How To Give Yourself A Break

give yourself a break
This post was previously published. It has been updated.

We live in a time when people are going all the time. Rest seems to be unobtainable, and many people sacrifice sleep in order to get more done. But you have to be able to give yourself a break.

But there is a time in your life when you need to step back and relax. Unfortunately, there are many people who can’t stop going full steam ahead, even when signs of a burnout are impending (I’m one of these).

After a rather chaotic time in my life, which involved a new job for me, my mother’s ill health, a job for my husband 3 hours away, and a whole slew of shifting responsibilities, I knew I needed to take a break…or I would end up sick. It was difficult to do. Here are the steps that I took.

Assess Your Energy Level

My energy levels were way down. One of the first casualties of the stress was exercise, followed closely by sleep and good nutrition. All three contributed to a sense of drain, as well as the events themselves.

There was a time when I would put my focus on forcing myself to rectify the exercise, sleep and nutrition issues. However, that just saps me further.

I decided this time I would assess my energy on a day-by-day (or hour-by-hour) level. There would be peaks and valleys, and I would operate accordingly.

As a side note, I also addressed the exercise, sleep and nutrition issues, but rather than piling them on as a must-do, I did the best I could. That meant some days I went for a bike ride. And some days I ate fast food. If there was a sleepless night, I went with it instead of trying to will myself to sleep. And I always tried to keep myself to a bedtime.

Cut Down On Your Tasks

My task list is perpetually full. Even on days when I am not trying to get projects done, the task list is still full of repetitive tasks like “shop for groceries”, “do laundry” and “clean bathrooms”. I keep these tasks on the list as an assurance that they will get done regularly.

However, when I am in desperate need of a break, I let things go. I ask myself for each item on my task list the following questions:

  • Will this task come around again? If the task repeats, I move to the next question.
  • If it is repetitive, how soon will it repeat? If the task is done weekly, will it kill anyone to leave it undone until the next iteration?
  • If the task doesn’t repeat, how imperative is it that it gets done this week? Some things have external deadlines that need to be honored. Other things can wait.

I was ruthless. I went through and cleared out about 75% of my task list.

Then I went through again and cleared out 50% of the remaining tasks. The rest were one or two per day, and they were things that couldn’t wait.

Give Yourself Permission to Give Yourself A Break

Here’s the thing I struggle with: I don’t feel I CAN take a break.

If you are in that situation, I want you to download the following picture, print it out, and carry it with you.

You are permitted to take a break. You are permitted to step back from time to time. You are permitted to ignore your task list. You are permitted to do what you have to do to take care of you. If you need a break, take one.