Right Now: We need to talk about breaks

Gardening is my go-to for taking a break.

After last week’s post, I thought it might be helpful to go into a little more detail about taking a break from the work.

This column is usually about how to be more creative, more productive, more prolific. And that’s a good thing to focus on, especially when distractions are lurking around every corner, ready to pounce and rip all your good intentions to shreds.

But there’s a flip side. Sometimes all the work-work-work has to take a pause for a while. Sometimes, if it needs to stop completely.

When I say we need to talk about breaks, I don’t mean break-ups or breaking down or being broken – though Lord knows those are among the biggest distractions that wreak havoc on best-laid plans.

No, I mean setting aside whatever you’re doing – on purpose, with purpose. A planned separation from the work you’re devoted to. A deliberate exit from the Get-It-Done-Or-Else highway.

I know what I’m talking about. I’ve tried many times to do the push-the-train-down-the-track routine, and it invariably fails.

Note: I’m not talking about writing sprints, where you really do need to push yourself to complete a project. Sometimes that’s necessary. I’m talking about a day-in/day-out plan of productivity that burns you out. Trust me, it’s not helpful, healthy, or wise.

At this point, you might be asking: Why, if writing is so important, would anyone advocate taking a break from it?

I have an answer. Several of them, in fact:

  1. You’re not a machine; you’re human. Humans need rest and relaxation. (Let’s be honest: Machines are treated better than we sometimes treat ourselves. Machines get turned off now and then for maintenance.) R&R restores our tired bodies, improves our immune systems, and keeps our organs functioning properly.

  2. You’ll come back with fresh, rested eyes. This has happened to all of us: When you’re in the thick of a project, sometimes it’s difficult to see the problematic elements (the old forest/trees analogy). But step away for a bit and when you come back, you can see it. Hence one of the good reasons to take that break.

  3. You might discover how non-important some of the work is. Another thing that can happen is that you come back from the break and discover that the project doesn’t hold the same excitement as it did before. Because before, when you were pushing yourself to get it done, the treadmill you were on kept you going. Now, having spent time away from it, you can see the truth about your relationship with this project. This isn’t anything to be alarmed about. In fact, it’s good. Now you can move it to a place of lesser importance and move something else up – or you can dismiss it entirely if need be. The important thing is that you’ll be working on other things that spark you instead of continuing to feed the must-do that was sitting on your plate.

Whether the break is the weekend, a vacation, a hiatus (with or without an end date), or a sabbatical, the key is to take the break seriously. Respect it. Honor it. Put aside the phone and computer and day planner. Get into nature. Visit with friends. Read a book. Rest. Relax. Rejuvenate. You’ll come back better for it.

Your projects deserve a better you.

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