Life and the Web are funny at times.
At any given moment I’ve got from 5 to 20 posts in some kind of draft form. Usually that form is notes with a title. I keep these around for times when I’m at a creative low and have nothing to talk or write about. This post was one of those that had been lingering in my drafts for a few weeks.
It’s all about the work/life balance and how time spent away from work can make you a better worker.
h3. Breaks Are Good?
The WSJ article talks about how we need to take breaks throughout the day. As someone who is very bad at this and who is trying to get better I was interested. I mean I do take the pauses they talk about, but I feel I need to take more breaks. You know, the kind that force you to get up and get away. Walks and such. My back needs it — but that’s another story.
As bad as I am with daily breaks, I’ve always been someone who uses his vacation (and then some, ack!) and find that I need time away from my job to be productive and maintain a high level of creativity. But I know many, many people who don’t take advantage of their vacation and I’m of the mind that they’re not doing themselves, or anyone else, a service by working so much.
In fact, I’d hazard a guess that by not taking a break or getting away from your work, you’d be on a road to dissatisfaction and disengagement. Not a good long-term proposition. In effect you may be making yourself less valuable and actually hurting your resume and reputation by working too much.
h3. Breaks (Sometimes Long Ones) Are A Must
I’d like to illustrate why breaks are important with a true story.
I’ve got a friend who is a workaholic. He works over 60 hours a week and almost never takes a vacation. When he does get away he thinks about work and often has long phone conversations with his home office about things that seem very trivial to anyone who is with him. He constantly talks about work, again mostly trivial subjects, but it’s something he can’t seem to leave behind. It’s “work, work, work” all the time with this guy.
You’d think he likes his job, right? You’d think wrong. He hates his job and recently he’s having all sorts of on-the-job problems. I’ve often told him he should see about looking elsewhere but he’s so caught up in it all it’s very hard for him to separate his life from his work anymore. It’s scares him to think of leaving his job and now that his life is his job, he doesn’t know what to do but keep going. In the meantime he’s losing touch with his friends and family and missing out on all sorts of fun. It’s really, really sad.
(You might see how some jobs would be the kind to take over your life and how it might be worth it. I’m sure there are many out there. His job isn’t one of those. Trust me on this one.)
The last time I saw him he had gone through a kind of epiphany where he realized he needed to move on (although he’s not done so yet) and could look back somewhat objectively at how he got to this point. In talking with him we came to the realization that much of what led to his current situation was the simple fact that he didn’t take any time off, or separate in any way his life from his work. He liked his job so much at the beginning he wanted to spend time there and make it great. Nothing wrong with that but this led to working more and more hours, which led to being expected to work more hours. Then to cutting vacations short to get back to work. Then to being expected to cut his vacations short. Etc.
Since no one made him take time off he never did. Now when he asks for time off he feels a bit guilty. He’s so used to being there that he can’t get away even though he knows he needs to. As well, people expect him to be there all the time and expect him to be working long hours. Any deviation from this is strange to everyone involved.
In essence what he was doing was devaluing himself through a series of compromises he made with himself and to his employers. He began to feel like he had to work all the time as he had not only conditioned himself to this, he’d conditioned his coworkers and bosses as well.
I know all to many people who are in a similar boat and don’t need to be.
There is a reason why some companies make you take breaks and use your vacation. Too much work and no play can make you dull, sure, but it can also ruin your life. I love to work and I try in inject play into my work as I am able. Even then I don’t feel that’s enough. It’s about maintaining a balance and to do that you need time off.
Next time you’re thinking about cutting a vacation short or simply letting your vacation days go unused remember that you’ve got those days for a reason. Then think about your friends and family. Hell, think about your coworkers! Mightn’t they be sick of your ugly mug? Take time off. Then come back and work hard.
I know the phrase “work hard, play hard” is kind of cheesy but it’s also kind of true. The most productive, respected and valuable people I know all know when to take a break and relax.
h3. A Final Note
I want to point out that it’s a fine line to walk–this balance between work and life. If you find yourself either working too much or working too little it’s probably a good idea to take a step back and do a re-evaluation your job. Also, do a general check of your attitude towards your work. Are you excited about it? Does it make you feel good? Has it changed?
I’ve seen in my own work how something can start great and turn sour. Working too much, or too little, and not being happy about it can be a good indicator that you might not be in a good spot.
Sometimes a change can be good and sometimes you just need to take a break to see things as they are.