Taking a break is hard


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I mentioned recently that this was a hard year. It’s almost over, and by my calculations today I have four work days (and three special events) left before I go on vacation.

I learned years ago to back-load at least a week of vacation into December in case of emergency. Most parents I know do something similar, warding against doctor’s appointments and sick days with a bank that they eat into at the end of the year only if they need it.

My last job offered the option to buy an extra week’s vacation. (They divided your total salary by 26 pay periods, then took that amount out of your check each week.) It was a nice deal; if you hadn’t used it by December 1st you had the option to either have it reimbursed to you in the form of that-will-help-with-the-holiday-bills cash or schedule it to use.

When I was in my 20s, I reimbursed more often than I scheduled. Money was an issue then, and I have no regrets.

When I was in my 30s, I scheduled every year. Burnout had become a bigger issue than cashflow, and I have no regrets.

My current job shuts down the week of Christmas, as part of our holiday hours, so even if I hadn’t back-loaded an extra week of time off I’d be facing a week of enforced downtime. I’m a little bit nervous.

Taking a break is hard. It’s hard to intentionally break a daily routine. It’s hard to walk away from work undone, projects that only need a few hours to finish, pressures that weigh on the shoulders.

And I can only imagine it’s harder if you’re a consultant or a freelancer, where all of your time, not just 8 hours, is literally time that could be spent to bring in extra money.

Taking a break is hard. It’s hard to figure out what to do when you don’t have to do anything. I’ve sworn I’m going to take the two weeks’ vacation time and just relax,  not visit with friends, not do chores or projects, not fill my time with busy work. My husband laughs and predicts I’ll have the entire house clean by the third day.

He’s probably not wrong.

But 2018 has been hard in ways that vacation hopefully will not be, and every brain needs a chance to reset.

Call it brain defragging time. Call it vacation. Call it going on holiday. Call it family time. Call it “They’re doing construction at the office so I can’t be there anyway, may as well read this book at the coffee shop” time. The benefits of taking vacation time are documented over and over and over and over.

If you have the opportunity, and you’re weighing the benefits of vacationing over taking the cash, consider this an extra nudge to take the time (if you can).

And then, don’t book the entire vacation. Seriously. Give yourself at least a few days, either at the beginning or the end, where your only plan is to sleep in, eat some tasty food when you’re hungry, relax, and go to bed early. Address your sleep debt (and do a better job of it than most places do of addressing their technical debt). Maybe take a walk, inside or outside. Spend some time with yourself. Get around to those Mindfulness exercises that both my counselor and my cousin keep harping on me about. (That might just be me.)

Whatever you choose to do, do it with the knowledge that stepping away from the daily routine to purposefully do nothing is hard, it’s a skill, and you won’t be the only one wrestling it, at least between 13 December and 2 January, when I finally get to go back to work and get re-started on that ever-present to-do list.

When hungry, eat your rice; when tired close your eyes. Fools may laugh at me, but wise men will know what I mean.

Author: Anne Gibson

anne gibson is a Senior Staff Product Designer and General Troublemaker working on design systems from outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She's an editor and writer at The Interconnected. She is also published at A List Apart and The Pastry Box, and publishes short fiction when she's not persuading the terriers to stop wrecking things. (The terriers are winning.)