How to Succeed When You Need a Break from Work
Since my oldest returned to school in August, I looked forward to Labor Day weekend. My excitement was not due to a workfree three-day weekend (as a new business owner, that was not going to happen), but because I told myself that September was going to be a highly productive month. I was going to officially start my school year work schedule and complete four high priority projects. However, instead of having a goal smashing month, I found myself saying one thing: I need a break from work.
The month began as planned
My first priority project of the month was launching my rebranded website. With a new post going live on 9/6, I set the wee hours of that morning as my deadline for the updated site. I worked hard over the long weekend and on the 5th, I committed to working through the night. The new site was pushed live at 4 am on the 6th; just two hours before my post was scheduled to go live.
Success! Feeling accomplished, I crawled into bed for three precious hours of sleep. I would be tired when the alarm went off to get my daughter to school, but the month was starting off as productive as planned.
And then everything changed
When I woke up on September 6th, everything changed. With Hurricane Irma coming toward Florida, my husband and I decided to evacuate. With two little kids, the ability to work remote, and store shelves becoming barren, we decided to be cautious and head north.
Our confidence began to dissipate as the storm shifted and forced evacuations began in parts of our city. Still days away from the storm hitting Florida, we entered a start of worry as we watched the destruction on many islands. Would our home survive? Would our family and friends who stayed behind be ok?
In addition to our storm fears, on September 8th I found out that a friend passed away. The news was shocking and left me in disbelief. How was it possible that I would never see this person I have known since I was four years old ever again?
I need a break from work
As the emotions built from everything going on in my life that I could not control, I decided to focus on what I could control: my job. Having a blog post I needed to write, I sat down at my computer. However, as the hours passed, I became frustrated. My husband could see it on my face and asked what was wrong. I told him that I kept trying to write, but everything was a mess. Nothing was coming out the way I wanted it to, and I was struggling to make any improvements.
My husband’s response was just what I needed to hear. He said, “With everything going on, you’re probably not in the right place mentally to write.”
He was right, and that is when I realized that I needed a break from work. Being an entrepreneur, however, I could not just walk away from everything. I had no one to take over my responsibilities, and I could not let my business fall apart. I had to be strategic about my break. To be successful, I deployed four techniques.
1) Evaluate deadlines
The first thing I did was evaluate the deadlines I set for my three remaining high priority projects. The deadlines were all self-imposed and therefore could be adjusted. Yes, there would be business impacts, but there were all internal. No customers would know if these projects were delayed.
Knowing that I was in charge of the deadlines, helped me feel better about my all the tasks I needed to complete. I was the one who planned for an over the top productive September, and I could be the one to decide that some of those deadlines needed to be pushed to October.
Now, for some people, not all deadlines will be self-imposed. Client expectations will make it so some deadlines cannot be moved. However, customer-facing deadlines might not be the only ones you have. For example, when you need a mental break, it is ok to push back a business plan review or postpone a lunch or training.
2) Focus on the small tasks
A typical piece of advice across most productivity articles is to focus on the big, difficult tasks first. That way you are dedicating the needed time to those tasks and not being sidetracked. While I often follow that tip, I temporarily ignored it.
I did not have the mental capability to complete the big tasks. Like with the blog post I tried to write, I could not give these items the needed focus. Time spent was becoming time wasted.
Instead, I decided to focus on the small things that take little mental effort. While some big rocks sat unmoved, I was able to feel accomplished by crossing tasks off my to-do list.
When you cannot focus on the big to-do items, figure out what you can focus on today. While you do not want to do this every day, as your business will suffer if you keep putting off the large, difficult tasks, some days focusing only on the easy stuff is your saving grace.
3) Take time off
As an entrepreneur, and even as an employee, it is hard to allow ourselves to take time off for our mental health. However, our mental health is just as important as our physical health, and we need to take care of our minds. Some modern employers even allow employees to use sick days for mental health breaks instead of having to take vacation time.
For me, I took two and a half days off. During that period, I did not touch anything work-related. I actually did not even have the desire to work during that break. To completely step away and spend time with my family was what I needed.
Take a day or two off if you need the break. While in some industries this is harder than others, do your best to reschedule everything you can. A one day break might help you recover faster than weeks of pushing through.
4) Adjust work hours
Personally, I am a night owl when it comes to working. I hit my stride after the sun sets and I normally have to convince myself to stop working and go to bed come 1 am. However, during the time I needed a break, I could not work these late hours. Come 10 pm, and I was ready for bed. The thought of staying up any later was torture.
Instead of saving my work for the evenings, I adjusted to earlier hours. I would do as much as I could in the morning and afternoon. Then, every night I would work as late as I could. When I became mentally drained, I would quit for the day. Each day I saw myself being able to work later and later until I was back to my regular schedule.
As leaders or entrepreneurs, one thing that we have to remember is that there is a difference between hours spent doing work and hours spent being productive. Sitting at a computer but getting nothing done because you cannot focus is a waste of time. It is better to make a temporary adjustment to the hours you or an employee works so one can be at their best.
Work is not everything
While we often throw our all into our business, never forget that work is a part of our lives and not everything. If you need a break from work, take a break from work. Your mental health will thank you and will help contribute to a proper work-life balance.
I did not reach my project goals in September, but that is ok. In other ways, I had a great month business wise and therefore cannot be disappointed. Plus, I was able to spend some unexpected time with friends and family.
October has now begun, and I am ready to make it a highly productive one!
When it’s more than temporary
Before I leave you today, I want to add one more important point. For me, my emotional state was temporary. With rest and a shift in focus for a short time, I was able to return to my normal state.
However, for others, the return to normal is harder or impossible due to depression. If you cannot shake your down emotional state, or feel like hurting yourself or others, please seek professional help. If you know someone who might be depressed, encourage them to get help.