How to Take a Day Off


I'm a workaholic. If you've read any of my writing before, you probably know that.  But for some reason, I can't seem to remember that little fact.

You'd think I would have learned my lesson by now, but no.  Left to my own devices, I tend to just keep working.  Twenty or thirty days in a row--I get tired, I get cranky, but I don't stop.  It doesn't even occur to me to stop, honestly. 

Which means, I burn out on a pretty regular basis.

I have found one thing that helps: taking a day off.  It's simple, straightforward, and effective.  

But as a workaholic, one does not simply take a day off.  Trust me, I've tried.  It usually turns into me curled up in a ball of guilt, compulsively checking my email on my phone.  Or doing "just a couple" of "totally reasonable" chores. . . for the rest of the day.  

Or worse, I manage to stop myself from being productive by wasting all of my time on the internet.  By the end of the day, I feel terrible.  I have an internet hangover from staring at a screen for so long, and I didn't even enjoy myself.  

Recently, I've been forcing myself to schedule days off anyway.  I figured the more time I spend doing something I'm really bad at, the more I'll improve.  And I have--a little.  I've at least learned a few tricks to make days off more relaxing.  And that in turn makes me more productive when I get back to work.  

I still have a long way to go, but here's what I've picked up so far.  Hopefully it'll help someone else avoid burnout or an internet hangover of their own.

Schedule a day off before you crash.  Trust me: limping through a workday is nobody's idea of a good time.  It's not fun and it's not productive.  And if you don't pick a time to relax, your body will eventually pick one for you, and you probably won't like it. Take the time off before you need it.  Plus you'll be more productive when you start up again, and you'll need less time to recover.  I like to put a day off in my calendar every week or two.

Control your sleep schedule for both morning and night.  Make sure you can sleep in during the morning--if you have to be up at a specific time, that's a pretty good indicator you're not actually taking a day off.  The reverse is true as well: if you have to go to bed at a certain time to get up early the next morning, your whole day will feel constrained.  

No scheduled obligations.  At all.  Nope.  Nada.  Just like an enforced wakeup or bedtime, having anything on the calendar will bisect your day.  You'll have to be at a specific place at a specific time, and probably with pants on.  And once you have to do something, you can't do what you want to do in the moment.  This doesn't mean you can't spend time on your day off with friends or family.  It just means to make sure that you don't have to meet them at an exact time.  Keep it casual.  

Wear the right clothes.  A couple of my favorite options are flannel pjs, and no pants.  Really, wear anything you find comfy and will make you think twice about putting on real clothes and going outside.

Fuck cooking.  If you ever order takeout, today is the day to do it.  When I start cooking, I start cleaning.  And if I clean, I start thinking about all of the chores around the house that I'm behind on.  And trust me, there's a lot of them--along with being a workaholic, I'm also a slob.  So I know that if I start cooking, I'm going to either feel guilty for the rest of the day, or spend the day working around the house.  Cooking may not be a problem for you, and that's fine.  But make sure you know your own triggers and avoid them.  And really, what feels more decadent than having somebody else drive food to your house?

All of these suggestions create a space to relax in.  Once you're there, you need to really get in and enjoy it, and the way to do this will probably be very personal.  I'll share some of what works for me.  

I like to start out the day with a cup of tea and some type of consumptive media.  I curl up in my favorite reading spot with a good sci fi book, or watch a few episodes of a bad soap.  Preferably, I indulge in both.  But I always do this early in the day and limit myself to a few hours.  The limited time helps me avoid the dreaded screen hangover,  And watching or reading early keeps it from being the last thing I do before bed, so I don't get depressed about wasting my day--or get lured into reading "just one more" chapter before I fall asleep.

Then, I take a nap.  Or lounge around in bed.  Or build a blanket fort and then nap in that.  I make sure that my body is well-rested, and not just my mind.

But most importantly, I do something I'm good at, but isn't work or a goal.  For me, this usually means playing the piano.  It's surprisingly recharging to do something you enjoy and are skilled at, without any pressure from deadlines or expectations.  Piano has become my secret day-off weapon.

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To my fellow workaholics, I can't stress enough how great it is to take a day off.  Seriously, it's like having a super power.  After just one day, I can come back at 100%, ready to tackle the next challenge.   And--don't tell anybody--I've even started enjoying relaxing on occasion for its own sake.