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Unplug From Work: Your Money Must Work Harder Than You Do

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“Every attendee that I’ve spoken to has loved Steve’s course.” – Andrew Hallam, author of Millionaire Expat
“This course literally saved my marriage.” – Nisha, expat “One of the highlights of my 2020.” – John, expat
“The best course on investing for expats. I sincerely recommend it to everyone.” – Elena, expat
“Incredibly helpful, this is exactly what I needed.” – Julia, expat

If you’re someone who can never switch off from your phone / work / checking your stock portfolio then you are not doing yourself any favours. I did a bit of an experiment…

Unplugging

I went on holiday (that’s vacation for some of you) for a whole week and decided a FULL unplugging was required.

I’m quite bad at switching off from work. I spend far too much time reading interesting things – and sometimes stupid things) on my phone. I check the markets quite a bit because I feel I need to know what’s going on – my own portfolio, not so much.

So for a full week I decided to keep my phone and laptop switched off. I did not check email, whatsapp, news, investment portfolio or stock movements. Nothing. Instead I spent time with extended family, exploring the local area, playing with my son, cooking and reading books. It was great.

Excuses

If you cannot do the same for a whole week, you, your family and your company, but particularly you, have a problem. You may not like hearing this. Here are some classic excuses:

I would get bored and go crazy.

Some people cram their days to the brim, always on the go. First, you can actually do that on holiday, just without a phone and without work. Second, what are you afraid of and running away from?

If you stop for one hour, will the negative thoughts and voices and emptiness seep in? Will you be forced to face your true self, maybe even… talk to yourself? Then you probably need to.

Is life so bland that you have to fill it with work, scrolling and mindless whatsapp chatter? There is so much out there: places to explore, books to read or listen to, hobbies to take up or dust off, skills to learn.

It may take a while for them to give you the same dopamine rush that email or scrolling do, but it will come. You are addicted to over-stimulation, with no ability to relax the mind or focus. Why do I get my best ideas in the shower? Because there’s no input from my phone, from the world. It’s just me, in my head.

Finally, if you would die of boredom lying on a beach for a week (I have some sympathy here), then choose a different type of holiday! The beach is not the only option, even if you have kids.

I need to work.

This is a particularly 21st century, American-style myth. The US is famously miserly in its vacation allowances: 2 weeks if you’re lucky. This is great for the S&P 500 (thanks Americans, I owe you a beer), not so great for your mental health.

Either you need your work or your work really needs you. Probably both, in some unhealthy, co-dependent dance. Any way you look at it, it’s bad.

Your identity can be shaped by work. Email, troubleshooting, problem-solving, meetings, reviewing, strategising, hustling – it can dominate all your hour and all your thoughts. As an ex-management consultant, I have most definitely been there. You feel like you thrive on the adrenaline, on the cortisol. You can step in to save the day at the last minute. You are needed. You have value.

You may think you can work forever, but your brain will be hugely strengthened by time off. You will be more creative, more strategic and more effective. It’s no different to sleep. Anyone who thinks they can function effectively at work with little sleep is kidding themselves.

You need an identity beyond work, because there are many wonderful and more enduring things beyond work – love, friendship, nature, creativity, exercise, nourishment. The only way – the only way – to find that identity, is to be able to step away from work.

Financial independence and holidays, alike, give you space, away from work, to find yourself. To realise what you’ve been missing while running on your hamster wheel. To realise what’s actually important. To realise that you have value, beyond work.

 

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My work needs me.
 

Some work cultures are genuinely all-encompassing and toxic. You get paid a lot, so you owe it to them. You alone have the knowledge and the skills to get them through the day. If you are not immediately available, even on holiday, you could lose your payrise and promotion, or even be fired.

Is that such a bad thing? You should have a non-zero, but limited tolerance. Sometimes on the path to financial independence, we need to sacrifice happiness to get ourselves back on track towards our investment goals. To put up with that toxic environment.

But set a cap on it, say max 5 years. There are many other ways to achieve or adjust your goals beyond that timeframe. Meanwhile shelter the other important things in your life from the fallout and try to create some space for yourself, even if it’s an hour a day.

If your business cannot survive without you for a week, there is genuinely a problem. You are not the President of the United States. What if you got hit by a bus? There is no resilience in the system. There should be processes in place and people able to step up to cover for you.

If you are worried nobody will miss you and those stepping up will take over your job, then you’re probably not the only one who thinks this. You’re in the wrong job and at risk of being fired anyway.

If I unplug, I will be so overwhelmed when I get back that it will cancel any benefits. Again, this is a process problem. Anything truly important will a) have been dealt with by your colleagues b) be raised again c) be flagged for you.

Wait, nobody else is reading your emails or knows what’s important? You have a process problem. Nobody else can approve that document? You have a process problem. Nobody else has the skills to fix this urgent issue? The client will only talk to you? You have… you get the idea.

So much of work is bullshit and the idea that you cannot unplug fully for a whole week with your world or business collapsing is toxic bullshit. Don’t put up with it. Otherwise it will seep into other areas, like compulsively having to check the news to gain a sense of control over the world, compulsively having to check your stock portfolio to gain a sense of control over your money.

There are many things out of your control and you are not the centre of the world. Almost everything will keep turning without you. That may dent your ego, but it is also incredibly freeing. Give yourself a taste of that freedom. It’s just a week. And by the way, this can equally apply to weekends… and evenings…

How I did it

Clients. Paying customers deserve rapid and quality support. I put in place systems to ensure that if someone bought my course, they would get access to it immediately. All the channels for answering questions were covered by my team of gurus or my outreach manager.

Automation. If processes are well automated, the client gets what they want without even having to speak to you. So you can be on holiday. They can speak to someone else, well-instructed by you, or they can wait a week. I set up an email reminding everyone that the next live Q&A session was delayed [ok, it didn’t send, so that was a bummer but the intention was there!]

An out of office response linking to other people who can help goes a long way to reducing the queue of emailers needing to speak to you.

Replacements. I made sure my outreach manager knew where key information and resources were, what queries would likely come in and how to handle them. She had access to client-facing email accounts and calendars, and then more sensitive accounts were covered by the out of office automation linking back to her. She would flag in the system any important emails requiring a response from me on my return.

As a final failsafe…

Emergencies. Both my outreach manager and my family knew they could always whatsapp or even call my other half if there was a true business or family emergency. My manager would not want to be hassling her, so that filters out everything but really important stuff. In the end, this was only triggered once in the whole week and only served to reveal another area my manager could cover next time.

The secret to my successful unplugging was actually taking the action to turn off my phone and laptop. If I ever had to turn them on to check the weather or a holiday-related item, I refused to allow my eyes to look at notifications etc. Being 100% faithful to unplugging (as with anything) is much easier than being 99% faithful. In future, having a crappy burner phone to contact baddies in Line of Duty check the weather and maps etc would be a good idea.

My reading list

After a day, I realised I didn’t miss emails, social or especially the news at all. When I returned, the news was predictably depressing and the stock market had been bobbing along. Even if it had crashed horribly, I wouldn’t have needed to take any action.

One of the true joys of the holiday was the amount of time I could spend reading books. Reading a book requires you to f.o.c.u.s and none of us are very good at that anymore.

Here’s what I took with me, all great:

Leonardo da Vinci – Walter Issacson
Inner Engineering – Sadhguru
Atomic Habits – James Clear
Investing Demystified – Lars Kroijer

It’s good to take a mix of books because you don’t know in advance what you will feel like reading. In the end, I spent all my time on Leonardo da Vinci and Sadhguru. Leonardo was so incredible, so fascinating and so far ahead of his time on things like anatomy and fluid dynamics. I highly recommend the book, especially as it ranges so widely across the arts and sciences.

You can do this

It’s a good to have a challenge. Try it. If the thought makes you nervous, try it with first an evening (or an hour, but that’s a bit weak), then a weekend. Life is more important than work. You are more than your work. You just need the space to prove it to yourself.

Any questions or comments? Add them below.

Join my Expat Investing Academy and take control of your money!

Learn how to plan, save and invest by yourself, so you can reach Financial Independence faster than you every thought possible. Beginners welcome.

“Every attendee that I’ve spoken to has loved Steve’s course.” – Andrew Hallam, author of Millionaire Expat
“This course literally saved my marriage.” – Nisha, expat “One of the highlights of my 2020.” – John, expat
“The best course on investing for expats. I sincerely recommend it to everyone.” – Elena, expat
“Incredibly helpful, this is exactly what I needed.” – Julia, expat

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