You tell yourself you will be more productive with a little time off. You try telling your boss the same, certain you will return refreshed and raring to go. But the challenge in taking time off — even a single, solitary, spirit-soothing week of “nothing” — includes the crazy schedule required before, and the soul-sucking stack of work that slays you after.
Who can take time off when it means ratcheting up the excessive hours you already put in, which is why you’re bordering burnout in the first place?
Why take time off when you know that when you return you’ll be slammed with two weeks of extra hours to catch up?
Is Unplugging Undermined by What Comes Before?
This isn’t about thinking you’re indispensable. (You know you’re not.) But it is about recognizing that millions of us exist in a state of 24/7 “work readiness” — always scanning emails and calls, always a touch or tap away from being reached, and programmed (like Pavlovian dogs?) to respond… even when we’re theoretically “off.”
It’s also about workplace systems, pop culture influence, and personal schedules that don’t accommodate the notion (much less value) of non-“productive” hours.
Recently, I unplugged and stepped away — for the first time in six years — for eight glorious days. Yet I ask myself: Was the period of time that came before so intense as to undermine the vacation? Is everything I found waiting for me (as of 5 a.m. the following Monday) so daunting as to stress me to max, and at a record pace?
When I took those days off, I purposely left behind my laptop, my work email, and my usual routine, which keeps me going around the clock. And I suspect that a similar schedule is equally routine for independents, freelancers, entrepreneurs and many others who juggle multiple jobs.
The Power of a Pause
Speaking of entrepreneurs, take a gander at this reminder that brief periods of stepping away from work can bear fruit.
Explaining that “the secret to increased productivity is time off” — Entrepreneur.com tells us:
… working without letup is a bad habit that can jeopardize business, health and the life you’re supposedly working toward… few ambitious achievers understand one of the biggest secrets of productivity — the refueling principle. It comes down to this: You get more done quicker when you step back and recharge the brain and body.
But we know this already, don’t we? Is our work culture — for a boss or for ourselves — increasingly stacked against us?
Workload Expectations vs. Performance Expectations
In American culture, we continue to focus on the appearance of busyness (or “time in chair”). Why are we so intent on apparent level of effort while inadequately engaged in measurable results?
Clearly I’m generalizing, but isn’t this the case for many of us?
I confess, the two 80-hour weeks that ran prior to my taking time off — and actually taking off — were dreadful. And the return, while not as dramatic, a headache and a half.
As for eight days away, they were terrific! And also insufficient. I was in laptop withdrawal Days 1 through 3, unwinding on Day 4, and feeling fabulous on Day 5. On Day 6, knowing it was time to repack, stress started seeping back in. Days 7 and Day 8 were spent traveling, which was pleasant enough, and still a diversion.
My question: Can we reap the benefits of recharging when time off is squeezed between 80-hour work weeks before and after?
I suppose that’s an answer we each have to ask ourselves.
Perspective in All Things
There’s nothing new in the theme of “work smarter, not harder.” However, some activities demand rumination, analysis, attention to detail, communication, follow up… Even working in efficient ways, there may be few or no short cuts.
In looking at the “urgent versus important” categories (and re-evaluating our priorities accordingly), we can discern tasks to postpone, do differently, or possibly not do at all.
The same article in Entrepreneur reminds us that the brain is like a muscle, and when we are remiss in not treating it as such, it won’t serve us especially well. In other words, we won’t perceive opportunities that may be staring us in the face — to pursue our goals differently, better, or with more appropriate priorities.
The article states:
… gray matter tires well before the body does. Since almost all of us are doing mental work these days, managing cognitive resources is not a nice thing to be able to do; it’s essential… Just like the heart, the brain gets fatigued from too much time on-task.
Do Less to Accomplish More
Taking time away from the usual routine allows us to look at our priorities and ourselves in a different light.
We may also be encouraged to seek new ways to delegate, to collaborate, or to imagine and pursue what we are in the process of working on. It was with that perspective that I made myself a sign that reads “Do Less to Accomplish More” more than a year ago. It remains taped to one of my kitchen cabinets.
Those words remind me to take steps back and re-examine how much I work and the ways I work, so I may refocus and ask myself:
- Do I really need to perform this task?
- What is its priority?
- Is it bringing me closer to a greater goal?
- Can I do it differently with fewer steps?
- Am I enjoying this?
As for that last question, shouldn’t we consider it — at least some of the time?
After my first vacation in years — and here I must admit that I did spend some time on new project-related research and networking — my mood is much improved. And even with the hassles that came before, the overflowing list of must-do’s that followed, and the fatigue of travel time, I would like to think the effects of refueling and recharging will last a few weeks, and possibly longer. I like to think my performance will be enhanced, and my more positive outlook, sustained.
Naturally, money plays a role in our decisions to stay or go — not only an issue of the expense of going away, but income that isn’t earned when we are not salaried. And when money is an issue, even a brief “staycation” can, potentially, work wonders.
- When you take time off, does the work required before impact the positive effects of your downtime?
- What about the work that has piled up, waiting for your return?
- Do you take a week off, two weeks off, or more each year?
- If you don’t, is it money, family, job insecurity or something else that prevents it?
- Do you prefer to travel, to stay home, or a mix of the two?
- When was your last break from the grind?
- Do mini-breaks of a sort help to refresh and renew?
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