How often do you take a break?

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As well as being someone I’m fortunate enough to consider a friend, Andy Parkes is also one of my favourite bloggers. He writes a great mixture of technical articles and small business thoughts. If you’re not subscribing to his blog then I’d encourage you to do so.

Last week, Andy wrote a fantastic blog post about something that I know had been on his mind for a while. In the post, entitled “When did you last have a real break?” Andy spoke very personally about feeling burnt out, un-creative and in a rut and how taking a proper break away from his business had subsequently helped him re-charge his batteries and come back rejuvenated.

Obvious advice?

Relax“Take a break” seems such obvious advice when given, but in my experience is often the advice most ignored. It seems the majority of us feel that if we just push to get that to-do list completed then we’ll feel better and be able to relax. But somehow when we follow that path it doesn’t quite work out that way and by working harder, pushing ourselves a little more – we end up no further forward than when we began.

I’m a big advocate of taking a break. For me it’s not just long weekends and holidays, but taking time out during a day – ten minutes reading a chapter of a book, or half an hour eating lunch away from your desk – this isn’t time lost, but time well spent as you return to your work responsibilities with a clearer sense of direction and more energy. It’s the old phrase about working smarter, not harder.

Supporting yourself through systems

I coach my MSP clients, especially the smaller clients, to put systems and processes in place that enable them to delegate or outsource work and therefore take a break. Avoiding doing so means that you’re running an unsustainable business. In reality it’s a simple choice of planning now to enable yourself to take a break soon, or ignoring the inevitable and waiting for your business to crumble around you as you’re forced to step away from it – through burn-out, through illness, through family emergency, or through some other circumstance out of your control.

Holiday e-mail addiction

But I’ll confess that typically, when I take a long weekend or a holiday, my definition of “taking a break” has always been that I’ll do some e-mail triage in the morning, and maybe again in the late afternoon. I’m never truly away from work – just doing much less of it than normal.

So last week I tried an experiment and took a proper break. I made a statement by setting my out of office message using my own brand of humour to inform people I wouldn’t be responding to e-mail (Susanne wrote an blog post about my own out of office message and made some interesting observations on OOO messages in general) and then I spent time relaxing with friends. No e-mail at all.

In fact, apart from firing my laptop up to find a last minute hotel room on the South Coast, I didn’t use my computer at all.

The results

Do you know what? Upon returning to the office, my business is still here, nobody has complained about my absence, I’ve not missed any opportunities (quite the opposite in fact) and the world is still turning. Amazing huh?

As somebody who follows the “Inbox Zero” philosophy, it’s also made me question some of my beliefs about how e-mail should fit into my life.

Conclusion

In our modern lives we are used to being always “on”. Always being accessible electronically. But I’m coming round to the notion that this is actually a subconscious choice we make rather than an unavoidable fact of modern life.

By forcing ourselves to turn “off” regularly we gain a lot of perspective that helps us be more productive and to make more of a difference on a day-to-day basis.

I believe that taking a break, and often, is an important a skill as anything else we can learn to do.

Comments

  • tubblog2011-09-08 08:10:09

    Rob - agreed, especially about the gravestone analogy. I'm re-assessing my relationship with e-mail - more to follow!

  • robfranklin2011-09-06 11:58:42

    Great blog post Ric. I think this is the curse of the small business owner, in the quest to deliver the best possible service and to excel above those that we feel do not provide a good service we try to excel above them but at what cost. As you know I have this personnal battle that I constantly wage with myself by trying to excel and give the best possible service but the fact is that it is always at the cost of your own personnal life and the family around you. Then the question should be, is there a happy balance and where does that lie.....who knows. We pressurise ourselve by following system such as GTD and Inbox Zero to make us top performers but a we infact causing ourselves more harm than good in pushing the bar so high. I have always been an advocate for Inbox Zero but recently a blog post I read made me look at this again. The gist of it was that when you die will your headstone really read 'Here lies xxxxx, Father, Husband and Inbox Zero Hero'....is at really what I want to see? Guess that's a very personnal question. Keep the posts coming :-) Rob

  • tubblog2011-09-06 09:41:00

    @Gareth - spot on. I always encouraged my engineers to eat their lunch away from their desk, but you've hit the nail on the head by saying it feels uncomfortable initially. One of the best ways to overcome this is to organise external lunches with other people. Just mind the waistline if it's pub lunches every day. ;-)

  • Gareth Brown (@GarethBrown)2011-09-06 09:20:42

    Agreed, even if put the tools down feels uncomfortable to begin with (it still is for me); the strategy I use to overcome this is to prioritise other tasks around me, even preparing lunch, I try not to buy ready made sandwiches which can be eaten right away. Quite often, I use my 'break times' to do something totally unrelated and by set myself a target of NOT returning to the task for a certain amount of time.. Got to go to make coffee now...

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