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Week 47: Take a Work Break

A few years ago after returning from a week in Turks and Caicos with my family, I received some crazy feedback. Like most vacations, I continued to regularly check in with emails, but this time when I returned to work, my manager pulled me aside and told me the next time I was out of the office I was prohibited from reading and replying to emails. Deep down I knew he was right, but at the time the idea of completely shutting off seemed so completely impossible that I really never gave it much thought.

I'd forgotten about this scenario until a few weeks ago when one of my direct reports said something to me that triggered my memory. He said, "I work to live, not live to work.” Since he said this, I can’t help but think about where I fit in to this equation. The reality is I probably lean more in the direction of "live to work" than I care to admit, but the real issue is, I'm not totally sure why. As soon as I have even a minute of downtime, I find myself logging in to check email and ultimately end up getting sucked in to one task or another; has there even been a 24-hour period where I haven't signed in or done something work related? The fact is, I really can't remember. Heck, I was even working from the hospital room just hours after giving birth and I certainly remember canceling my last two scheduled vacation days as a result of important meetings and various other work commitments.

Based on these revelations, I decided it was finally time to take a real break from work and made a promise to myself, for the sake of not only my own mental health, but also for the professional development of others, that this time things would be different. By allowing myself the power of a much needed break, I could also create an opportunity for others to step up and execute on our behalf.

This week was the perfect opportunity to give it a try because Monday was Yum Kipur - Jewish day of atonement - and not only were all three kids home from school, but I had a laundry list of things I needed to get done around the house. After a number of prep talks, I went into my calendar and marked myself out of the office. The goal of the day was to not dial in to any meetings (even ones first thing in the morning), not read or respond to emails, and not engage in anything work related. To help keep me on track, I logged in the night before to either decline or delegate all the meetings on my calendar so I wouldn't be tempted to break my promise.

On Sunday night, I stayed up late with my husband binge watching our latest show and even had a nice lay in on Monday morning. After my usual morning routine, I spent the rest of the day running much needed errands for the house before finishing the day off at home eating some of my favorite foods and celebrating the holiday with my family. Before I knew it, the day was over, I'd managed not to login to my computer, and in all honesty, had not thought about work once.

There was something unbelievably refreshing about clearing my head and truly giving myself a mental break. I didn't think about work once or worry about what I might have been missing out on; I was 100 percent focused on the present, spending time with my family, and also spending time with myself. It's like the old saying goes, ”One step back, three steps forward.” It might not always be easy, but the more we allow ourselves time to rest and recover, the stronger we will ultimately become.

As much as we might think we're needed all the time, the reality is that there truly isn't a single task that requires a 24x7 active presence. The large majority of task can stand to wait a day or two, or be delegated to someone else. Therefore, the responsibility falls on us to set and maintain boundaries, most importantly taking the time to rest and rejuvenate. The benefit of taking a timeout to recover may actually help make the time we're at work more productive. I challenge you to find a time where you can take a break in order to provide your mind and body with the opportunity to recover; I'm pretty sure you will love every minute of it.

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