Start Your Work With… Rest
I have made a mistake the other day. I was supposed to be off on Thursday. Completely off – I said to myself. One day off a week is absolute minimum. So I was not even planning to write – just wanted to check emails in the morning and then stop caring for the rest of the day. But… the email I opened contained a gig offer that I didn’t want to miss. I went online to send my proposal, just to learn that I also needed to prepare a sample translation to be able to apply. So I spent an hour or so working on the sample. Meanwhile got a notification on Facebook. Checked my blog stats. Noted some writing ideas that I really didn’t want to forget…
And so I got carried away for a couple of hours by all the small tasks that were even pleasant, but certainly kept my mind far from the relaxed state I was intending for. And then at some point I remembered it was my day off and I managed to kick myself out to go for a hike up to the lake. In the first place I felt a bit annoyed that I didn’t make “full use” of my opportunity to rest for the whole day, all the way from morning till evening. But as I was walking, I realized that it was actually not a mistake to do some work on my day off. It was rather a lesson, thanks to which I am now able to share what I am sharing.
Rest is an intrinsic part of working – and we have known that for quite a while, yet often we choose to ignore it. The classical 8-hour workday with limited working hours was established for a reason. And same goes for weekends, holidays, and lunch breaks at work – at some point people found it necessary to define resting times for themselves. I love it in France that many establishments are closed for lunch somewhere between 12h30 and 14h30. Folks here seem to consider these hours their sacred time to rest and recharge so that they may successfully continue work later on. And I know it may seem outrageous for people coming from some other working backgrounds – two hours of break, and that is included in your working day? That’s quite an extravagant use of time!
The truth is that in most professions you could afford 2 hours of rest inserted into the remaining 6 hours of work and the outcomes of your work would not suffer. In other words, 25% of your work time can easily be, and maybe even should be – rest. It is of course provided that you organize things in a certain way.
And you know what? It is easier to work more productively when you feel rested. When you know you can allow yourself a little pleasure throughout the day. When you honour yourself and take a break, just because you are feeling tired – and this is reason enough. Go for a walk when you know it will help you relax, grab a coffee with a colleague or go out to have a nice lunch. And really, you don’t need to be in France to do that. I think many places around the world serve nice lunches and coffees.
Sounds pretty reasonable, doesn’t it? You just take a break whenever you need it. But there are two main obstacles that might get in your way when you try to implement resting routine in your work.
First and foremost: You might not really be aware of what you need. Can you recognize the difference between actually needing a break and just being distracted and looking for excuses to postpone your tasks? What is the best way for you to rest – be it during a two-week long holiday or a 30-minutes break at work? In order to be able to answer these questions, you need to get in touch with how you feel first. Learn to understand yourself – is it that you didn’t get enough sleep last night and you could use a nap in the sun? Or maybe you’ve been spending last days mostly on your own and what really could recharge your batteries is going out with friends and chatting to them? It is all about knowing what will serve you best on that specific day, rather than establishing a “lunch break routine” that you repeat every day regardless of whether you feel like it or not.
Second reason why it might be difficult for you to get enough rest is that you may subconsciously think that you don’t deserve it. We are often imprinted to believe that one has to work hard in the first place and only after some specific, tangible outcomes are achieved is it that we deserve a break or holiday. If the expected results don’t appear “on time”, in the end of the workday we might choose to take the remaining work home, violating the inviolable time of rest and postponing it until we get the work done. Meanwhile, just the fact that we feel the need to rest should be enough to take a break. More often than not, we do deserve it.
It is all perfectly understandable that we function this way, especially when we take into consideration how we were brought up in this conditional world. It is quite obvious that we are just doing our best to carry out our duties. But it is time for us to understand that being gentle and giving ourselves what we need doesn’t mean we are less worthy, or weak. In fact, just the opposite is true – the more we take care of ourselves, the happier and stronger we become and the more we are able to give out to the world. And it is actually pretty easy and fun to embrace this principle and experiment with it by bringing more rest to your work. You will see the changes happening sooner than you think.
So how do you approach it and take the first step? Well, I guess you need to find your own way to give yourself permission to take a break. If it is difficult and you feel like you should keep on working rather than resting, start with very short breaks – just 5 or 10 minutes will do. I believe that even one intentional minute of rest is better that nothing. Pay attention and observe if and how your mindset changes throughout such a break. Try different things – if you are having trouble figuring out what to do during this short period of time, come up with a list of activities in advance, so that you know what your options are.
They don’t need to be extraordinary activities that are hard to perform in an office, like headstands or cold showers. My arsenal of ideas for short breaks still consists mainly of things such as going out for a walk, having a nice cup of coffee or chatting to a colleague. These are very easy and obvious activities that one can do on a break – but it is not about looking for extraordinary ideas here. What is more important is to be intentional in deciding: what is the best way for me to spend my time off right now?
If you still feel like you need either more ideas or justification that rest is important – there are plenty of cool books out there. One that I find not only helpful, but also fun to read is Stillness in Action by Caroline Purkhardt. Caroline is the owner of the Lauvitel Lodge, my current home, and in her book she speaks from the point of personal experience in finding a place of stillness in a sea of overlapping tasks, activities and to-dos. Moreover, the book gives you some very graspable and easy-to-implement practices. They can be used by virtually anyone who is looking to improve their work by adding some quality rest to it. I am hoping to write more in detail about Stillness in Action in the coming month and to explore this idea of making a stop in the midst of the most rapid action.
So if you are feeling overwhelmed or tired with work, remember: it is always a possibility to take a couple of minutes off. It just requires you allowing yourself to make this decision. Then it becomes easy – taking a deep breath and picking an activity that you really feel like doing – something that brings you pleasure. Because… isn’t rest largely about gifting yourself with the feeling of pleasure and enjoyment?