(Note: I wrote most of this back in March, but I am just getting around to putting on the finishing touches now. Please forgive the anachronisms.)
Last week was Spring Break at the college where I teach. So, this means five full days of tanning, naps, and sipping exotic drinks, right?
Not exactly. During the 2–3 weeks before any sort of mid-semester break, I tend to postpone non-essential tasks, thinking that I’ll have oodles of time to catch up over the break. As a result, my Spring Break to-do list is much longer than it should be.
But I’m on break, you see! In my mind this means that I deserve some time to rest. For me, that means extra reading, writing, movie-watching, and sleeping. But balancing these desires to refuel with a long to-do list is tricky. And if I don’t approach that balance with wisdom, I will arrive back to work on Monday just as tired and frustrated as before the break began.
As I have reflected on this tension, I have come to a few key strategies that make a big difference in the way that I intend to approach breaks in the future. I know that not everyone is on an academic calendar (What Spring Break?, you say), but these principles may be helpful for anyone taking time off of work for the dual purposes of rest and accomplishing tasks.
Four Keys to a Restful Break
- Plan ahead of time — During the weeks before a break, be realistic about the amount of discretionary time you will have. Think about what will help you to recharge and rest—list those activities and a reasonable amount of time for each one. Don’t feel guilty about this list; rest is important, so don’t skimp on this.
Part of planning ahead of time involves assessing those tasks you’ll need to complete too. Are there work-related leftovers that need your attention? Are there projects at home you’d like to complete? Try to map out the time you’ll need for these jobs, then add 50%. (Seriously—humans are notoriously bad at estimating the time needed to complete a task.)
- Find a restful daily rhythm — Having a planned, comfortable pattern for each day will mark your break as different and special. Your rhythm may involve elements of your normal, working days, but be intentional about this. For me, a restful daily rhythm involves a full night’s sleep (no skimping on either end), morning devotional time, time for journaling, and regular exercise (4 times/week for me). These rhythms usually don’t affect my family too much, so it is easy for me to insist upon them.
- Schedule time to work — You may want to plan all of your work time before your week of break, or you may want to do so on a day-to-day basis. But I’ve come to think that planning your work time is crucial. I used to think that I’d go through the week of break with some rest, some work, and that the balance would sort itself out. No way. I came out the other end of those breaks with work-related and rest-related regrets. Schedule your work time, and work hard!
- Schedule time to rest — This is just as important as the previous point. You may find that you’d like to devote entire days to work and entire days to rest. Other people might function better with a morning/afternoon work/rest split. But during the time you’ve set apart to rest, do it with all your might.
Looking back at this list, you might notice that it is influenced a lot by Sabbath principles. (You are taking some sort of Sabbath, right?)
I’d love to hear how you secure rest when taking a break from work. What are some practices that have been helpful for you?