For many busy women, rest is a dreaded four-letter word. Many of us are fueled by the belief that if we fail to “stay in the game” or “hustle,” that opportunities will pass us by.
I’ve fallen prey to this mentality more times than I can count. Without fail, working tirelessly without rest leaves me burned out, frustrated, and stuck in the very same position in which I started—not thriving, progressing or growing my career in leaps and bounds as I thought I would.
What I and so many others have failed to understand is that pausing, resting, stepping back does not mean we’ve given up. It means we are committed to long-term, sustainable growth—to sharpening our minds, honing our skills, and refueling our creative energies. Rest is an indispensable tool in helping us thrive in our careers and lives, making us better, stronger, more creative, and more energized for the marathon that is a career path.
While it may be hard for the hustle-minded to accept, it is in resting that we reset. When we give sore muscles a break, they grow stronger. And anecdotally, some of the most successful professionals in the world have used rest as an irreplaceable tool in developing their minds, bodies, spirits, and relationships. This shows us that intentionally resting and stepping back from our goals will foster—not hinder—our professional growth.
Why I Needed to Burn Out Before I Could Appreciate Rest
Several months ago, a brief illness forced me to step back and intentionally hit “pause” on my work for a few days. Although I only stepped back for about one week, I was panicked. I was barely three months into running my business, and I was convinced that taking a week off would be the death knell for my new enterprise. I feared people would suddenly forget who I was, that my first few clients would think I’d gotten lazy or soft for taking a break, and that no one would ever read my writing again.
But frankly, I was sick, and I needed to rest. So, rest I did. And believe it or not, the deleterious effects I’d been fearing never came to pass. In fact, during my few days off, I witnessed good fruit in my business: a new client relationship and an exciting writing opportunity. I also used the time off to engage in positive reflection about my professional goals. In doing so, I gained a tremendous amount of clarity about how I wanted to run my business—and my life. I would not have gained this clarity, purpose, and direction if I’d been stuck on hustling and plowing through my days without taking stock of my progress and my goals.
Rest Is Essential to Growth
In a digital world that is increasingly connected, it’s so easy to fear falling into obsolescence if we fall off the radar for a moment. But this simply isn’t true.
We have a lot to learn from the science of exercise. In their book Peak Performance, authors Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness explain that athletes need rest days to allow their muscles fibers to heal and grow stronger. As Kevin Loria of Business Insider writes, “It’s only during the rest and recovery period that your body begins to heal and adapt so it’s better prepared for future stress. Then you can continue, taking on even more weight or distance. But that only works if your rest period was adequate.” This phenomenon, these authors explain, applies to anyone with a goal—not only athletes. In other words, taking breaks is the key to growth.
While it may seem obvious that exercise takes a physical toll on our bodies from which we must recover, it’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking that work stress occurs only in our minds—and that, therefore, we can just power through it. False. Long-term stress can not only impair our cognition, memory, and learning—which, by the way, means we’ll be getting diminishing returns on those extra hours of work we put in—it affects the immune system, our hormones, appetite, and more. So, athlete or not, your body needs you to rest to stay healthy and capable.
Learning to Rest Like Bill Gates
Resting does not necessarily mean we need to shut off our brains and disengage from the world around us. Rather, resting can be a very active endeavor—it simply represents an intentional departure from our routines and habits that allows us to think deeply, creatively, and strategically.
Microsoft’s Bill Gates was known to retreat into seclusion for two one-week periods each year. He dubbed these periods “think weeks,” and while he would use them to disconnect from work, he would spend time intentionally reflecting on his goals for Microsoft.
The intention of a think week is not to zone out in front of Netflix. Rather, it is to reflect intentionally on your goals to improve your life, relationships, and career. No matter your specific goals, taking a “think week” to rest, reset, and recharge can be enormously beneficial.
Taking a long sabbatical or regular think week may not be feasible for all of us. Nevertheless, there are ways we can work mini-sabbaticals into our routines, every single day.
01. Plan a workday wind up and wind down.
When you are preparing to start your work for the day, whether you work from home or in an office, take just a few moments to do something for yourself. Write in a journal, say a prayer, meditate, read an article from one of your favorite blogs, or do something creative that fuels your soul. Starting your day intentionally rather than barreling straight into email will help you craft a more thoughtful, purposeful work day. Similarly, at the end of the day, take a few moments when you close your laptop or log off your email to reflect on what you’ve accomplished and to jot down your goals for the next day. This will help you transition seamlessly from work time to personal time.
02. Take lunch.
By this, I mean actually take a break rather than working straight through lunch. Take a short walk, grab a coffee, or at the very least, stand up and stretch. Your body and mind will benefit from this healthy separation between work and leisure.
03. Disconnect on the weekends.
While you need not engage in a full digital detox every weekend, try taking some intentional time away from your phone, tablet, or laptop in favor of doing something creative, energizing, or relaxing. It might help to turn off the notifications on your email or to even temporarily delete your email app from your phone. This will help your mind rest and reset, preparing you for the week ahead.
04. Create a hard stop for Friday afternoons.
While it may not be feasible to leave your work by 5:00 p.m. sharp every day, try to set a hard stop for one day of the week: Fridays. That way, even on the most challenging weeks, you will always know you have a definitive break to anticipate.
05. Take one personal day per quarter.
Each quarter, reserve one day for personal time. You don’t necessarily have to go on vacation, and it doesn’t have to be a Friday or a Monday. Just take a day—any day—to rest, read, engage in some intentional reflection, visit a friend, or work on a creative project. In other words, host your own mini Bill Gates-style think week.
Rest does not have to be a frightening concept; it can be our key to professional and personal success. By moving intentionally into a flow of rest and work, work and rest, we can learn to strengthen and rebuild our sore muscles—mentally and physically—and unlock the key to greater creativity, innovation, and growth.
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