Photo by anitapatterson
For the most part, I’ve rested this past week. I’ve avoided my computer most of the day, not answered the phone if I didn’t want to, and I’ve not attended meetings or conference calls. Instead, I’ve read books, eliminated some dusty piles of paper in my office, and spent more time with my wife and kids. I have gotten more sleep, felt less worried about responsibilities, and set aside the stress of looming deadlines.
When was the last time you had a rest like this? When was the last time you truly set aside work for at least a week? It always surprises me when leaders, describing their vacation, brag about the number of emails they answered or the two-hour conference call they attended while on “vacation.” Something is terribly wrong with this picture.
I know, some of you are thinking, “But you don’t understand my organization and my job. I can’t unplug from work for a week.” My response is, “Either you or your company have a very misguided understanding of work and your ability to do that work.” People are not machines with an endless ability to produce. The foundational principle here is that people were created with a built-in need for regular rest and renewal. If that need is not met, the ability to produce will be reduced and may even break down altogether.
Some of you are thinking, “I just can’t afford to take a day off, not to mention a week.” Or some of you are rationalizing your approach to rest: “I don’t take a whole day off, but I do make all my kids’ little league games.” And some of you are taking the long view, “I’m putting in a 7-day-a-week schedule now, but it will pay off down the road.” All of these are self-deceptive lies. You are either lying to yourself or you have bought someone else’s lies.
The impact, the cost, of not committing to rest and renewal is both immediate and long-term and has consequences beyond your own ability perceive them. Likewise, the rewards and benefits of committing to rest and renewal is both immediate and long-term and has consequences beyond your own ability to perceive them.
I make a habit of reserving each Sunday as a rest day. Sometimes I need to work on something for a short time. I’m writing this article on a Sunday. Or sometimes I may be at a conference that spans a Sunday. So I’m not dogmatic and legalistic about this. Generally, though, Sunday is for worship, my family, and recreation and naps. When I get weekly rest, I approach Monday and my work commitments with eagerness and enthusiasm. When I fail to get regular rest, I get weary of work and, very importantly, I do not respond well to stress. I make rash decisions and sometimes hurt others.
Ideally, I also take a week off three or four times a year. This can be hard to accomplish, but I have found that the payoff is tremendous. It benefits me personally, my family life, and in my professional endeavors.
To be more intentional about planning rest into your schedule, it helps to understand that there are a few common barriers to rest. They include:
- Busyness—leaders are high-producing people and tend to make too many commitments
- Connectivity—the 24-hour access to information on a global scale and 24-hour accessibility via cell phones makes it difficult to disengage
- Culture—we live in a time and place that values “do more” and “work harder” attitudes
- Personality—some leaders are wired for activity and need to learn the value of rest and renewal
Each of these makes it harder to rest. They get in the way of truly letting go of work for a day or for a week. You might have other barriers to rest in your life. (I’d like to know more about them! Please add your comments below.) Overcoming these barriers is critical to your long-term effectiveness, both personally and professionally.
I close with this suggestion to help you develop the habit of regular rest and renewal. Start small. Start with the computer. Ideally, do not turn your computer on one day a week. It doesn’t really matter which day; just do what makes sense for you. So much of our work is associated with the computer, and it is also easy to NOT turn on the computer that this is a good first step. After you’ve weaned yourself off the computer one day a week, do the same with your phone. Do not answer business email and text messages that same day each week. And then grow from there.
I would like to know about your own struggles with rest and renewal. What gets in the way? I would also like to know what helps you rest. What helps you? Finally, I would really like to hear from those who aren’t buying my argument. What have you got against taking some time off?