Taking Time Off: Unraveling the Guilt and Embracing the Value
Do We Need To Coach People To Take Time Off?
There was a long weekend this August. It just about ended - today. Surely, every corporate employee, manager, startup founder, and consultant falls into one of two buckets. Those who realized that taking one day off on the 14th of August would give them a four-day downtime, and those who didn't.
(There are niches and subcategories here, but place yourself where you will).
If you woke up yesterday to see several calls and meetings cancelled, join the club. We didn’t realize why this was happening until one employee told us, with great emphasis, “Today is the 14th of August, a Monday!”
Exploring the Guilt
Taking time off is one of the most guilt-inducing activities of the Industrial Era, and even with AI doing the jobs we never asked it to, the deep-seated emotions around time off seem to remain just the same.
We tell several stories about why we cannot take time off. There is the hero complex - “I finally get some time away from meetings, so I need to do some deep work”; or the We Are Like This Only - “Since it’s a day off, shall we have a breakfast meeting, followed by a lunch meeting?”; We also have the Startup Guilt - “If I lose this one day, when will it come back again?”
All of these reasons hide something deeper - the stories we tell ourselves about work and productivity, and how we associate our value with what we’ve been able to achieve on any given day. If you were to be challenged to spend a day doing nothing, at short notice, would you be able to do it?
The Value of Rest and Productivity
Productivity and rest share a symbiotic relationship. They aren’t just opposites; in many ways, they are inseparable. This is why we have so many new ideas after a vacation, and why so many new projects often begin on the first of January. To be productive is to do fulfilling work, and how do we do that if we don’t have the time to think about what fulfilment means to us?
A certain case of a startup founder’s exit story comes to mind when we think about stories and narratives around productivity.
After selling the company to a larger player in the space, and making what one would call a successful exit, this founder had regrets. Now, this is to be expected - acquisitions are never easy, especially for people who have seen something grow from day one. This founder was telling themselves, and their close circle, about how if it weren’t for the pandemic, they’d have stayed in the game longer. Probably true.
So we asked them the next logical question, “What would you like to do, now that you’re no longer busy running company X?”
“Oh, I joined the new team as Head of Product. I start on Monday.”
Certainly, we all have our own ways of processing big changes, but this person had not given themselves a single day off to appreciate the gravity of what had just come to pass. While not all of our lives may be eventful all the time, when was the last time we were able to acknowledge the impact that our lives were having on us?
The Impact of the Little Things
The little things are the big things - a bad meeting, a tough conversation, a milestone - and rest is one way to acknowledge their impact on us. Who stood by us when things were hard? What did it take for us to achieve our own personal milestones, and what does this teach us? How does being anxious about work feel in our mind and body? What is our intuition able to tell us about the next steps we plan to take?
We wrote about energy management a few years ago, mostly to answer the question of why some people seem to get so much done in a day. What we noticed is that these people have found a way to connect everything they do to a pretty strong core - that of processing everything that happens around them in detail.
They may not always meditate for hours, but they take just the extra minute when moving from one meeting to the next. They take five minutes before getting on stage to give themselves a pep talk. They spend time being very aware of the stories they tell themselves, and they spend time changing these stories when they are no longer helpful. And in nine cases out of ten, they do only those things which they know they want to do. Not a ‘maybe,' not an ‘if I have time,' but ‘because I want to.'
And the moment we begin to remove things that we don’t feel strongly enough about from our lives, what new stories do we become capable of living?
Remember, taking time off isn't just about days on the calendar; it's about nurturing the narratives that truly matter, the ones that shape not only our work but our lives. So go ahead, schedule that guilt-free break, and give your stories room to breathe and evolve. Your productivity might just thank you for it!