When was the last time you took a break from your work?
I’m not talking about the break when you have to go to the bathroom, or when you’re hungry or sleepy – I’m talking about choosing to go to the park, to the beach, to the bookstore, or anywhere else you wanted to go back when you didn’t think there was anything wrong with wanting to do those things.
When was the last time you let yourself be sick, tired, or in a funk without trying to work at the same time? If you worked for someone else, they’d send you home… trying to milk some work out of you in such a state would simply be inhumane.
Guess what? Trying to milk some work out of yourself in such a state is still inhumane.
You Are Not Your Business
Entrepreneurs often forget that, at the end of the day, there is a distinction between them and their business. I think it’s worse with entrepreneurs with online business because:
Our Businesses Never Sleeps
Anyone, anywhere can walk into what counts as our “store” at any hour. Knowing this, we wonder what’s happening at all times of our waking day. “Did we get a bunch of comments?” “Did that last post get a traffic spike?” “How much of our product have we sold?” There are times for these type of questions — but 1AM when we’re trying to sleep or when we’re reading to our kids are not those times.
We’re Bound to Email
The same technology that promised freedom is actually our undoing. Email can be done anytime, but somehow we’ve screwed it up such that it’s being done all the time, but still not getting done. It becomes a task that we put off until later, but it still it still drains our focus because we know we have put it off. If we’re smart, we do our creative thing before we check email, but then that leaves email to be done at the end of the day; if we’re spinning in email circles, then we try to do whatever we do at hours we shouldn’t. Both have the same result: we’re working two shifts.
It’s Just Us
We have no marketing department. We are our customer service agents. We are the designers, writers, and financial officers. While this gives us incredible perspective and agility, it has the serious downfall that there’s only so much time in a day. Despite the fact that we can’t do it all (everyday), we know that it has to get done someday. And rather than cut back and doing what counts, we expand and try to do everything.
We Work from Home
Our couches have been taken hostage by laptop-bearing legs. We wind up in our offices when we meant to go to the bathroom. The many, many benefits from working at home come at a cost when it becomes increasingly harder to separate our home from our office. And since home=work, and we’re at home a lot, we’re at work a lot.
We Love What We Do
The most pressing reason we think we are our business is because we love what we do. We wake up in the morning to do our thing, and we’d probably do it for free if we could still put food on the table. We may not love every aspect of what we do – I mean, there’s only so much you can love processing email or balancing your books — but we do those things because it lets us do the other things we love.
Remember the different ways you used to feel throughout your workday when you went to work? How it felt to get up, get dressed, and drive there; how it felt to be there; and how it felt to go home? Those ebbs and tides of feelings embedded distinctions in us that served to keep us reminded that we were more than our work. We saw that there were times to work and there were times to do other things. That email or phone call could wait until tomorrow morning when you were on the clock – where “on the clock” meant when you were paid to do it.
Many of us have lost that, and unfortunately we’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater. No business sleeps, because businesses aren’t people. But people are what business are made from.
You Are Your Most Important Asset, but You’re Not a Robot
If you bought some equipment that very expressly said that it was only to be used for 8 hours before recharging, and that using it for more than 8 hours would both damage it and void its warranty, you’d be irresponsible for using it for 12 hours before recharging it. Yet we do this to ourselves on a daily basis.
Of course, the problem is that what makes you able to do your creative thing is you. You are not a robot — you do not have a steady, measurable source of energy that is recharged by power and maintenance. If you’re sick, you don’t have that energy. If you’re tired, you don’t have that energy. And, if you’re burnt out, it’s hard to be creative. Your creative energy and ability to produce is dependent on how well you take care of yourself physically, emotionally, socially, and mentally. Without you, there is no business or creativity.
Imagine this choice: you could either limp along for four days at a 50% capacity, or you could take the day off one day, and be at 75% capacity for the other three days. Which would you choose?
Maybe some math would help. Let’s say that you could produce 4 units of work a day at 100% capacity; a unit could be 1,000 words, a webpage, a piece of code, or whatever makes sense for your craft. 50% capacity for four days would yield 8 units of work. If you choose the latter option, you’d have 9 units of work. So you’re 1 unit ahead, which is nothing to get excited about.
That is, if you were a robot or piece of equipment. But, if you were actually able to let yourself take that day off, you may be reconnected with yourself, your loved ones, and with the things you find worth doing. You may remember why you’re doing what you’re doing. So, whereas you’d only be 1 unit ahead on the short term, the more likely story is that, after you feel better, you’ll realize that your 100% point was not your 100% point. This is because you’re…
Lying in Your Own Filth (Without Knowing It)
When you creep and grind long enough, there’s some emotional funk that builds up slowly and imperceptibly. It’s below the level of your awareness, but it’s having a huge impact on your ability to do the things you need to do.
To illustrate this point, I’ll ask one question: What refreshes you?
If your answer only contains stuff that’s related to your business or creative thing, you’re lying in your own filth. (The key word there is “only.”) If you can’t think of an answer, you’re lying in your own filth. If you haven’t thought about it on one level or nother, you’re lying in your filth.
Here’s another question or two: When was the last time you rewarded yourself or did something fun that wasn’t related to your business or creative thing?
Rewards? Fun? Blasphemy! That’s time and money you can be spending on growing your business or creating something. You don’t have time for such things. There’s email to process. EMAIL!! (said like the redheaded kid on Talledega Nights.)
Work is not its own inherent reward, despite what the Protestant Ethic tells you. Being immersed in your creative processes may be inherently rewarding, but it can’t be the sole thing that sustains you.
When you get away from your work and come back refreshed, you’ll see that your filthy 100% point is actually closer to your real 50%. When you find yourself and recharge, you can reconnect with that energy that fires you up and lets you do awesome things with less effort.
Employers offer leave days (sick or otherwise) because they know that employees are more productive (holistically) if they use leave when they need to. They may also do it because they’re humane that way, too. Do you give yourself leave days? If you don’t think you need leave days, you’re lying in your own filth.
You may not believe me that you’re lying in your own productive filth. So be it. But before you write this off, get away from your work for a while and notice how you feel when you come back to it. If I’m wrong, feel free to come back here and abuse me or to defame me on your own blog.
Make Time for Yourself
The timing of this post is intentional. Saying “make time for yourself” during the middle of the week would yield a “I’ll get to that this weekend,” and then the waves of weekly work would wash over the idea. I’m trying to hit you when you’re likely to go with it.
The interesting thing is that you both will have to make time for you to refresh, and at the same time, you won’t. The time is already there — it’s just how you’ve been using it. But to use it differently, you’ll have to intend to use it differently; otherwise, habits will kick in, and the opportunity will pass. And yet another week of work will begin.
So, commit to doing something that refreshes you this weekend. If you don’t know what that is, unplug your computer and smartphone for a morning or afternoon this weekend; I would say for a day or for the weekend, but I know that’s a bridge too far. Do something that engrosses you so (but that’s not your creative thing) so that your mind isn’t wandering and distracted by the silence.
And the next time you recognize that you’re working when you’re tired, sick, or burnt out, check out and take care of yourself. (Tweet this.) You’re working for yourself so that you can have the autonomy to do what you want; it’s time to make that idea less theoretical and more a matter of practice. And only when you practice it will you see how valuable it is.
If you want your business or creative endeavor to flourish, you have to flourish. Make it happen.
(Thanks to Naomi, Megan, and JessRS for being unwitting participants in this conversation.)
Neil Newmann says
Great reminder, thanks.
It’s easy to forget we’re humans while running an online business.
Mike Stankavich says
Charlie, thanks for this reminder. This has been a particularly difficult challenge for me as I work on building a freedom business while holding down a day job. I am gradually learning to find that that delicate balance between progress and burnout. I can’t afford to get complacent or use recovery as an excuse just because I don’t feel like facing my current challenge. But I also can’t work every waking minute. Gradually I’m learning to know myself well enough to tell the difference between avoidance and burnout. Generally if you are really honest with yourself you’ll know which is which.
The other key point to take away from this is that when you do decide to step away and take time to recover, don’t do it halfway. If you still check email or twitter every few minutes or otherwise stay partially engaged, you won’t fully let go and give yourself that chance to regroup and recover.
Writer Dad says
This has been one of the biggest hurdles for me to leap as I jump from client to client and project to project. I feel like I’m in the building phase and can’t really afford to slow down. Right now I’m Indy and there’s a boulder rolling down behind my back. I have to run fast. However, when I take the time to unplug, like I did last week during my kid’s spring break, it transforms me from a robot back into the man I most like to be.
Writer Dads last blog post..Serial and Milk: Available Darkness – Chapter 1
Sarah Marie Lacy says
The timing of this article is so ironic, that I couldn’t help but laugh when you twittered it yesterday.
I’ve finally decided to take a week off because I’m using my work to run myself into the ground, and at this point I’m so exhausted that I wake up every day with a headache. I don’t think my body could be anymore forthright, do you?
So reading this just reinforced that, no, I’m not crazy for taking a week off when I’m sick and not doing well. Thanks for that!
Sarah Marie Lacys last blog post..Happy Hour Fridays: It’s vacation time
Reginald Reglus says
Great points here. We must take time for ourselves and our families. We must remember that this a journey and not a sprint. Thanks for the reminder. I am going to go out right now and enjoy the rest of the sunshine. Another great post Charlie.
Debbie Lattuga says
Wow, we’re connected to the same source. Just spent the last 3 days doing what pleased me. Got the same message that work will be there tomorrow and sometimes, following your bliss is the best solution.
Here’s to a blissful weekend
Catherine Cantieri, Sorted says
Excellent post! I particularly like the image of a machine that’s only good for 8 hours. I’ve found that’s my limit, no matter how much I wish it weren’t. I’m bookmarking this reminder.
Catherine Cantieri, Sorteds last blog post..Electric April: Organizing your desktop
Sonia Simone says
Ow, Charlie, this one hit close. (And I have GIVEN THIS ADVICE to other people. D’oh.)
OK, I’m getting out my calendar and making time for something stupid, fun, playful and refreshing. Thanks. I really need it.
Sonia Simones last blog post..Objection Blaster #4: Why You?
K Price says
Good, timely advice. It’s hard to follow, but necessary. Another good reminder for us all. I think we tend to get so wrapped up trying to get everything done and make sure everyone is happy that taking time for ourselves causes a little bit of guilt — whether it should or not.