Taking a break from work: the shame in looking after yourself

When was the last time you had an awful day but still refused taking a break from work?
When you felt drained, and the whole world seemed to move in the opposite direction?

That’s how I felt on Monday last week. I was incredibly tired, I didn’t feel good inside my own skin, and it seemed like everyone else was trying to get in my way.

It all started in the morning.
My watch didn’t vibrate to wake me up. So I was 20 minutes later than usual, and I didn’t feel like getting out of bed anyway.
I should have known then.
I left the house, and I forgot my food on the kitchen table.
This never happens.
I walked to town, and everyone seemed to cut my way and annoy me on purpose.
Usually I’m the one smiling and letting people go first, but that day I could only think about “their” stupid umbrellas. I should have known.
My upper back kept me in pain all day, but I tried to ignore it.
I procrastinated work until late in the afternoon, but I also avoided taking breaks: by dinner time, I found myself tired and unsatisfied with my day.

Can you see a theme going on here?
Throughout the day, the real issue wasn’t that I felt tired or grumpy. Shit happens.
I just refused to listen.

Instead of taking a break from work and using the morning to get better, I soldiered through the symptoms until they got worse.
It almost took me a week to fully recover.

It’s the shame in looking after ourselves.
The guilt in stopping and taking a few hours off from “doing things”. But there’s no time to waste.
Being “busy” is a badge of honour masked as a complaint: it’s a statement of how indispensable we want to be, clinging to the idea that the world cannot go on without us.

But sometimes, you have to stop and sharpen the saw.
You are the greatest asset you have, and you must look after it (you!).
Taking a break is not a selfish act: quite the opposite.
If you’re feeling tired or negative, it will influence your work and the people around you. And everything will take you ages to get done (badly).
But if you’re feeling energetic and positive, every project you’re working on and every person around you will benefit from it. You will get more done in less time, be more creative, and more importantly do great work.

Taking a break to feel great

So take a walk outside, sleep a little longer, read, meditate, go for a run. Do what you have to do to get back to feeling great.

Here’s how to overcome the guilt:

  • if you feel bad about taking a short break, recognise that your work ethics are solid enough for you to take one
  • if you’re working on your own business or a personal project, remind yourself that all those deadlines were made up by you
  • remember that time isn’t the most valuable thing you have to offer

If you can’t even take a break, what are you so busy for?

I like to read this quote from my man Seneca:
“We must indulge the mind and from time to time allow it the leisure which is its food and strength.” [click to tweet]

When was the last time you took a break and felt truly refreshed? And what did you do?
Send me an email, I want to know what worked.
—Matt

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