After an exhausting week filled with a product release, an out of town trade show, and more than a dozen meetings with customers, partners and analysts, I decided to disappear into the woods for awhile.
I don't take enough vacation time, probably less than half of what I'm allotted. I love what I do for a living but I also get stressed out every now and then and have had to get better at recognizing my own specific symptoms. It wouldn't take a trained professional to see that this particular week was going to be exhausting for me so I made sure to pad my travel plans with a few extra days of downtime.
What drove this decision
Right on the heels of another major (and successful!) product release, I hopped on a plane to spend a week on the West Coast as part of a larger team our company was sending to a significant industry expo. At the show, I gave a formal talk to announce a new product we had spent months building and validating with customers. The presentation went well and our new product was a hit with the attendees.
With all the right people gathered in one central place, we had also scheduled back-to-back meetings with customers and prospects, partners and integrators, as well as analysts and influencers. I was running almost non-stop from room to room trying to keep up. I do enjoy all the activity, even at the heightened pace but it is not sustainable and by the end of the week, I ran out of steam.
The decision: Leave the office, the job, and all the people behind and soak up some solace in solitude.
My particular form of relaxation is to head off into the woods, by myself on a very long hike. I realize this isn't for everyone - in fact, I haven't found too many people who share my preferences for spending hours or days embedded in nature.
But it really doesn't matter how you unwind and recharge. The trick is to find a way to unplug from the day to day schedule and fill the gaps with a different agenda - one that revitalizes you, stimulates your creativity, and boosts your spirit.
Plan of attack
One of the things I like most about hiking and camping is that is practically forces you off the grid. I always bring a cell phone but I find that I don't mind so much when the battery dies at the end of the 2nd day. If you're used to being connected 100 per cent of the time, then it will likely take longer for you to appreciate that your brain can find other things with which to occupy itself. It is often during these stretches that I get real inspiration.
Backpacking can be especially liberating. When you have to carry on your back everything you would need in order to sleep, cook, eat, drink, clean, clothe, bathe, entertain, and protect yourself for days at a time, you inevitably learn to value the art of keeping it simple. I try to recall that mindset whenever I'm staring down a large problem at work.
MVP = Minimally Visited Path
I am intentionally seeking solitude on trips like this. I want to be far enough away from human contact that I don't even have to bother with casual pleasantries. To achieve this, I have to retreat far from the parking lots, down the more primitive trails, and often near the edges of my own comfort zone. There is nothing that helps me turn my thoughts away from my typical daily routine than navigating unfamiliar back country paths on my own.
I'm no Daniel Boone but I do appreciate a spot deep in the woods where only the faint sound of an occasional overhead airplane interrupts the long stretches of silence. I can sit in a hammock for hours, staring up at the trees, resting my muscles and my brain.
Refer to the map often
I rely on a roadmap to guide my day to day activities as Product Manager. My team and I use the map to guide our activities and to communicate direction with our customers and stakeholders. It is not uncommon for me to carry around a portable version of the product roadmap for important or even impromptu discussions around the office.
When I'm away from all that, say hiking through unknown territory, I find that a good map offers the same comfort. I do occasionally take a wrong turn but I generally try to keep my bearings and have learned not to panic if things don't necessarily go according to plan.
In both cases, the map provides me with support and allows me to be more relaxed in my decision making.
Log miles, not bugs
On a long, multi-day hike, about the only metric I pay attention to are the miles I've already walked and how much more I have to go. I just completed a 28-mile loop through a giant redwoods park in California and I can tell you the last thing on my mind was a list of software-related bugs. Your rhythm quickly adapts out there. You wake at sunrise and go to sleep when the sun goes down. Away from the short-term urgencies of features and enhancements, requirements and usability, bugs and regression testing, your mind can turn back to the larger product challenges, the real customer needs, and the decisions that will make your business successful.
For me, a really long walk is often the perfect opportunity to re-focus my thoughts.
While I can't say that I am fully recharged, I did thoroughly enjoy the time away. Aside from receding into a truly awesome natural setting, I was also quite humbled having spent several days alone with gigantic trees that are more than 1,000 years old. I now return to the office surroundings and the familiar duties of my role. I have some new memories to keep me stimulated while I adjust back into business mode. It's time to plug in my phone, catch up on email and start working through all these new ideas.
Look for more reports from theProductPath here on PM Decisions.