How to Take a Day Off So It Really Counts

How to Take a Day Off So It Really Counts
20th Anniversary Issue


Recently, a friend complained to me. “I was going to play hooky yesterday and instead, I just wasted the day doing nothing. It wasn’t very satisfying.”

My friend, who is self-employed, did indeed stay home and rest. In my mind, at least, he appeared to have taken the day off. So what was I missing?

Instead, of doing something specific with his time off, my friend did what we all do. He web surfed, sat in a sunny window pondering life and ate snacks. Downtime actually happened – enough that his brain was indeed given a good rest.

What was missing was the intention behind his time off. He hadn’t consciously given himself permission to relax all day. Instead, he stayed stuck in that slightly guilty, in-between place of wanting to take time off, and even needing to. Yet, somehow he couldn’t make it happen.

My friend was unable to give himself a bona fide hooky day.

Perhaps you relate.

There is nothing more restorative than giving yourself a day off, according to neuroscientist Dr. Tara Swart. She notes that in order to be fully productive, you need blood flowing freely through all parts of the brain. When you’re stressed out or feel you’ve been treated unfairly, that blood flow doesn’t circulate as well in the higher functioning regions of the brain.

“You’re unlikely to collaborate or be really productive,” she says. “It’s better to take some time out or sort the problem out and then come back to work. You’re more likely to think creatively and take a healthy amount of risk.”

Indeed, Dr. Swart says that ‘presenteeism’ – people showing up for work even when they’re sick or exhausted  – costs corporations more than twice as much as absenteeism.

In other words, you actually can give yourself the day off, guilt-free. Perhaps even on a regular basis.

It might even be better for your workplace if you did.

I once lived in a remote town of 500 people just south of the Canadian border. Getting to the nearest ‘big’ city, Burlington, Vermont, required an hour to an hour and half of travel each way, depending on how solidly Lake Champlain was frozen. A ride on an ice-cutting ferry was often part of the equation.

It was in this isolation that I was living out my final days as a closeted lesbian married to a man. At this point, our children were in high school and college, and I was biding my time until it was clearly the right moment to leave.

Every day was an exercise in cognitive dissonance as I tried to square my ‘straight’ married lady persona with the lesbian I knew I was in my soul. In spite of the deep satisfaction of parenting our children, my life as a straight wife had begun to chafe.

By Friday every week, I simply had to flee. I used this weekly day off as a staple of my self-care, and the comfort it afforded me was amazing.

Since I was a freelance consultant, I kept my own hours. Every Friday morning without fail, I’d be on that 8AM ferry, heading towards the comforting routine of my weekly day off.

Stops included the café with the crackling fire where I hung out on social media and chatted with friends. Then I’d drop by the YMCA and swim, steam and soak for hours. Perhaps I’d get my hair cut, or go to Bikram yoga, or browse the library for a good book.

Eventually I bought groceries and gas, and then I’d head home to my family just in time for the last ferry of the day. I always returned rested, renewed, and ready to be the van-driving soccer mom once more.

The fact that this ‘hooky day’ was chosen, planned and designed to be part of my schedule was what made it possible. I felt no guilt whatsoever about it. Indeed, it felt like survival to me.

Innately, I understood I needed this critical time off to make it through the paradox that my life had become. Today that reasoning still stands, even though my world has radically changed.

Now I’m in a happy lesbian marriage, and living in the Bay area. Days off don’t happen as often mainly because my life is in balance, and I no longer need that release. If anything, the opposite is true.

It’s harder now to justify a day off because I am as content and fulfilled as I am. And yet … one could argue that intentional days off are always a good idea. For all of us.

The trick is giving ourselves the gift of that hooky day.

Yet, just like my friend, I struggle with this. Can I truly justify the time away from my desk? Is it really true that blowing off a work day will ultimately help me get more done?

Here are three reassuring facts that help you make that decision for yourself. May you find them useful.

–      German researchers have found that disengaging from work by not being there makes us more resilient in the face of stress, and more productive and engaged when we are at work.

–      The Project: Time Off study noted that those who took fewer than 10 of their vacation days per year had a 34.6% likelihood of receiving a raise or bonus … People who took more than 10 of their vacation days had a 65.4% chance of receiving a raise or bonus.

–      A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine attests to the power of green spaces. A walk in nature has been proven to lessen ‘brain fatigue’. Even sitting and studying nature outside a window can have a similar, calming effect.

Wherever you’re at with a hooky day, may I recommend you assess if it’s needed … and if it is, then take the plunge. You’ll return to work better for it, for sure.

Copyright 2020 Suzanne Falter. All Rights Reserved.

The Extremely Busy Woman's Guide to Self-Care: Do Less, Achieve More, and Live the Life You Want by Suzanne Falter

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