I made a mistake the other day. I was supposed to be off on Saturday. Completely off — I said to myself. One day off a week is an absolute minimum.
So I was not even planning to write — just wanted to check emails in the morning and then stop caring for the rest of the day. But… the email I opened contained a gig offer that I didn’t want to miss. I went online to send my proposal, just to learn that I also needed to write up a sample text to be able to apply. So I spent an hour or so working on the sample. Meanwhile, I got a notification on Facebook. Checked my Medium stats. Noted down some writing ideas that I really didn’t want to forget…
And so I got carried away for a couple of hours by all the small tasks that were even pleasant, but certainly kept my mind far from the relaxed state I was intending for. Finally, at some point, I remembered it was my day off and I managed to kick myself out to go for a walk.
First, I felt a bit annoyed that I didn’t take full advantage of my opportunity to rest for the whole day. But as I was walking, I realized that I didn’t need to see it as a mistake to have done some work on my day off. Instead, I chose to perceive it as a lesson, thanks to which I am now able to share what I am sharing.
Rest is not the opposite of work
Rather, it should be seen as an intrinsic component of being productive. We’ve known that for quite a while, yet we often choose to ignore it.
The classical 8-hour workday with limited working hours was established for a reason. So were the weekends, holidays, and lunch breaks at work. At some point, people found it necessary to limit working time and define resting hours for themselves.
When I lived in France, I loved it that most establishments were closed for lunch. Sometimes the break was as long as two hours, from 12h30 to 14h30. Folks there seem to consider it their sacred time to rest and recharge, so that they may successfully continue work later on. However, it may seem outrageous for people coming from other cultures — two hours of break, and that is included in your working day?! That’s quite an extravagant use of time!
I believe that in many professions you could afford two hours of rest inserted into the remaining 6 hours of work and the outcomes of our work might even improve. In other words, 25% of your work time could easily be — and maybe even should be — rest. It is of course provided that you can responsibly manage your time and be efficient.
Because guess what? It is easier to work efficiently when you feel rested. When you know you can allow yourself a little pleasure throughout the day. When you honour yourself and take a break, just because you feel tired — and that’s reason enough.
And really, you don’t need to be in France to do that.
Sounds pretty reasonable, doesn’t it? You just take a break whenever you need it. But there are two main obstacles that might get in your way when you try to implement a resting routine in your work.
The two big reasons why we are restless
Let’s put blaming employers and co-workers for our inability to rest aside for a moment. I want to talk about the two main internal causes of our restlessness. By “internal” I mean that it is entirely in your capacity to change them.
1. You may not really be aware of what you need.
Can you recognize the difference between actually needing a break and just being distracted, looking for excuses to postpone your tasks?
What is the best way for you to rest — be it during a two-week long holiday or a 30-minutes break at work?
Which are the most daunting of your work tasks? And what would be the ideal way to recover in between and after doing them?
In order to be able to answer these questions, you need to get in touch with yourself first. Sorry, I am afraid there’s no way around it. Learn to understand yourself: is it that you didn’t get enough sleep last night and you could use a nap at lunchtime? Or maybe you’ve been spending last days mostly on your own and what really could recharge your batteries is going out with friends and chatting to them?
It is all about knowing what would serve you best on a specific day and in a specific moment — rather than establishing a “lunch break routine” that you repeat every day regardless of whether you feel like it or not. This is when the ability to be mindful comes in handy.
2. You may subconsciously think that you don’t deserve rest.
Many of us are conditioned to believe that one has to work hard to “earn the right” to rest. Only after some specific, tangible outcomes are achieved is it that we deserve a break or a holiday.
If the desired results don’t appear when we expect them, at the end of a workday we may choose to take the remaining work home so that we can “catch up”. We violate the sacred resting time (unless we’re in France) and we postpone our break until we get the work done. Meanwhile, we overlook that if we were just a bit more rested, we could probably complete our task in half the time.
The sole fact that we fell a need to rest should be enough to take a break
It is perfectly understandable that we function the way we do in the fast-paced, result-oriented world. As Zander Nethercutt recently wrote, “we’re optimising ourselves to death.” We are doing what we think is best to win the game of life. However, it is time we ask ourselves whether we got the rules of the game right.
Being kind to ourselves and taking care of our needs doesn’t mean we are less worthy, or weak. In fact, just the opposite is true: the more we take care of ourselves, the happier and stronger we become — and the more we are able to give to the world. It is actually pretty easy and fun to embrace these new rules of the game and experiment with them by bringing more rest to your work.
So how do you take the first step? By finding your own way to give yourself permission to take a break. If it is difficult and you feel like you should keep on working rather than resting, start with very short, but intentional breaks — just 5 or 10 minutes will do. Even one intentional minute of rest is better than nothing.
Pay attention and observe if and how your mindset changes throughout such a break. Try different things — if you are having trouble figuring out what to do during this short period of time, come up with a list of activities in advance, so that you know what your options are.
They don’t need to be extraordinary activities that are hard to perform in an office, like headstands or cold showers. The main purpose of a break is to do something different. If you sit at a desk all day — get up and stretch. If you work alone from home — call your friend or grandma, or even talk to a cashier at the grocers.
Changing your circumstances is the key to help you take your mind entirely off work, even if just for a moment. And isn’t it the main idea of rest anyway?