Blog Post

The Importance of Breaks and Time Off

I’ve been working on several big projects in recent months, and after the whirlwind started settling down, I realized how important it was to take time away from the demands that can wear us down.

In “The 4-Hour Work Week,” Timothy Ferris talks about spending two months on big work-related projects and then taking one month off for intense training of some sort or travel. For most of us, that can seem a bit extreme, but I do think he has the right idea. It’s so easy to just plow through the work, never taking time off to reflect on what we’ve accomplished and rest after accomplishing something. Keeping at that pace will surely lead to frustration and burnout.

The problem is, the work never seems to be done. In my case, after re-launching one of my sites, I now have to think about building it up with promotion and content, which is another big undertaking in and of itself, so where does it end? I guess the answer is, it doesn’t. There will always be something to do: A big project to complete; a new client to sign; a big promotional push to get underway. For small business owners and entrepreneurs, the reality is, the work is never done, so we just have to force ourselves to respect our own limitations and take time to recuperate and rest.

So, how can we ensure that we get enough time away from our work before burning ourselves out? Here are a few ideas that might help.

  • Schedule time off first. A business owner I know schedules her time three months out, and the first thing she schedules is her time off. She decides three months ahead of time when she’s going to be off and schedules her work and availability around that. Really, I know that I can easily lose track of time and not remember the last time I took a vacation day. There are times when it seems that the only time I get off is when I’m sick, but if I would only schedule in my time off before scheduling anything else, it would be a lot easier to stay on track in the balance department.
  • Keep weekends Internet-free. For most of us, our businesses and work are largely web-based, and when we spend the weekends surfing the web, hanging around social networks, or even checking email, it’s hard to feel like we get a real break. When I go completely Internet-free, it’s actually a nice relief, and it’s an easy way of making sure I don’t spend an hour or two each day of my weekend replying to work-related emails or thinking about work projects.
  • Stick to a set wrap-up time. It’s easy to work “just a little longer” to the point that we work an extra ten hours a week. Julie Morgenstern has a great solution for this problem in her book “Never Check E-Mail in the Morning.” She suggests using a wrap-up alarm to remind yourself to start wrapping things up so that you leave the office at a set time each day. If you want to be out of the office by 5:30 each day, set your wrap-up alarm for 4:30 and start winding things down when it alerts you.
  • Stick to a set start time. It’s just as easy to let work start creeping in too early as it is to let it keep us working late, so have a designated start time each day. Know your own weaknesses, and if you can’t resist the temptation to respond (or even check) work-related emails early in the morning, then don’t even put yourself near the temptation. Wait to check news and blog feeds until lunch instead of first thing in the morning so that you avoid being tempted to start work too early.
  • Know when you’ve had enough. When you feel yourself getting too worn down, take a day off or at least limit your working time to the “must-dos” only. Wear yourself out completely, and you’ll end up sick, burned out, or frustrated with work. If you notice yourself snapping at others or becoming easily agitated, it might be time for a break.

As small business owners and entrepreneurs, it can be easy to allow the work to take over, leaving little room for breaks and down time, but it’s important to stay balanced. We need time to rest and recuperate so that we come back to work recharged and with a renewed energy and enthusiasm. Know your own limitations and make sure to schedule enough time to take care of yourself. Without your health and mental well-being, it will be much harder to see your business to success.

How do you make sure to get enough time away from your work to avoid burning out?

Photo by Flickr user skippyjon, licensed under CC 2.0

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Enabling the Web Work Revolution