Week 44 — Benefits of Unplugging But Reconnecting

The Need to be “Always On” Is Not Normal

Happy belated New Year. It is now 2020 and for many that means resolutions. I’ve never been big on resolutions because I’ve always thought it was arbitrary and pointless to use a new year as the starting point for self improvement. Why are positive changes to your life tied to a specific point in time? I’m happy that people seek self improvement (even if 80% up failing). For the record, I’d prefer that people seek out opportunities everyday to do small or big things to make their lives better and to improve themselves and others.

Over the holiday season, I decided to consciously unplug. I did not blog. I did not go on social media. I stayed away from the hustle and bustle of everyday regular life instead opting to spend the season with family, friends and way too many social obligations. Coming out the other end and starting to get back into regular life, I wanted to share some honest reflections from my time away from the rat race.

A Social Media Vacation

Social media is a powerful tool. It can connect us with people from across the world. We can use it to seek out self improvement, read things we never would have found on our own and connect with colleagues we’ve never met and stretch our thinking. On the other hand, there was a profound sense of relaxation and relief when I simply unplugged and said “I don’t care what I miss being posted. I’m disconnecting. I’m off for the next two weeks”. It took a complete unplugging and detox to realize how bad social media can be for my wellbeing, mental health and anxiety.

Without realizing it, I felt a profound sense of dread because I had to “catch up” on social media everyday. I had to see what was posted over a day so I didn’t miss any interesting articles, insightful posts from people I respect or twitter threads where I could lay out my two cents for the world to see. For someone who already has anxiety, social media amplified my anxiety by feeding me a constant stream of original content which I feared missing out on. How could I be on top of the current thinking in my field? How could I stay on top of trends? How would I make myself visible in the community and influence the conversation (e.g. play my small part in moving the needle)?

This anxiety had been building over a long period of time as I tried to say current with social media. Now with two weeks away, it all went away. I didn’t care. The public service and the world would keep going but I was happy to take a seat on the side, catch my breath and come back in top shape.

Re-Thinking “Work”

Two weeks off also gave me pause about the structure of the typical North American “work week”. For the purposes of this discussion, I am considering your average full time employee and not considering gig work, part time work, retail work or self-employment.

We are married to the concept of a 5 day, 40 hour work week. Many go far above that and work many more hours than 40 in a week. I am guilty of this more than anyone. However, my two weeks off and how I spent the time off had me thinking about quality of life in the rat race we call adulting.

As I reflect on the 40 hour work week it is becoming increasingly clear that the 40 hour work week is not the best model nor should it be the standard. The benefits of working less hours per week, whether through less days overall or less hours per day, are clear. Often, work stretches to the number of hours available. This is an old saying in the project management world. If you have 40 hours to complete something you could do in 20 hours, you will take the 40 hours. What if the way we structure our work, from the number of pointless meetings we have, the number of emails we send and the amount of work we do was tied less to being the most productive and more based on how many hours the workweek was? If we shortened the workweek to 30 hours, what would happen? Would we do the same amount of work in less time? Would we be more productive? Many small scale experiments have proven the idea at least worth exploring. Two firms Perpetual Guardian and ICE Group tried the 4 day work week and reported productivity gains. Microsoft Japan implemented a four-day workweek this past summer. The company said employees reported being 40% more productive.

Our work culture in Canada is broken. Too many glorify the “side hustle”, the 80 hour work week and brag about how much they put into their professional lives. Too often we vilify the person who comes home and doesn’t immediately start “working” whether that is something formal like a side hustle or something less formal like writing a blog (irony I know) or by curating professional content on their own time. Our time on this hunk of rock floating in space is small and goes by far too fast. The things important to us don’t stop because we are absorbed in sending out one last email. Don’t feel guilty if you choose to “veg” rather than be productive all day everyday. Don’t feel guilty if you pick up a hobby no matter what it is (whether it is something like reading or something seen as “less useful” like playing video games). Make time for those you love while enjoying every moment of life. Enjoy the beauty of the world around you, the series of coincidences that led to you to be where you are right now and appreciate the sheer luck of that fact. Take time away from the hustles, the bustle, work and your professional life to reconnect with your personal life. Have an identity outside work which is just as “busy” as your professional identity.

If I was forced into a corner and asked to make a resolution I would say my 2020 will be dedicated to embracing the joy of missing out. For the sake of my own wellbeing, I need to not be involved in everything I can, I need to miss things I’d really like to be a part of and I need to accept that I can’t always be present everywhere.

AI Demonstrator Projects (Incorporation by Reference, Regulatory Evaluation Platform, Rules as Code)

Regulatory Evaluation Platform: My entire week has been moderating usability testing of the prototype for this project. While it is good to flex the UX muscle (one I haven’t had a chance to use in 11 months), it’s also a grueling intensive but reward process. Send me sugar and coffee please!

Incorporation by Reference: Work continues to clean up the data. Everything is on track for the transfer of a major data set which will push this project to the long overdue end we are looking for.

Rules as Code: Research continues to start the Rules as Code project. Next week I am delivering a workshop and participating in a panel to talk about our Rules as Code project. It’s a Legal Innovation Conference at the University of Alberta. I’m looking forward to visiting Edmonton in the middle of January. Where did I leave my parka?

Rebuilding the Public Service From The Ground Up: Week 28

For this week, I want to put out an idea that lines up with the theme of this week’s post. What if we could give incentives for people to use their time off and take vacation? The public service has a generous amount of leave it grants to every employee ranging from 3 to 5 weeks depending on how many years of service you have. Not everyone uses their leave sometimes saving it up for big trips or being the type that doesn’t take vacation (guilty).

What if we uped the ante and encouraged people to use more of their vacation time? What if we introduced perks for those who take time off (as they are entitled to do) by offering a small cash bonus for using up your vacation each year (e.g. we’ll pay you an extra $100 or whatever amount if you use all your vacation). The idea is that the money can be used to pay for a vacation but it doesn’t have to be. It’s not meant to be a life changing amount but enough to encourage people to not “save” their time each year.

Week 44 is done! Hope you have a great week and thanks for reading! If you made it this far, I owe you a coffee so hit me up and we can chat while you get a free coffee!




Working on public sector innovation one problem at a time. Found biking and hiking on weekends. Father of young baby… what is sleep?

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Scott McNaughton

Scott McNaughton

Working on public sector innovation one problem at a time. Found biking and hiking on weekends. Father of young baby… what is sleep?

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