The Importance of Taking Time Off

I was talking to a friend about how I don’t have any big plans for my life right now. It seems scandalous. It also feels like the next step as I internalize the values that are so important to me. I believe in soul-centered living – listening to what is deepest within ourselves and living in alignment with those desires. I also know that learning to listen to ourselves in a culture that encourages us to achieve and accumulate doesn’t happen without being intentional. We need to detach so we can hear ourselves.

My productivity plummets every summer. I am self-employed and that means I have the freedom to procrastinate. Nothing much happens in my business. Fortunately, I’ve mastered the appearance of being productive. It’s easy enough. We conflate busy and productivity, so posting pictures on IG of the things I am doing, sending out a newsletter with updates, etc. easily gives people the idea that I’m working. Meanwhile, I’m reading on the deck and feeling like I should be doing something else.

Not this July! I’m taking the entire month off from everything. I won’t be sending out a newsletter or meeting any deadlines. I’m practicing being present in my life; however, I still feel like I need to justify taking time off. I feel a need to apologize and admit I have the privilege of taking time off. The truth is I am not independently wealthy and I am making a financial trade-off by not working full time in the corporate world.

I decided to build my life around the way I wanted to live. I knew that would probably mean that we lived more simply, didn’t travel as much and didn’t redecorate to keep up with the latest home decor trends. I also knew that it meant most mornings I would wake up without the intrusion of an alarm clock. I would have the ability to set my own schedule. In the summer that means I’m up at 5:30 am with the sunrise. In the winter I get up closer to 7:30. My body clock naturally adjusts seasonally. I can live attuned to my body and soul but I still feel guilty if I’m not at my desk every day. That work ethic runs deep!

I recently heard about a new trend among twenty-somethings in China. It’s referred to as ‘laying flat’ and it began as a response to Neijuan – a term used to describe the hyper-competitive lifestyle in China where life is likened to a zero-sum game. Chinese youth have been part of a culture where working 12 hours a day, six days a week is the norm. They’ve witnessed colleagues dying at their desks from exhaustion. They want to live differently.

We have our version of this competitiveness. It’s focused on doing rather than being. We praise the ‘full life.’ We champion cramming in as much in as possible and documenting it on social media. When we couldn’t go out, we got busy remaking our homes.

After eighteen months of socially distancing there is an urgency creeping back in to start packing our schedules again. We can easily swing back into the overwhelmed, overly busy, productive-looking lives we were living in 2019. I think many of us will fill our schedules and it will be fun for a while, but we’ll quickly realize that we are missing the time we had to just be during the pandemic. That is how learning happens. We try to return to who we were and then realize we are no longer that person.

Taking time off may feel weird after months of being at home. These past months haven’t been restful or relaxing even though you may not have been as busy. We’ve been living with uncertainty, anxiety and fear; trying to keep busy. In the rush to do all the things again, be gentle. Take some time for yourself. I’m eager to have time to do nothing. I’ll practice ‘laying flat.’ It will be scandalous!

Sandy Reynolds
Sandy Reynolds is a writer, speaker and the co-host of "Reframe Your Life" - a podcast devoted to digging into the art of memoir and story. You can find out more about Sandy on her website or Instagram.

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