These days we often don’t have the luxury of deciding whether to take our work home with us or not. With our work increasingly being PC-based, and computing being everywhere, our work is often at home waiting for us when we get there! With Internet access at home, and remote access technology, you may even be working from home. Either way, there is a constant draw to return to work once dinner is finished and the kids are asleep. It is very tempting to ‘get a head start for tomorrow’. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of teleworking, and all its benefits, including the work-life balance it can provide. However, the maintenance of that balance is worthy of discussion.
So, how do we go about giving ourselves permission to take a break from work? And how important is it, really?
I believe in being ‘off’ when I am off. I believe it is really important to plug out, turn off the computer (and the cellphone sometimes too! ), and just ‘be’ — for me, it’s being a mother, a wife, a friend, a person. And despite the pressures of business today, isn’t it up to all of us as individuals to decide for ourselves how we are going to live our lives outside of work, and where that work-life balance is?
It’s a delicate balance. If we get it wrong by overworking and not taking enough time out, fatigue and burnout ensues, and that is a hard bell to un-ring. So, it’s worth considering the different ways in which we can take a step back from work. That way, when we are there, we are focused, productive, and firing on all cylinders.
I feel we need breaks of short, medium and long durations. Each of these types of breaks offer different benefits.
The Short Break: The Evenings and Weekends Off
Taking the evenings and weekends off balances out the week. You can use that time to do chores, spend time with friends and family, get some exercise, spend time on hobbies. This type of break allows you to re-group and re-gather just in time for work the next day.
The Medium Length Break: The Vacation
Taking one or more full weeks totally off from work is so important to our health and well-being that it is enshrined into employment law in much of the world. Plan for it, save money for it, look forward to it. Live vicariously through other people’s vacation stories while waiting for your own.
Jonah Lehrer wrote a great article on wired.com on the importance of vacation. He writes that one of the great luxuries of the 21st century is vacation without email. He explains that “when we feel distant from our work- when it seems wonderfully far away — we are able to think about work in a new way. As a result, seemingly impossible problems — that challenge we’ve been struggling with for months — are suddenly solvable. We have the breakthrough while on break”.
The Long Break: The Sabbatical
This is the creme-de-la-creme of breaks. While everyone aims for evening and weekends off, and the annual vacation, not everyone plans to take a sabbatical.
I do have first-hand experience of the benefits of this type of break.
I took the best part of a year off in 1999/2000. I flew to New Delhi, India and backpacked the Himalayan foothills and the northern parts of India. I practised Yoga, learned how to meditate, lived on Tibetan and Indian food, met lots of other travellers from places all over the world, rode camels, elephants, scooters and rickshaws, and met many individuals and families native to the places I visited, including the Dalai Lama. It was a truly wonderful experience, I wrote a journal, read lots of books, and all in all got to know myself (and the direction I wanted my life to go in) a much better.
A sabbatical certainly enhances creativity and inspiration. Stefan Sagmeister takes one year off every seven years to pursue other things, and keep his work fresh and new. You can watch his engaging and entertaining presentation “The Importance of Time Off”
Becoming recharged with energy and re-connecting with yourself will provide you with renewed enthusiasm and motivation for your work. Who knows what new projects and ideas you will come up with once you have had some time out to develop a new perspective.
Valerie Redmond is co-founder of RWorks. She writes a weekly blog at RWorks about teleworking and productivity. She can be followed on twitter @rworker
Photo by muha…