God made us to work, but he also designed us to rest. That first part I do pretty well . . . but that second part? To be honest, for me it's a challenge. What about you? How are you at taking a break? And do we even need breaks?
Yes! We do. We most definitely do.
The (real) rest we need
Breaks from work not only help us maintain our health, sanity, and relationships, but they make us better at our jobs. Furthermore, God ordained rest. One of the first things we learn in the Bible about God is that he worked, then rested (Genesis 2:1–3). In the same way, God made our bodies to require sleep and our souls to require quiet reflection.
I'm talking real time off here, ladies. There's no such thing as a "working vacation"—that's just work, in a different location!
If you have limited time off like me, you really need to make it count. But it's not always as simple as marking your calendar and setting your "out of office" automated e-mail reply (although those things do help). You can't control everything and there's always a chance that a true work "emergency" could crop up while you're on vacation that necessitates your attention. That said, not every work problem is an emergency—not even the urgent ones. Not every work problem needs your attention. You need to be able to distinguish between the two, and so do the people on your team.
4 Tips for taking a break
You can set yourself up for successful rest if you choose your time wisely, lay the proper groundwork, communicate your intentions clearly, and set personal boundaries on your use of free time. This year I actually managed to take a real, life-breathing break from work to be with my family in Oregon. Here's how I managed it:
1. Be wise about timing. I picked a time when I knew that I had no board meetings or speaking engagements. I also made sure there were no new major projects launching at Cassidy Turley or 4word. I blocked the time out well in advance and made sure to protect this time while the rest of my calendar filled up.
2. Lay the groundwork. About two weeks before I took off, I e-mailed the entire 4word team, letting everyone know the dates that I would be taking off and providing a deadline (a few days before I left) for the team to send me anything that needed my attention or approval before I left.
3. Communicate specifics. I talked to my assistant to let her know that I would be unavailable, but I asked her to call me if there was an emergency. She and I have worked together long enough that I trust her judgment when it comes to what is an emergency and what isn't. I also let my teams know how often I would be checking e-mail (about once a day, sometimes not at all). This is a helpful step that I advise taking because it helps you make it clear to people just how disconnected from work you plan to be.
If you anticipate issues coming up that might need an arbiter, make sure there's a clear chain of command in place. This is true even if you're not managing a team. If you're working closely with someone on a particular project, get their permission to let people know that they will be available to answer questions while you're away. This will help prevent a run-of-the-mill problem from turning into a "work emergency" that has your phone ringing in the middle of a family photo opp.
4. Set and abide by healthy boundaries. All of this preparation will be completely worthless unless you personally commit to step away from work. Sometimes this one is a real challenge for me. This year I set specific boundaries for myself: I only turned on my computer at night or very early mornings before my run, even though I have a smart card that enables me to connect pretty much anywhere. I only made calls or looked at e-mails on my Blackberry when my family was busy with something else. Even when we're all in the car together, we're usually talking or playing games if everyone is awake so I protected that time. I resolved to spend the majority of any down time thinking and praying. A quiet car ride when everyone is sleeping is perfect for this.
You need true rest and rejuvenation, not a working pseudo-vacation. So be intentional about making your next break from work a real break. You'll be happier and healthier for it and your family (and likely your coworkers) will thank you.