There are some great things about being self-employed and working from my home via the web. One of them is that I can give myself permission to take time off whenever I need it. The flip side of that freedom is that because I am self-employed and work alone from home, there is no one to cover for me while I take time off. If I’m not doing the work, it doesn’t get done. If I want to completely take time off, I have to work extra hard before my break to create advance content to schedule for my readers while I am “off.” Then when I come back, I have to scramble to catch up with an inbox full of email and RSS feeds at the same time I’m diving back into my regular work.
The entire process of essentially working double-time before and after my time off is so exhausting and stressful that most of the time, it completely offsets any benefit I might get from the time off itself.
But we do all need mental breaks to recharge. I can’t just not take breaks because taking them is too much work. So to cope with this challenge I’ve developed a system of being able to partially dial back my level of work activity. This gives me some of the mental feeling of taking time off without the break itself causing a stressful workload.
There are essentially two partial activity levels I can use to manage my workload while giving myself a mini mental break:
Light Day Mode. I still work on content but only on “fast and easy” items that are low effort. These are typically light reads, so this is a good mode to keep me in touch with my readers after a heavy news cycle, without wearing them out, too. I also manage feeds and emails, but leave routine site maintenance tasks for full work days.
Avalanche Prevention Mode. This is the mode I use on weekends (or any other day that I take a complete break from maintenance and producing content) to keep from having a massively full inbox awaiting me on my return to work. Essentially, it consists of just staying on top of incoming feed and email items. This work can be done from either my computer or my iPhone (s aapl), making it easy to keep up with no matter where I am or what I am doing.
These modes aren’t just helpful when I need time off for rest and relaxation. They are also useful when I am working but not on my usual schedule, such as when I am away from my home office traveling for a trade show. Some days at trade shows I am working full speed and producing content. But on days like in-transit travel days, I adjust to one of my partial activity levels to try to avoid returning from an exhausting business trip to a mess of built-up work in my office.
Breaks are necessary, but if preparing for them and recovering from them causes more stress than they alleviate, it pretty much becomes a self-defeating exercise. I find that instead of long, complete breaks from work that are hard to prepare for and recover from, that mini mental breaks work better for me.
Do you have a way of taking a partial break? How do you sneak a mental break?