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It's Okay to Take a Break—Really

We're more productive by taking regular breaks and listening to our bodies.

IT'S OKAY TO TAKE A BREAKI had a long to-do list over this past Thanksgiving.

We went to my parents' house for a week, and I knew that between my parents, my brother, and my husband, I would have blocks of uninterrupted time to tend to these tasks.

That chance came on a Tuesday: my husband offered to be the Point Parent that day, giving me the whole day to get my ish done.

As it was also Motor Sports Day, the kids were out of the house for most of the day. I had a long, uninterrupted stretch to do what I needed and wanted to do.

And then I hit a wall.

As soon as I had some time to myself, my body just gave out on me. I was so tired that I could barely keep my eyes open. I was having trouble focusing. My body hurt from the exhaustion.

But, I had stuff to do. So I stayed up.

Was it productive time? No, not even in the slightest. I spent two hours reading Buzzfeed and playing around on Facebook in an effort to stay awake, thus robbing myself of both rest and progress.

That is, until I interrupted myself.

While struggling to make a decision between beef and beefcakes (or maybe it was Celebrity F*&k, Marry, Kill—I can't remember), a stray thought flitted through my head:

You're being an idiot.

(I never said it was a nice thought.)

What good was I doing myself, or anyone else, by resisting a nap?

By not taking a nap, I would continue to be unproductive, I would continue to be exhausted, and, by nature of that unproductiveness and exhaustion, I would be unsatisfied and cranky for the rest of the day.

So I took a nap.

I crawled into bed, pulled the covers up to my chin, and almost immediately fell asleep. Two hours later (so, four hours of me-time, as far as my family was concerned), I woke up groggy and disoriented, but no longer exhausted and fried.

During the rest of the week, I continued to nap and rest off and on. I went to bed early and woke up late. I reveled in the opportunity to recharge.

And guess what. I got the important stuff done.

No, I didn't get everything done. I had to prioritize.

But by allowing myself to do things slowly and to take frequent breaks, I finished the essential bits while enjoying my vacation and spending good time with my family.

How to take a break when you really need one

1. Start with permission

Allow yourself to take the break. Know that taking a break will make you more pleasant and more productive in the long run, so a brief departure to your bed is best for everyone.

2. Handle the logistics

You'll never be able to relax if you know that your four-year-old has unsupervised access to the scissors. So make sure your *really important* responsibilities are taken care of.

Ask your SO, a friend, or a neighbor to help with childcare. Order dinner in. Pass off the remainder of your work project to a subordinate or colleague.

And if you can't do any of those? Snuggle with your baby in bed, make sandwiches, and tell your boss that you'll finish the project tomorrow.

3. Prioritize

By slowing down and taking a rest, some things are going to slide. That's okay.

What do you actually, really need to get done? Make that your priority when you wake up.

Everything else can wait.

4. Get up and get back to it

This is the (usually) missing piece of the Rest-and-Relax recipe: get back to doing what you needed to do.

Naps can be a form of procrastination, and we're not in the business of ignoring our responsibilities or our desires.

So when you're rested and ready to get back to your list, get hustling!


The idea of taking a break when your to-do list is running off the page can be daunting.

It's not easy to turn your back on your so-called responsibilities and say, "Nah, I need some me-time." Or, even worse, to say, "Not gonna do it, I'm taking a nap."

We're bred to go go go go go until we collapse. (I am. Was. I'm working on it.) However, by allowing yourself a chance to recover, you're doing yourself—and everyone around you—a HUGE favor.

This post was modified on May 31, 2015.