The one thing I've really enjoyed about this break is getting away from politics. Don't get me wrong, I love my job but it really does take over your life almost to the exclusion of all else. It's hard work making sure you don't neglect your family and even though I don't have kids, I feel like my juggling skills have been sorely tested in the last year. Next year, I'm going to work even harder to make sure I can also be a friend to my friends, some of whom I've known since I was at school.
I'm determined to also get some time to myself too and really do something about that work / life balance for another reason. I once worked for Jim Mather who is now the SNP Government's Enterprise Minister. He's one of my favourite people in life because in addition to his obvious skill, intellect and success, he manages to be a fundamentally kind and thoughtful person and his enthusiasm for life is very infectious.
Anyway when he was my boss I was all set to cancel a planned week off because I had too much work to do but he refused to let me. He told me he'd learned very early on from one of his bosses that those who take time away from work and set aside time to focus on themselves, will do a far better job in the long run. He had absolutely no time for me playing the martyr and insisting I stay at work. He then MADE me take the week off.
The result was I had a good rest and came back and tackled all the stuff I had previously thought would take me the best part of a week, in a day. I managed to put all those "extremely urgent and incredibly important" tasks into perspective and I seem to remember I even "binned" some of them. It's easy to get caught up in the detail, the minutiae of work when you don't take time off. And when you're caught up, you get bogged down and lose sight of what you really need to do.
On 18 November, I was going home to do something personal but worrying that I just didn't have the time and fretting about all the work I had to get through. On that train journey I got a call to say that my constituent and her ten year old daughter had been taken into detention and were about to be deported. The personal thing never got done and for the next month, my workload (and stress levels) increased dramatically as we fought to stop the deportation and then to bring them home.
If you'd asked me that night was I in a position to take on a major campaign, I'd have said there was not a chance. But we managed it. We didn't drop anyone else. Somehow we managed to keep working for all of our constituents and getting good results for most of them as well as winning a couple of important stages in the battle for the aforementioned pair in detention.
Emergencies are like holidays - brilliant for putting things into perspective and concentrating the mind. And just making sure you have SOME time to yourself not thinking about work means you can approach work with a clearer mind and more energy.
I know all of this - now all I need to do is put the theory into practice. If 2010 is going to be anything like 2009, I'm going to have to learn how to do that pretty quickly.
I know of at least one major battle that will need to be fought and won early on in 2010 and I've got my eye on a few more fights I want to pick (all very reasonable ones). Plus, as I learned on 18 November, you never know when someone is going to need you to drop everything and really fight their fight for them. I accept we can't do it to that extent for everyone and I can't deny there's a personal price to be paid for taking on too much, but how do you turn your back on someone who is desperate and who is being treated unjustly?
Rather than do that, I would prefer to make sure there's some kind of work / life balance that means I've got the energy to tackle my job properly and the reserves to step it up a gear if needs be. That all sounds so good that I can't wait to get back to work to try out my new approach!