Planning a joyfully deliberate day off

Tom Hiskey
5 min readMay 14, 2021

I’ve had plenty of ups and downs in the last 12 months. On the plus side, I feel I’ve learned more about my mental health. And I’ve discovered something that helps — a joyfully deliberate day off to recharge my wellbeing battery.

My first chats with a counsellor

In March 2020 (lockdown 1), I was sleeping badly, dwelling on things, stressed and snappy. I had a racing mind. I got in touch with Ann, a counsellor on hand to help the Farewill team with our wellbeing — we call it the Farewellbeing service. It was the first time I’d spoken with a mental health professional.

At the tail end of the year (lockdown 2), I found myself disengaged, distracted, tired, numb, demotivated and not present. Symptoms which were confusingly different from a few months before.

I got back in touch with Ann, and wrote this after one of our chats:

A note from November 2020

With Ann’s help, I began to try and make sense of it. There seemed to be a couple of underlying themes:

  • Lockdown had taken away the things that gave me energy and balance in my life
  • I wasn’t taking the time to look after myself

Things that resonated with me included:

  • I should be ‘giving my brain a holiday’ — and I’d identified things that help, like getting into a flow and being creative
  • We all have a wellbeing battery, and it’s harder to charge when it’s low
  • Looking after myself should be a habit

With the help of my manager Tam I put together a wellbeing plan — and here is my wellbeing plan if you’d like to read it. I took 3 days off sick (it felt the right amount for me, at the time), and Tam and I agreed to reassess afterwards.

I took time out with a goal — to recharge my wellbeing battery

Heading into those days off, armed with my wellbeing plan, I wanted to be purposeful. I had a goal — to recharge my wellbeing battery. And if that sounds like a chore, it was the opposite.

My to-do list included:

  • Take my daughter to school
  • Watch a Studio Ghibli film
  • Play piano
  • Watch jazz documentary
  • Bake bread
  • Plan and cook a new dinner for family
  • Tidy kitchen
  • Go for a run in the countryside
  • Eat pastries
  • Call with Ann

No spending time on my phone or laptop, doing anything work-related, doing too many chores or idling away time on Netflix. Everything was joyful, deliberate and good for me. Watching a new film, playing piano — they gave my brain a holiday, sparked my creativity and helped me get into a flow. Running helped clear my head too, and so did cooking something new.

Pastries was… well, I just like pastries, even though it probably broke a good self-care rule about healthy eating.

It wasn’t scientific, but it was a list of stuff I’d identified as being good for my brain. And crucially, it was a list — it was planned, and deliberate.

Feeling refreshed and energised

I emerged from those days off feeling positive, refreshed and energised. Not 100% (or even 80%), but heading in the right direction. For me, at that moment, it happened to be the right thing.

I look back on that break with a great fondness. I don’t think I’ll ever forget settling down to watch My Neighbour Totoro on that Wednesday afternoon. It’s a film I now feel very sentimental about. A few days later when I went out for a run and the theme tune came up on Spotify, I struggled to hold back tears.

Watching My Neighbour Totoro
Scenery during a run, south of York

More days off with the same goal

Since then, I’ve taken 3 more days off as annual leave with the same goal of recharging my wellbeing battery. I’m aiming for roughly one a month.

Here was my to-do list for one of them, in March 2021:

It’s becoming a habit. These days help me if I’m feeling low, but I don’t need to be low to benefit from them. One thing I’ve learned is not to let myself get too down, if I can. So even if I’m doing ok, they help keep my battery charged.

Other annual leave is important and can be joyful too, whether it’s Christmas with family or travel or looking after our daughter while my wife works. But my these wellbeing days are different — they’re just for me. And hopefully by looking after myself, I’m better placed to help others.

A formula that works for me, at the moment

I appreciate I’m lucky to have the opportunity — not everyone can take a day off when they like and use it how they like (in 2017 I spent every day of my annual leave renovating a house — and yes, my mental health suffered for it).

And I wouldn’t want to suggest that what works for me might work for others, or continue to work for me in the future. We all have different needs and states of wellbeing.

But for me, at the moment, I seem to have stumbled on a helpful formula – a planned and purposeful day off, with a to-do list of joyful things. Thankfully, there are plenty more Studio Ghibli films.

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Tom Hiskey

Design manager / lead. I care about supporting people, elevating teams, shaping strategy and putting insights at the heart of design.