As I finished up the work week, and slid into the weekend, my thoughts were already taken up with the things I needed to accomplish. I’d worked a full week already, at my job and my side hustle, along with spending time in my roles as spouse and parent and son. I’d even found a little time for myself, enough to squeeze in my three practices…
But there was still more to do. I had a bunch of things I wanted to accomplish over the weekend, but when Saturday was finished, I still had a bunch more to do.
Not to worry, I thought to myself, I still have a whole day left. I should be able to get plenty done.
But as Sunday dawned and I stretched and yawned my way to wakefulness, I found that my motivation for the work I had planned, and the energy to do it, had left me. I sat on the edge of the bed and tried to figure out how I was going to do what needed doing, when I was barely able to muster the energy to brush my teeth or eat breakfast.
I wasn’t sick, at least not physically. But I wasn’t feeling like myself either. I was depressed, and listless, and…
Just. Plain. Tired.
So I slipped out of bed onto the floor and did my meditation.
I felt a little better. But I still wasn’t ready to face the day’s to-do list.
And it wasn’t just a kid’s “I don’t wanna…” This was a profound dread. A dread not of any particular, onerous task, but of the thought of doing work in general. I was just too tired—too emotionally and mentally spent—to do anything about that list.
So I decided in that moment that I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t tackle the list. It would sit until tomorrow, and that would have to be fine.
I was declaring today, Sunday, a day of rest.
Those of you with backgrounds in Judaism or Christianity will undoubtedly recognize the phrasing in those words, as I did after a minute.
You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day must be a Sabbath day of complete rest, a holy day dedicated to the LORD. (Exodus 31:15, NLT)
And that was the thought that accompanied my pronouncement. Not only was I entitled to a day of rest after my weekly labors, I was required to take it! Excellent!
Rest Days Around the World
The concept of a day of rest is common in many cultural traditions, though some traditions differ on whether or not the rest day occurs weekly (one day of rest every seven or eight) or monthly (three or four days of rest together, to correspond with a particular phase of the moon. Buddhists observe Uposatha every seven or eight days. The Cherokee practice rest days during the new moon. Some Muslims practice a rest day on Fridays after jumu’ah, to celebrate the creation of Adam.
In addition, almost all countries specify a minimum period of weekly rest, typically one or two days. Most U.S. states have similar laws. The US Supreme Court indicated that rest day laws (regardless of their religious connections), have secular benefit, and are intended to promote “health, safety, recreation, and general well-being.”
So Why Is This Hard for Us?
So knowing all this, and seeing the global acknowledgement of the importance of rest from work, why is it so hard for us who are working at our own thing—freelancers, business owners, entrepreneurs, artists, and the like—to take a break from our labors, even for just one day?
May be it’s because we love what we do. Maybe it’s because “time is money.” Maybe it’s because working makes us feel useful and needed. Maybe it’s all of these things, and more.
Yet, we all know what it’s like when we’ve pushed ourselves beyond our limits, when we ignored needed rest and kept working, even when we knew better. Never mind our ability to do quality work—we know that suffers. But what about our relationships? We (and our families) know how intense and stressed and irritable we get during those times. They don’t enjoy it. They don’t even like being around us when we’re like this. We don’t even like being around ourselves…
Is this stressed, grouchy, short-tempered, exhausted person a good human being? Think of yourself in those situations—were you as loving and understanding and forgiving of others (and yourself) as you could have been? I know I have not always been my best when under the pressure of too much work. Is this the sort of person we want to be?
I think you and I both know the answer to that.
We set bedtimes for our young children because we know they need their sleep to grow and be healthy and do well in school, and that’s more important than the play time they’re trying to continue. What happens when we don’t set those bedtimes or enforce them? How do our kids fare?
They get intense and stressed and irritable… sound familiar?
Next time you’re thinking about squeezing in a little more yard work or laundry or house cleaning on Sunday, or logging on to your computer to check email in preparation for Monday morning (yes, I am guilty of this one, more often than I care to think about), stop to consider how you feel when you do that. Doesn’t your stress level immediately go up? Can’t you feel muscle spasms return to your shoulders almost instantaneously? Doesn’t your brain drop right back into work mode?
And all the relaxing of earlier in the day is gone.
Instituting a Day of Rest Each Week
So let’s apply that same discipline we give our children at bedtime to our own work-rest (and work-life) boundaries. Instead of squeezing in a little more work on every last day of the week, let’s you and I both try leaving one day a week completely free of work—to honor God, if that’s your belief. And if not, then at least to honor ourselves. It’ll help us be more relaxed… be kinder, gentler human beings…
I have written previously about the importance of listening to our natural rhythms, and building in periods of rest amid our work. Those truths still apply. Those breaks throughout the day are important.
But based on my experience this past two weeks, when I incorporated a day of complete rest into my schedule, and when I saw what I was able to accomplish the remainder of the week because of that rest, I’ve decided to institute my own Day of Rest (either Saturday or Sunday, because of my work schedule) for the remainder of the month as an experiment, to see what changes that makes both in my general well-being and in my productivity.
And perhaps you, like me, will see that the rest of your week is more productive, and you’re happier in the work, when you take that time to rest before jumping into the work again. And when you have a day of complete rest to look forward to at the end of your week’s long labors…
Planning Your Own Day of Rest
Interested in incorporating a Day of Rest into your weekly routine? Here are some suggestions on next steps:
- Designate a day to be your Day of Rest. The first, the obvious, and the most important. You must pick a day, and keep it—dare I say—sacred. No work (seriously). Just rest, and relaxation, and play. If you do church or temple (or whatever religious service), include that, too.
- Plan some cool things you’ll do on that Day of Rest. Play some video games, read that book you’ve been meaning to (the one for fun, not for work) , marathon binge on a favorite TV show, watch sports, go outside and play with your kids. Take a nap in the afternoon, preferably on the sofa in the living room (and with golf or bowling on the TV as nap-conducive background noise).
- During your day of rest, be particularly aware of when your mind starts drifting toward “I should be… (insert your most likely work task here)” and stop that thought with: “I am practicing my day of rest. I am rejuvenating myself so I can be more productive, more focused, and get better results the rest of my week. And, I’m creating health and happiness for myself and for my family.” Something like that. You know better than I do the specific triggers that will help you stay true to your rest day practice, and those that will derail you.
- Invite a friend to share a Day of Rest with you. Meet them for lunch, tell them about your plan, encourage them to join you in a rest day practice, even if you can’t be together on the actual day. At the end of the day, compare notes and see how you both did. Then, at the end of the work week, compare notes again to see how productive you both were with a rest day at your backs.
- Share in the comments. Let us know how the rest day practice worked for you, and what results you saw, both on the day itself and in the rest of the week. What was your best takeaway from the experiment?
I hope you’ll find, like I have, that incorporating a Day of Rest has made me much more productive the rest of the week, and happier in the work as well. Enjoy your day—you deserve it!
If you’d like some additional resources and encouragement to help you build practices (like the Day of Rest) that support the hero you want to see in yourself, be sure to subscribe by entering your email in the box in the sidebar to your right. You’ll get your own copy of the Be Your Own Hero manifesto, regular updates from the blog, and other subscriber-only tools and goodies.
[photo courtesy of Seabamirum (cc)]