Why should a PM (introverted or not) recharge, and how
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Today I’m going to chat about something different (from interviews and skills): Recharge.
I want to discuss the importance of taking the time to recharge, and how you should do it despite the always busy schedule as a product manager. Obviously, it’s probably even more important if you’re an introvert (like myself).
I’ll discuss in brief 2 parts:
How to recharge
I’m blessed to have worked for companies that care immensely about employees well being. At Lyft, we have “recharge” days (team wide or company wide) when we’re encouraged to unplug and get the well deserved break. At Linkedin, we had monthly “InDays” (company wide) that came with a specific theme each month (wellness, learning, relationship, etc) that also encouraged us to step out of the day to day projects and spend time for personal development and well being. Obviously I believe there are many other companies that have similar day offs outside of the holidays and PTOs.
Why do companies go beyond PTOs (or unlimited PTOs) that they already give to employees, and provide “recharge days” or equivalent?
First of all, as I’m sure you all know, it’s not the same when one person takes time off vs the whole team / company do it. When you take time off while the rest of the team are working, you still worry about incoming emails and unattended meetings, and you might have to make it up after you return anyway.
Second, all of us do appreciate a bit of gesture to show how the company and our leadership care about us, not just how much hours we put into our works.
Most important of all, and companies know it well: It boosts our productivity and creativity for the long run. In this competitive tech world, companies expect employees to be not only productive in the traditional sense (measured by output per unit of time), but more importantly the creative output. How we think out of the box, how we creatively solve a complex problem, how we innovate in tech, and how we collaborate flexibly. The best way to nurture that creativity, is to occasionally step out of the daily routine, and see something different.
Now from an introvert’s perspective.
As discussed in a many literatures such as the book Quiet, we introverts are more easily exhausted by external stimulation (whereas extroverts are more energized by external stimulation). Meetings, intense discussions, exposure to large audience, parties, etc. are all external stimulations. While we can certainly do well in any one of these especially when we’re deliberate, back-to-back’s drain our energy and focused attention fast.
So we take not only recharge days off. We take recharge time every now and then in a day. It’s definitely not for taking naps o doing mindless things. It’s to take advantage of the “restoration niche” to think, to prepare, and to do what makes us feel energized again.
How To Recharge
It’s easier said than done. You thought.
I agree. As a product manager, with all the back to back meetings, constant interruptions, and endless tasks to prioritize, we’re lucky if we have the time for gobbling down our lunch. Not all companies have recharge days, and there’s never a best time in a year to take a meaningful PTO.
Well, it can be done. We will just have to be very deliberate about it. Let me break it down to discuss first types of recharge, and then how to allocate these times.
Types of Recharge
Beginning of the day: technically it might not be so much “recharge”, but to charge up well for the busy day ahead. It’s to give yourself a bit of luxury to focus the time on your own, to do whatever you feel like doing to set yourself up for the rest of the day. Be it to review/set goals, to prepare meetings, to do creative works (writing or strategizing), or even just meditate or exercise.
End of the day: the block of time to wrap your busy day. You use the time to reflect, to write down key takeaways and actions, to plan a bit for the next day. Most importantly to put them down completely and enjoy your night until the next day.
Mid-day: Between the meetings or mentally exhausting works. It can be as short as 5-10 minutes and it can be longer depending on your schedule. You do whatever helps to pull yourself from the last thing and rest up a bit before your next thing. It can be taking a brief walk, make yourself a coffee or tea, to meditate or listen to music, or simply drink some water or use bio break if you only have a minute or two.
Weekends: All of us have weekends (if you don’t, please go find a new job now 😊), but how we use it do matter. Of course it’s entirely up to you, the only advise I have is, try to do whatever recharge you for the coming week ahead!
Time offs: be it a day, two days, a week, or a couple weeks at a time. I’m sure all of us know what this is, the question is how often we take it and and how to take it confidently.
Sabbatical: longer break, a month, several months or even longer. It can be between jobs, or while you’re keeping your current job. Some companies reward long tenured employees with a paid sabbatical of a defined lengths. (e.g. 6 weeks). Or you decide to take a long enough break to REALLY, SERIOUSLY forget about work.
How to Allocate Them
For daily recharge times, the best way would be to design a daily routine that works for you and what your job demands + playing with daily flexibility. Consider:
How long you have to sleep (to feel well rest up), time to bed and time to get up
What’s considered the “core work hours” when you have to interact with your colleagues (in same or different timezone)
How do you want to prepare for your day, how do you want to wrap your day, and how long they take
Other life obligations you have each day (e.g. family)
(for a specific day), number of “required” meetings you have, which of them can you skip, and then how much time can you block off (during the core hours).
(for a specific day), have a rough plan of activities for the time blocks but leaving some slacks in case of the unexpected.
Take myself just as an example. I need to sleep 8 hours a day (I wish I don’t need that much) so I sleep 10-6. My core work hours is 9-4. (doesn’t necessarily mean I only work 9-4) I’d like to start my day with meditation, reading early in the morning, and doing creative work stuffs right before the core work hour starts. I’d like to end my day with organizing what happened in the day, reflect, plan for the next day, and the exercise. And then there’s daily variables I play with so I have my needed recharge. Here’s how a hypothetic day of mine looks like:
In this example, It’s a busy day but I do get to block off recharge and focus times between my meetings. But regardless how busy I am (with rare exceptions), I get my beginning and end of the day recharge times and a lunch break. If I have a creative work due that requires longer continuous time block, I try to move around meetings into batch where I can. E.g. I’d move Meeting #6 to start at 2pm if I can so I have 3-5pm uninterrupted.
The key also is to make the best use of your times between the meetings to recharge. Rather than mindlessly skim through emails and constantly worry about the meetings that just happened.
For weekends, again there’s not much to say because it’s your weekends to plan and spend in your own way. Personally, I’d like to rest up, indulge myself with entertainments and hobbies, spend time with family, and plan ahead for the coming week by setting weekly goals and calendar schedules. I do occasionally work the weekends, but if it becomes a regular thing for you, I think you might be burnt out at some point. Weekends are designed to recharge us, and as we all know, we always wish they’re even longer than 2 days 😊.
For longer time-offs, you will have to make it your goal to take it, and plan ahead.
I used to be guilty of not taking any time off and let my accrued PTOs go to waste. Why? First, I was sick to be proud of being a workaholic and thought I was too important to be gone. Second, I worried about the debt that I had to pay off when I return. Third, without planning I didn’t know what I was gonna do anyway, and I ended up had no reason to take time off. Even between jobs, I jumped onto the new role the next day after my previous role, because I gave into the pressure from both my old and new employers. Look back, I regretted immensely. Not only because it looks like I spent all the time just working. I thought I could’ve been more productive, happier, or even more successful in my career should I have taken more breaks.
Of course if you’re a bit like me, you might have experienced the same challenge. The only way out is again, to 1) make it your goal, 2) plan ahead.
You make a goal based on how much you think you minimally need and how much vacations you might have. And better yet, you should align this goal with your manager as well.
You plan ahead when you might want to take it, how long, and mark your calendar upfront. Let me repeat, mark your calendar upfront. If you don’t do it, there will always be last minute urgencies that force you to consider giving up on your time off. You communicate to your teams upfront so they’re prepared for your time off. You plan ahead for what you will do or where you’ll go, so that when the time comes it doesn’t feel like you don’t know why you’re taking the time off.
If you want to take an extended sabbatical especially without pay (e.g. between jobs), plan ahead financially as well. How much do you need without your paycheck? Do you have health coverage or how you can get one? But don’t let these topics deter you! Most recently (last year), I’ve taken a 4 month sabbatical between jobs, it felt amazing, and I came back a better product manager (at least so I’ve felt 😊 )
Take time to recharge. Be deliberate about it. Make it your goal. Plan ahead.
You need it, it’s worth it.
Now go take a break after reading this! 🌴
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