I woke up one day last month feeling that I had hit rock bottom. I am a morning person, and usually feel extremely energised and cannot wait to get to work. In fact, I reach the office before the official working hours. But on that day, however, I struggled to get out of the house.
The first quarter of the year had been immensely busy, between working on new projects at the office, writing for new publications, and focusing on my horse riding classes.
It has often been said that the amount of rest one should take should equate to the amount of effort one puts in a project.
It was obvious that I was desperately in need of a holiday. Not just a day or so off work, but a period to disconnect from everything, especially from my emails and phone.
My dad made reservations for my siblings and myself to travel to Hong Kong for a week, allowing me to de-stress and get back to my old self again. I was thrilled to leave the UAE and have the chance to relax.
But I knew that the whole purpose of this getaway would be diminished if I was to remain hooked on to my emails and work. I decided not to subscribe to a mobile data package abroad, so that I would not be tempted to check emails or constantly browse the internet. And so I submitted my newspaper articles two weeks in advance, and set automated replies in my email inbox stating that I could not be reached for that week.
From the moment I boarded the plan for our trip, my body and mind began to unwind.
Normally, I would subscribe to the plane's Wi-Fi service to keep abreast with the world's happening, but I did not. I put on the headphones, tuned into some classical music, and for once in a very long time, nothing else distracted me. It felt great.
The strange thing that happened while we were abroad is that all our mobile phone services stopped working. No one was able to reach us except by contacting us through the hotel. It served us as the best excuse to not use our phone except for snapping photos.
It felt strange in the beginning to not check my emails, or answer work-related calls, but a couple of days later that feeling evaporated, and I felt lighter and enjoyed every detail of the travel experience - distraction free. It was the first time since I was a teenager that I was left with no mobile phone service and I wondered why I had not done it before.
My daily routine often involves reading three newspapers and keeping up to date with local and international news. Instead of my concentration torn between digesting information from different newspapers, in addition to my daily dose of online blog reads, I shifted my focus to one thing only: and that was Hong Kong and enjoying its rich culture, tradition, and most importantly to have a blast.
By the end of our one-week trip, I felt empowered and most importantly more energised to return to work. With my brain more focused on the holiday, I rediscovered parts of myself that I nearly had forgotten the past three years since I joined the workforce, and I became calmer. I did not feel the pressure that comes from the routine tasks that have become part of my life.
The thing I realised the most is that if we wait until work is done to enjoy our life, then work will never be completely done, and life will continue to distract us. Just about anything can actually wait.
Our little vacation made me realise that I need to take a break more often, and that disconnecting from work and the digital world is essential, and healthy. And so I made it a ritual to focus on important projects for an hour every morning without checking my email or phone, and a couple of hours in the evening to unwind and enjoy something that I love doing, reading or painting.
Sometimes the key to fully excelling at work is to fully disconnect.
Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati writer and fashion designer based in Abu Dhabi