For many of us, a break can often feel like a frivolous luxury.
You feel like stuff is piling up while you’re vacationing. Like you’re letting down your boss, your family, or yourself if you have some “me time” for a few hours. Like you’re slacking off if you stop working for a full lunch break or even just a 10-minute breather mid-morning.
If you’re a parent, you’ve probably heard this phenomenon labeled as “mom guilt.” But that nagging sense that you simply can’t take a break is a feeling shared by many women (and men).
But, boy, do you need a break!
So today, I’m looking at why taking breaks is an absolute must, how you can beat the guilt, and what steps you can take to maximize the benefit of your breaks.
Have you ever tried to function on just a few hours of sleep? If so, you know that the entire day after your nearly sleepless night feels as though you’re swimming upstream through mud.
Your brain is mush. You’re super cranky and stressed out. Your productivity is totally shot. And your health might very well take a nosedive.
Just as your mind and body need sleep to recover from the day and prepare for the next one, you need breaks to function.
Repeat after me: Breaks and time off are not a luxury. They’re not a nice-to-have; they’re a must-have.
Don’t believe me? Countless studies have shown that even small breaks throughout the day make a massive difference. Downtime helps you refocus, improves your productivity, reinvigorates you, and boosts your decision-making ability and creativity.
If instead you opt to keep your head down all day every day while working at a breakneck pace, you’re setting yourself up for unavoidable burn-out.
Of course, even if you see the value in taking mini breaks or time off from your regular professional or personal duties, doing it is another matter entirely.
Okay, so you realize that you’re transforming from a lovely, happy, productive woman into a wild-eyed, stressed-out nut for lack of some time off. So you decide it’s time for some kind of break . . . just as soon as you can find the time.
But face it. When do you ever magically have free time?
As with most of the important things in life, you’re probably not going to find the time. Instead, you’ve got to make the time to prioritize your downtime.
I used to be sooo terrible at this! Left to my own devices, I’d sit parked in front of my computer all day. Or work every single weekday — barring holidays, annual family vacations, or days my kid was at home sick.
It wasn’t until I blocked out morning, lunch, and afternoon breaks on my work schedule that stepping away from the computer during the workday became a consistent reality. And it wasn’t until I wrote “Megan’s day off” — in pen! — on my calendar that I actually began taking time off from the job.
So, for the sake of your sanity, make appointments with yourself for break time. And prioritize those appointments just as much as you would a doctor’s visit or a meeting with your boss!
You already know that I am a huge, huge fan of clearly defined goals. Goals are an incredible way to focus your energy on what’s important, identify what activities are not important, and measure the effectiveness of what you’re doing.
Naturally, your goal for a 15-minute break at the office is probably different than your goal (or goals) for an afternoon off or a week-long vacation. Either way, spell out exactly what you hope to gain from a given break:
By identifying your objective, you’ll be ready to brainstorm ways you can best spend your break time.
Hooray! It’s time for a break!
To maximize your “me time,” follow this fundamental rule: Your break time shouldn’t look the same as your focus time.
So if you’re taking a break from work that has you chained to a computer, you’re not doing your brain (or body) any favors by staying glued to your chair to check E-mail and social media during your “break.”
And if you’ve decided to try a multi-day staycation as a family this year, it’s not a “break” if your days still include the usual work duties, chores, and routines!
So shake things up during your breaks!
Force yourself to seek out a change of venue. Move your body. Drink some water or grab a snack. Chat with a colleague. Play with your dog. Have a dance break!
Experiment. If your breaks always look the same or occur on a boringly consistent schedule, try something new. Choose a different break activity or switch up the timing or frequency of your breaks.
And, of course, check in with yourself after break time to ensure that your escapes from the daily grind are meeting your break time goals!
Anyone else experience guilt or panic when faced with the idea of taking a break? How do you overcome that? And what are your favorite ways to step back from the rat race for a little while?