with Charles in the afternoon, he'll get like a green tea or something less caffeinated

Charles Knight 3:46

Decaf. Yeah.

Robert Greiner 3:49

Nice. All right. Well, you're ready to jump into the topic today.

Igor Geyfman 3:55

Yeah, let's do it.

Charles Knight 3:56

Let's do it.

Robert Greiner 3:56


Okay. So we're thinking take a break and we are several months into the quarantine now we've all been working from home every day been generally locked up inside the house with some combination of family members in and out and read this really interesting article on medium around these adaptive systems have, like humans have surge capacity to get through to survive through a very short term event. And this is sort of we're sort of on edge in this crisis for months and months and months straight, with really no reprieve. And that takes a toll over time. And I know that if you look at our, our people on our teams, they're not taking PTO at nearly the rate that they were before. And I think that this initial rush of adrenaline that we've experienced, when we see teams getting more velocity done, when they're when they're when the lockdown first started when everyone was working from home that's starting to fade now. And we're getting into this more long-term burn, that we as humans need to find a way to make sustainable on an individual and family level. And so that's what I wanted to talk to you all about today. So any any thoughts on on that or taking time off or carving out time for self care, things like that?

Igor Geyfman 5:27

Robert, you just you just came back from a vacation.

Robert Greiner 5:31

I did.

Igor Geyfman 5:33

So, you know, we're and you say a couple months, it's actually over six months. You know, we went into lockdown mode on I think 3/14 or 3/15, something like that. I'm looking at my calendar. Now. It is 8/27. So we are, you know, probably a week past almost two weeks past our six month timeframe. You hadn't taken a break before that. That was just a couple of weeks ago. Right? Right those probably right at the six month mark, and you know what? What drove you to to take a break and how did you get there?

Robert Greiner 6:09

Yeah, good question. So I did the math, I looked back and I hadn't taken any time off since December. And then I had tried to take a few days and then up to a week off around July 4, but just in the chaos of everything going on didn't really feel like I could I felt like there was stuff that needed to get done.

Igor Geyfman 6:29

Do you think that was accurate, Robert,

Robert Greiner 6:31


Igor Geyfman 6:34

You could have taken that time off and it would have been fine.

Robert Greiner 6:35

It would have been fine. And and I say that for two reasons. One looking back to material time off I've taken in the past, like when my kids were born, and that was over a month that I took off, I think nine weeks when my son was born. And you think the stuff you do is so important. And the world just goes right on by without you. Everyone was fine. Actually, where we work at that we've sort of adapted we've evolved to handle people being out for long periods of time because we offer a sabbatical. And so we're really good at covering for one another. And so when I got back, I was really surprised that at how little I was needed during that, that time off. Everybody just sort of adapted and so that's the the data points I'm looking at is my experience and what I've what I've observed covering for other people. And, you know, thinking through the week that I actually took off this big project that we're working on, that was when the whole thing kicked off. And I pushed my vacation last time for something that was by definition, less important. And so yeah, there are other capable people around me who can handle things as good as or better than I can. And so really, all I did was hurt my individual well-being and productivity and stress levels because I certainly could have taken that time off and, and what I did differently which I think is probably what you'd asked next is basically just told the people around me Hey, I've already pushed my vacation once, it's been six months, I really I need to take a break and I got a lot of support around Hey, we'll cover for you let's get these people involved on this thing and it's all come together without me. And so I think a lot of times our either FOMO or pride or whatever you want to call it gets in the way of taking care of yourself because you think that what you're doing is so important, but other people around you can can certainly do it as well.

Igor Geyfman 8:44

What would you end up doing, Robert? Because I think that's that's the thing that I've been struggling with the most because I connect taking chunks of time off from work with traveling. And yeah, I know you can travel. But I think if we're being honest, you know, our ability to do that's pretty restricted in certain regards. And so, you know, that's been a big hang up for me. What did you end up doing?

Robert Greiner 9:17


Igor Geyfman 9:18

How do you feel about that? Do you connect sort of chunks of time off with travel?

Robert Greiner 9:22

Yeah, my preference is to definitely try to wrap an experience within a chunk of time off. In this case that we didn't go anywhere. We stayed close to home. We interact fairly regularly with my wife's parents. And so we're trying to be extra careful around our exposure, things like that. And so we stayed at home, worked with Amelia on riding bikes, exercised every day, started reading a book I got about halfway through, worked on some homeschool prep with Amelia as well. Played outside, when on walks and so it was definitely leisure time. If you want to think of it like that. I did things I wanted to do, I was more active. And some some things were, work around the house, that kind of stuff but really, it was not work related. I wasn't sitting at this chair in front of my computer and ultimately I got a lot more freedom and control over what I did for the day and that was that was relaxing. I felt really unplugged around Wednesday.

Igor Geyfman:

Charles, have you taken any any kind of chunks of time off since March?

Charles Knight:

Yeah, I have actually a couple of chunks. It's all around schooling with the kids. So I think end of May early June, I was off for a week of summer vacation and then I had another week off before summer vacation ended and the kids went back to school stuff that I've had two, I think one week chunks since March. And yeah, I typically associate vacation with travel. I think that's what I would prefer to do with my free time is to immerse myself in some other locations, some other cities, some other culture. And it was hard because the first week well, both of those weeks of vacation, were just here, just at my place, with the kids and the first chunk at the beginning of the summer was actually really nice, just kind of settling into a daily routine. Make coffee first thing in the morning and make breakfast for the kids and plan out the day with them. The second chunk was mostly that but we took a day trip to a drive through Safari in East Texas, which was you know, it was nice to get out of the city you know in a safe bubble that is my my car and boy just changing scenery in the environment and that way did wonders for disconnecting. I think it's a lot. It's easier to disconnect if you get on an airplane and you fly 12 hours to the other side of the worlds. Much, much harder to do when you've got a staycation and I think that's a lot of what people are struggling with when taking vacations. It's like well, if I can't travel around the world, I won't. Because if I just stay home and do a staycation there's nothing stopping me from staying plugged in and checking email and responding. You know, Robert, as you were talking about taking time off, I was thinking about Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which we talked about last time. And that might be useful to help explain why so many people have a hard time taking time off. Like it's, you know, it's like a luxury. It's a leisure thing when you're not in crisis. Now, it's more of a necessity. Right. And, I don't think people are able to recognize that and just take the time off that they need. And that's why we're all on the boat that we are in where we're, we're out of that. What did you call it? Robert? surge capacity is gone.

Robert Greiner:


Charles Knight:

Yeah. It's like every every week at the end of the week, I'm exhausted. Like, I'm ready for the weekend to start and I'm able to disconnect over the weekend. But then the next week is just like that's a sprint to the end of the day on Friday again, and that is very hard to maintain without some deliberate

focus on self care. And that anyway, very, very important topic, I think.

Robert Greiner:

And just a quick shout out to Tara Hale, I hope I got your last name right. So that was from an article that I saw on medium that she wrote on August 17. And really resonated with me because there was a lot of similarities in dealing with kids and dealing with this just constant burn. And then why it why it feels different going through a pandemic going through a crisis than it does maybe in in in a time where you had just have a busy month, or something like that. So I'll put the link in the show notes for sure. But it really helps sort of open things up for me.

Charles Knight:

You know, Igor, I don't I don't think we asked you if you took time off. I want to let you answer that too. And maybe you can think about this question as well, because I'm curious if you all have been talking to folks on your team and convinced people to take vacation or time off? And if so, what was it like, but Igor I'll let you talk about your time off if you've taken any.

Igor Geyfman:

Yeah, well, I think in connection to that, I'm just going to say that I feel like a total phony. Because I have definitely talked to everyone on my team, and probably several times at this point, about taking time for themselves and kind of doing that, you know, chunk of relaxation, and I definitely have not done that myself. Right. Um, so I don't think I've even taken a day off since COVID started so I've just kind of been, you know, working pretty steady state. And I really associate taking a vacation with traveling. Probably to almost like an unhealthy amount because anytime I take any time off even if it's a couple of extra days, I'm taking a road trip somewhere, right? Even if I'm not like, you know, doing some grandiose trip overseas or anything like that, you know, I'll go down to Austin or Houston or something like that and spend a couple of nights in a hotel and go to a concert or something like that. And it's so it's been really hard to put myself into a mode where I can think about taking time off because then I'm like, man, what a waste. I'm gonna use up this this time. But I'm not going to do the thing that I usually do. And the perspective that you brought forward, Charles, I think is really impactful for me. You know, it's we should be taking time off first. For a different why and a different reason. And that reason is probably one or two rungs lower on the pyramid, the Maslow's hierarchy, right. And, I haven't been able to, like break through and really until you just said it. I haven't thought about it that way. Right. But as soon as those words came out of your mouth, I was like, oh, we're meant to take time off for a different reason now. And it's okay. Right? That we're not becoming more exposed or more cultured or adding a new experience to our belt or you know, whatever it is.


and it's okay if it's just getting up in the morning and making your bed and being leisurely about you know, making a cup of coffee for yourself. And then you know, going for a walk or for a bike ride

and, just doing that for yourself

rather than walking to your computer desk, and, you know, turning on zoom and slack and everything else that we turn on, and maybe doing that for somebody else.

Robert Greiner:

So you you felt this resistance around taking time off because you couldn't couple it with travel. Do you also feel a sort of gravitational pull or an anxiety around taking time off because of how busy things are because of what needs to get done? Do you feel like you could? Or is it just the travel?

Igor Geyfman:

You know, I had I had a couple of days that were scheduled off. You know, Labor Day, Memorial Day, right? That's sort of the holiday that's passed, right. So we had Memorial Day. I had a couple of days that were scheduled sort of attached to Memorial Day weekend. And I ended up clawing those back. And partly because I felt that I needed to be present to get some other thing kind of across the line, but much in the same way that I think that wasn't true for you, it wasn't a true for me. Right, like, I probably could have passed that off and and somebody else could have covered for me. And it would have gotten done, you know, to the same quality or better. Um, and you said something interesting, it was like this idea of pride. And I think partly it was pride that prevented me from from doing that. And so, um, but I definitely feel like I can take time off like, I don't feel I could take time off today and tomorrow, right because we do have a deadline and it's probably too quick of a turnaround for me to transfer ownership of that thing to somebody else. But you know, I've got I've got time scheduled now on the other side of Labor Day. So the week of the seventh and so I'm definitely gonna take that time.

Charles Knight:

I'd like to unpack the pride piece a little bit.

Because as leaders

I think there's something important there to tease out. Because both of what you said both of you said things that resonate with me. And I think if I tried to look at the resistance that I've had to taking time off in the past six months, but even in general, you know, just in general, I think I would say yeah, it did come from a place of pride.

And I think

the pride piece was really around and ego to that's what you were talking about, Robert, I think it's pride and thinking that I have to do this. And if I don't, I will be judged and I will be seen as a not valuable member of the team and not contributing. And, you know, I'm supposed to work hard and work through these things and not complain about it. But ego is actually quite interesting because what that implies by me saying, Hey, now I'm not going to take time off. I am going to stick through this to see it through to the end. It kind of assumes that

I think I can

save the day, I can fix all the problems. You know, I can. It's all on me to do and I can rise to the occasion. And by me canceling my vacation, for example, it's gonna make everything go away. It's like wow, that's that's a pretty big ego. Because we don't as leaders, we don't deal with very simple problems. And that's just not, that's just not true. So I think you all have helped me realize that ego has gotten into the way and it really kind of innocuous way for me taking vacation, and it's actually quite humbling, you know, when you step away and you see things come out better than they may have, if you stuck around, Igor you're talking about that. And it's, that's a good reminder that as leaders, we've got to keep our ego in check. And that plays into, you know, taking time off.

So thanks for that, guys.

Robert Greiner:

And also on that note, too, there's certainly a ripple effect with the team. I want to spend some time on that as well. Before we we end is, you set an example people watch you around what to do, especially in a time where there's a lot of unknown and uncertainty. And so if you are constantly working late if you are constantly ignoring your family, ignoring your health, if you're pushing back and canceling your vacation, others are going to look at that and assume that that's what you expect from them. And there, you could create a situation through your actions of a perceived lack of safety, around creating healthy boundaries between work and life, if you don't model that yourself. And so I think it's really important that we're signalling, we're projecting the right thing to do, the healthy thing to do as leaders from a people centric side of the equation, so that we can move forward together and get through this together and we're not losing troops along the way because they get burned out and have a health episode or having have an anxious episode, something like that. And so all the more Reason, if you can't, if you can't get over the I have to do this because it's so important to me. And you could say that a lot of that stems from professionalism even if it is ego and pride. You want to do the right thing. You want to show up when you're needed. So a lot of that can be masked. But if you look at it from a Hey, I have to do this this is an expectation of me as a leader to set an example for the team to follow I think that will help unlock in people's mind. Hey, not only is this an okay thing to do, it should be a mandatory thing to do. Put your mask on first. Right so that you can help others around you get theirs on.

Charles Knight:

Hmm, that takes on a whole new meaning in a

COVID era.

Igor Geyfman:


That's true, Robert, I I didn't schedule my vacation until you came back from yours. And and whether it was conscious or subconscious, I think you taking that break was instrumental in me, scheduling that time off and knowing that this time I'm going to be quite firm about about taking it. Right. So there's, there's a lot of truth in what you said and modeling that behavior. And that's why I said, I really feel like a phony when I talked to my team about them taking time off, and then I haven't done it. And so probably the best thing I can do for my team is take some time off myself and just show them right, not just tell them.

So, I got that from you.

Charles Knight:

Hey, Igor on that, on that note, when you talk to your team, do you share with them that you have to take time off taking time off?

Igor Geyfman:

I do.

Charles Knight:

Yeah, see, I think I knew the answer, but I wanted to double check. That's,

you know, that vulnerability I think is really,

you know, talk about the human side of leadership.

That vulnerability, I think is really impactful, too. So I appreciate you sharing that with us here in a public forum. But I also appreciate you sharing that with your team. Because I would say, you're not a phony that just makes you human. But the fact that you're willing to open up and share that with others, I think goes a long way in setting that example that Robert was talking about and trying to model healthy behavior. You know, we shouldn't beat ourselves up, right? We are human, we make mistakes. And it's, it's great when you've got a safe environment to share those things. But it kind of brings us all closer together.

Robert Greiner:

Yeah, for sure. Hey, so I'd like to close with a question for Charles and a question for Igor, if that's alright with you guys.

Charles Knight:


Robert Greiner:

So Charles, what is one actionable thing, if you're a leader and you're listening to this podcast, what's one thing you could do today to help move forward this idea of taking time off, of recharging a sustainable, or more sustainable journey through this crisis? And then Igor, on your side, put yourself in the mind of an individual contributor. And if you're not a leader at this point, and you're you're a team member, what's something that you can do practical tactical today to push this forward as well? So Charles, from a leadership perspective, Igor, from the individual contributor perspective.

Charles Knight:

Yeah, this

came from me talking to a team member earlier on in the summertime, I think the the very tactical, actionable advice would be open up your calendar. Go at least two weeks into the future. block off a Monday and tell your team that you're going to be out. And the two weeks into the future is very deliberate. Because especially in crisis mode, people are so short, so focused on one week out at a time, two weeks out, gives you enough wiggle room to try to block something off. Monday is very deliberate too. A lot of people think about extending their weekend by taking a Friday. But I think Monday sends a different signal both internally to yourself and to your team. And then sharing with your team, I think adds an element of accountability. But if you tell people what you're going to do, you're going to be more apt to follow through, because you would be going back on your word. And so that's what I would do two weeks into the future at a minimum block off a Monday and tell your team.

Robert Greiner:

Thank you Charles, Igor.

Igor Geyfman:

I mean, is it weird that I would tell the individual contributor to do the exact same thing? Um, yeah, like that's I was actually I think the answers to me is the same and, and I would be really glad to see it and maybe a couple of days. Right, maybe take a four or five day weekend. And I gave this advice to a good friend of mine very recently. Do something that's nourishing for yourself. Right, because you nourish your team, you nourish your family, you know, do something for yourself, for some people that might be a massage, you know, which I don't know, if that's a you know, that's happening nowadays, but you know, something that's available and appropriate. And, yeah, sort of reward yourself right, use that time to take off but then also give yourself

a little bit of reward.

Robert Greiner:

Yeah, love it, and then double down on the communication here. Say, hey, this is what I'm doing. This is when you could get into the reasons or not, but make sure that everyone around you knows when you're going to be out there earlier you say something that the smoother the easier. Things could go. So yeah, great advice. Thanks, guys. It was great having coffee with you virtually.

Igor Geyfman:

Thanks. Pretty, pretty stoked.

Robert Greiner:

Awesome. We'll talk soon,

Charles Knight:

Bye guys.

Igor Geyfman:

Cool. See ya.

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Wanna Grab Coffee?
Join us for weekly discussions about careers, leadership, and balancing work and life.
A podcast about all of the topics we discuss during our mid-day coffee breaks. We bring you stories, thoughts, and ideas around life as a professional, leadership concepts, and work/life balance. We view career and leadership development as a practice that spans decades and we are excited to go on this journey with you.