I’m writing this post while sitting in a condo down at the Oregon Coast. The wind is blowing outside, the rain is pattering against the windows, and outside through the mist I can see the waves crashing against the rocks. The fireplace is glowing, and the moon is rising in the sky as I relax on the couch still recovering from the intense massage I had this morning.
And I’m not thinking about work. And I love it.
As Product Managers, we often feel like we’re expected to be on-call and available to resolve every little question that comes up, and to provide guidance and insight on a 24-hour, 7-day a week basis. The truth of the matter, however, is that these are expectations that we place on ourselves; these are burdens that we create for ourselves, and that if left unchecked will cause us to collapse upon ourselves, as an overworked, underappreciated, burnt-out husk.
But there are ways that we can create an environment that allows us — in fact, expects us — to take some time for ourselves, to decompress and return to our jobs refreshed and ready to take on the world.
Time Off Makes Us Better
There are many studies out there (such as a 2014 Oxford Economics paper) that clearly demonstrate that there is a significant increase in productivity immediately following a break taken by employees. Even business thought leaders like Richard Branson have adopted unlimited vacation policies that encourage people to take time off when and where appropriate (these policies should be contrasted with many Silicon Valley policies which say there’s no limit, but exist in cultures where taking vacations is viewed as “letting down the team”).
The simple fact is, when all we see and experience is the day-to-day drudgery, that’s all that we consider, all that we think about, and it results in a narrow focus. We often lose sight of the bigger world that surrounds us, and instead get so focused on the minutiae of our day-to-day challenges. Taking some time off allows us to reconnect with the outside world, to renew the perspective that what we do daily is a very small part of the entire world in which we live — an in which our customers, our prospects, and our markets exist. This perspective is particularly important for Product Managers, as a narrow, tunnel-vision focus limits our ability to innovate and create new and interesting solutions for our customers.
Creating Time-Off Opportunities
To be fair, it’s sometimes hard for us as Product Managers to see when and where it’s a good time to take some time off — we’re pretty much always working on something, whether it’s work in-progress, work pending assignment, or work that’s being defined and refined from strategic goals and other needs of the organization. It’s really hard to see yourself as anything other than a necessary hand guiding the work that other teams are doing, and thus an essential part of every single day’s progress at work.
But the fact is, there are often some clear and identifiable times during which we can take time off. For example, a few days in to your 2-week sprint, there’s probably a good deal of progress that can be made by the dev teams without your direct guidance. After a release has shipped, teams can be tasked with a sprint focused on bug fixes and deployment issues — things that you don’t necessarily need a direct hand in. There are always times which are better than others — and just like your work on the products you lead, you can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. There may never be a perfect time for you to take time off, but there are certainly better times to take a few days to rest and recover.
Time Off Empowers Others
I’ve touched briefly on the need for us as Product Managers to mentor others in the organization, and about the importance of trust and respect in our jobs on a daily basis, and one of the more interesting (and indirect) impacts that taking some time off provides the organization and our team members is an opportunity for us to step out of the leadership position and let others take some of the limelight. Especially if you have good internal user proxies that can provide guidance to the teams, or developers who are interested in extending their discussions outside the confines of the Dev/QA/Ops organization, you’re in the perfect position to delegate some of your authority, and to let someone else take the reigns and show what they can do in your absence.
Now, that’s not to say that you should delegate authority to just anyone — but part of our job as Product Managers is not just to develop the most innovative and compelling product, but also to develop the talent that’s surrounding us on a daily basis. If we want to have any hope at all of taking time off, we need to make sure that we’re keeping an eye on those throughout the organization who show some interest or glimmer of talent for stepping up into a Product Management role — even if it’s just a momentary stop along the way. Nothing confirms or negates someone’s interest in being a PM faster than dropping them in the middle of the fray while you take some time to recharge and return refreshed.