When I finish work on a Friday afternoon or evening, my mind is excited by the prospect of an entire weekend of possibility. I think about how much progress I'll be able to make on my personal projects and still get time to watch all those films and shows I've been adding to my list. But then by Saturday evening I realise that an entire day has gone past with little to show for it; certainly not the extent of progress I had anticipated.
Why is this? Am I being lazy, or do I overestimate what I can actually achieve at the same time as underestimating the need for rest?
My job encourages me to be sedentary – I have to prompt myself to get up and walk around to get any physical exercise. And although there are aspects of my work that are noticeably difficult and require a lot of active problem solving, these days my time could be completely spent writing emails or talking to people about their own work instead. On the face of it, it is hard to describe my job as exhausting.
I do not want to pretend that my job is physically demanding. At the same time, a full day spent working through my list of tasks will leave me feeling tired, and by the time I go to bed I am usually well and truly ready to sleep. I think that, over the course of a week, this fatigue builds up to the point that the weekend needs to include a large amount of rest.
I also run. Given the pandemic, working from home and the other mental challenges of this year, I now run almost every day. The one certain exception to this is Saturday. So, having a rest from physical activity is guaranteed, and I think that I unconsciously also need and take a mental rest on a Saturday too.
I haven't yet fully accepted the idea that Saturday is best spent totally resting. As such, I expect more than I achieve, and that can lead to disappointment and frustration at feeling lazy. The positive side to this, however, is that Sundays, whether as a response to my disappointment or because of the benefits achieved by resting on Saturdays, are the days that I can accomplish some of my goals.
Looking over a longer period of time I see something similar with my response to taking time off: I feel exhausted and lazy for the duration.
It's not really true that I am lazy during these inadvertent rest days. On Saturdays I find myself doing the more mindless chores that need doing. I also read magazines, books and online articles that have stacked up over the week. Finally, I also find great joy in doing jigsaw puzzles.
On other days and weeks off work I tend to exercise less and sleep more, but I also spend time with my family. This can be both mentally and physically tiring (especially when my niece and nephew are around), but in a very different way to my working life. The jigsaw puzzles and reading also feature heavily during time off.
The more I think about the way I actually live, compared to my aspirations of what is possible and my perceived shortcomings, the more I start to appreciate the necessity of rest. Rather than thinking of it as an absence of doing something more valuable, rest itself is the valuable activity.
As we near the end of this difficult and traumatic year, I have been reflecting on how fortunate I have been in so many ways:
- I stayed healthy, as have my family and friends
- I discovered the positive side of working from home
- My employer has shown that the company can succeed by trusting its employees and has provided clear guidance about the way we should work (in many ways it has provided vital leadership in the absence of a competent government)
- My workload was manageable enough that I had free time in the evenings and at weekends without having to worry
- I was able to have time off and visit my family periodically
Now that I have started to realise the value of rest, and given that I have the luxury to do so, it's something I want to embrace. I need to make the most of my rest so that I can effectively manage my work and home life in a way that doesn't compromise the support I give to colleagues, family and friends, the service I deliver to my customers, and the quality of my own physical and mental wellbeing.
I hope that if you are able to do so, you can also take the time to let yourself rest and know that you deserve it.
I'm publishing this as part of 100 Days to Offload. You can join in yourself by visiting https://100daystooffload.com.