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Why is taking some time off work so hard ?

Taking some time off work for yourself is perhaps one of life’s greatest luxuries. Yet, it’s crucial for our productivity and resilience. Here’s how I failed miserably the last time I tried to carve out some personal time and what I learned.

Carol Yang

In today’s harried and busy world, taking some time off work for yourself is perhaps one of life’s greatest luxuries. Recently I made a valiant attempt to block off a day to take a break from the endless to-do lists. To call a mental ‘time out’ and metaphorically speaking, pause to smell the roses. And I failed miserably at it.

Now, what’s that popular phrase ?  – “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Well, my intention was to carve out a day a month to rejuvenate my mind, body and soul. A day a month ? You’re thinking –  Wow. That’s a bit ambitious ! And you may be right. But you see, I realised recently that I had forgotten an important lesson I learned during my long corporate career.

There’s a difference between working hard and working smart. Working smart is recognising that keeping your nose to the grindstone will have diminishing returns over time if you don’t stick your head up every now and again, and put yourself into a different environment to be inspired and refresh your mind. And when you’re running your own business, there is, in essence, no 9-to-5 boundaries. Which is good …and bad, as it can easily evolve into ongoing 24/7 work weeks.

So, there I was, one Friday afternoon, feeling somewhat physically and mentally wiped out. Cue – lightbulb moment – I’ll mark off one Friday every month as my mental rejuvenation day !  Filled with renewed energy and optimism, I immediately pulled up my calendar, found a day in the not-to-distant future and boldly marked off my “Mental Rejuvenation Day”.  It was meant to be a day to feed my mind and soul. I imagined myself – 1. away from my desk  2. outdoors connecting with nature and 3. enjoying quiet time for some thinking and inspirational reading. Confident that I had a plan in place, I returned to my hectic daily pace, this time, with eager anticipation of my ‘day off’.

The days ticked by. 48 hrs before my planned Mental Rejuvenation Day, I realised with panic that there was no way I could take that day off and finish what I wanted to do that week. So I ‘rescheduled’ it …and on my next attempt, my so-called Mental Rejuvenation Day did not play out as I had pictured.

So, what did I learn ?

Well, I was definitely on the right path with my intentions. We don’t need to read all the supporting research to confirm what we intuitively know. Taking time off work to rejuvenate improves our productivity and resilience. We also know that unless we plan for it, it won’t happen.  So, where did I go wrong ?

Mistake #1 – I assumed that I would get through the same amount of work as in other weeks. So basically, I tried to squeeze 5 days of work into 4 days in order to ‘justify’ taking a day off.  Clearly an assumption that almost guaranteed that I would cancel my day off.

Mistake #2 – Don’t allow other priorities to sneak in. When I finally did take a day off work, I woke up that morning with a brilliant thought – why don’t I spend half the day finishing up personal errands that I’ve been meaning to get to ?! Then I can rest and rejuvenate after ! Naturally, it took the whole day to finish my errands … so, no reading, no thinking time, and definitely no quiet time. Note to self – your mental time-out day is NOT for catching up on errands !

Mistake #3 – Be realistic and set an achievable goal. Taking a day off each month would be great …but perhaps a little too ambitious for anyone, regardless of whether they are working in the corporate world or running their own business. So I’ve planned to carve out a day every 2 months. And in between, I carve out small blocks of time to handle personal errands. Much more doable (I hope). And staying true to my original intention – my “Mental Rejuvenation Day” is exactly that. Time away from to-do lists of all sorts to un-plug and rejuvenate.

Will I succeed ? Stay tuned to find out.

When was the last time you took some time out for yourself ? If you can’t recall, perhaps it’s time you did.




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