“What are you DOING?”: Taking a Break from Being “Productive”

It’s been 2 months since I closed my marketing communications business and told everyone I’d be taking some time off. People are starting to ask questions. Or rather, everyone is asking the same question: “What are you doing?” So I figured this would be the right topic to kick off this blog.

I understand the bewilderment. It’s difficult to imagine what a person still 25+ years from retirement age would do with one’s days and weeks if one simply did not work. Or perhaps you know exactly what you’d do with all that time, but you can’t imagine how to make it happen. So let me start by saying that I am not independently wealthy and I will need to get back to work sooner than later. But I’ve given myself permission to spend some time living outside of the world of high productivity which I have inhabited since I started university at 17 years old.

My original plan was to take a couple of months off then launch a new communications practice – in fact, the website is ready to launch. It’s been ready for over a year. I actually meant to launch it on the same day I closed Kaszas Marketing. But it didn’t feel right so I decided to give it some time instead. Decisions, ideas, thoughts, actions, reactions – I’m letting all these things marinate.

This is how I’ve been filling my time instead:

MONTH 1: getting rid of shit


One day in late January of this year, a friend asked how it felt to not have a schedule, deadlines, or responsibilities. My reply was, “It feels fucking hectic!” There were loose ends in the business to tie up, but mostly I spent the time getting rid of shit (GROS). GROS included taking stock and paring down. I felt compelled to clean out a bunch of things that were weighing me down in different ways. I did these things:

  1. Stopped consuming news media. Yup, that’s right – I no longer consume news media of any kind. I’ll write more on that in a future blog.
  2. Went on an Unsubscribe binge, opting out of nearly every email list that I had ever added myself or become added to. While I was at it, I started calling every company that sent me snail-mail marketing and mail-order catalogs and had them remove me from their lists, too.
  3. Turned off notifications. Inspired by this action plan, I turned off nearly all the notifications on my iPhone.
  4. Cleaned house. I got rid of years of miscellaneous business and domestic crap that had piled up, recycling stuff like old electronics, and giving a bunch of other things away.
  5. Got ready for GAFIA. (See Month 2 below). As it turns out, preparing for overseas travel is a time-consuming task.

I’m one of that generation with a foot in two worlds. I remember a happy life without the Internet/computers/smartphones AND I wonder how I would survive without these things today. (Being a high-school student during the transition to Metric, I also still measure half of the world in Imperial.) At any rate, GROS opened up time, space, and silence in my life that I didn’t realize had eroded over the years.

Getting rid of shit (GROS) opened up time, space, and silence in my life that I didn’t realize had eroded over the years.

That was a pre-requisite to embarking on my primary quest, which was to figure out how I wanted the next part of my life to unfold. I call it Maria 4.0.

MONTH 2: getting away from it all

Month 1 felt pretty good because I was BUSY. My self-worth was welded to feeling needed by and being productive for others. My primary intention – my strategy, if you will – was centred on challenging that reality. I wanted to shake it to the core and then see what was left. I knew that as soon as no one was calling me and emailing me with their very important projects, I would likely have a meltdown. So, I buttressed against the fallout by getting away from it all (GAFIA).

Early in Month 2, I attended a writers retreat in Costa Rica. Those were 10 transformative days. I felt inspired, I connected with other writerly souls, my creativity returned, I understood more deeply about who I am and how I can contribute, and I had long stretches of quiet time to think about Maria 4.0.

After my return, I experienced even longer stretches of time – sometimes days – with no deadlines or commitments. My friends all work so it’s not like I could call people for daytime playdates – and that wasn’t the point anyway. So, I spent the better part of every day trying to write creatively again, and questioning the purpose of my existence. It was really fucking uncomfortable (RFU).

MONTH 3: letting it all go

I’m writing this blog at the beginning of Month 3, which I think of as letting it all go (LIAG). It’s only now that I feel that I can say I am taking “time off”. LIAG is weird. It vacillates between RFU and TFB (total fucking bliss).

LIAG includes letting go of anxiety: the anxiety of having no income; the anxiety of no job to return to; the anxiety of questioning my purpose because nobody is making demands on my time or talents.

I still spend a few hours a week seeing open projects to completion. My part-time dance business fills many evenings and some weekends. My days are focused on “internal work” and things that feed my soul, including: meditation, exercise, writing, reading, creating, and spending time with friends. I’m also investing in receiving mindful business coaching.

What’s Next

Second to the question “What are you doing?” is, “What are you going to do next?”

Answer: I’m giving myself the gift of time.

And while I do, I will be writing – including this blog, where I plan to share different aspects of my journey as well as things I learn along the way.

What are YOU doing?

I will close by asking you, dear reader: What are YOU doing?

  • How do you spend your time each day?
  • Who are you spending it with?
  • What percentage of your time is spent in auto-pilot?
  • What percentage of your time is spent doing things that are pressed upon you?
  • How much of your time is spent doing things and being with people who make you happy?
  • How much time do you spend alone, in conversation with yourself?
  • If you could capture an extra 30 minutes in a day (every day) to yourself, what would you do with it?



24 thoughts on ““What are you DOING?”: Taking a Break from Being “Productive”

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  1. Hi Maria. I really enjoyed reading your blog. I’m (happily!) retired for a while now, but I can totally relate to all you’ve experienced.Years ago I also was lucky enough to have had the opportunity to enjoy two different self-funded sabbatical leaves from my work, and these both offered me a year of freedom to decompress and to gain perspective on my life. They also allowed me to return to work with a much more positive mind-set. I’ll be interested to read the next chapter in your journey.


  2. I don’t know if you wanted us to post the answers to the questions you asked, but here it is. More than 20 years after cashing out, I haven’t exactly hit my rhythm. Things that I do on a regular basis include thinking (everything from how a dog perceives smells to quantum physics), walking/snowshoeing, woodworking, playing pool, ping-pong, scrabble, reading (fiction and non-fiction), watching Jeopardy and a documentary or movie or some show (without the ads), shooting guns, blowing stuff up.
    Luckily I spend almost all my time with the person I married more than 35 years ago. Any task that puts me in auto-pilot, simply causes my subconscious mind to engage. Some of my best ideas come when my mind doesn’t have to concentrate on the task at hand.
    A little eustress is good for everyone otherwise how would you get up in the morning? Things like cleaning and cooking are pressed upon me, but it’s a small percentage of my day.
    I would honestly say I spend 99% of my time doing things and being with people who make you me happy–hopefully you can achieve that also and it’s not only a condition of being ‘retired’ and having a part-time business that I love.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I love the idea of purging. I still have about four unopened boxes from my last move so I can relate to the need to GROS! Thank you sharing this journey!


  4. Hi, Maria,

    I stumbled on your blog today. I like what you write and I wish you all the best in your new approach to life. I know a thing or two about major life changes and how exhilarating they can be! I’m very happy for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great blog Maria!

    I admire your life choices and can relate on many points.

    After returning from living and teaching abroad for 5 months, I feel as lost as I did when I left. Securing work has been difficult and as an HSP I carry a lot on my shoulders both personally and professionally.

    I think it’s imperative to reflect and re-evaluate what is important, what we need and what makes us happy.

    I’m glad you are doing what makes you happy.


    1. Thank you for posting! I would say I’m always LEARNING what makes me happy, now, versus just going through motions or doing things because they are supposed to be the right ones. You took those 5 months for a reason, but it’s probably not the reason you think/thought/expected. What happens if you let go of the expectations you had and have for your Journey or transition? What will you find?


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