I suck at relaxing. Like most Americans, I suffer from the Puritan work ethic: we must always be doing, and the doing must be productive. Thanks to my health issues, I’ve learned that I must rest some of the time, but even when I decide to take a break, I often struggle to truly relax.

I always look for ways to make my planned down-time useful. Instead of reading for fun, I read a book related to my current writing project. Why watch a silly movie, when I could soak up a lecture or a TED talk? Even play time in the studio can be made into work if I ignore what I want to be doing in that moment and instead pick up an unfinished project merely to finish it.

This kind of productive relaxation time isn’t as relaxing as the real thing. I’m still working even though I have “play time” written on the calendar. The article Reducing Your Guilt About Not Being Productive recently reminded me of why doing nothing is important.

Of the six tips included in the article, the one that resonated the most with me was number three: wasting time can be productive*. Our best ideas often come to use when we aren’t actually working, like when we are in the shower or exercising. Agatha Christie claimed she did her best thinking while washing the dishes, and I believe her. I used to plot story chapters while pushing the mower around my two acre yard in New York and was often astonished at the wonderful ideas that would come to me as I plodded along.

photo by Kurt Fristrup
photo by Kurt Fristrup

While on a camping trip, I was unable to go on a hike due to knee pain. I decided not to do anything while I waited for the others to return. Instead, I rested in a hammock and watched the clouds rolling through the sky. The clouds clumped and stretched as they drifted, changing forms quickly, reminding me of the fleeting thoughts that roll through my mind. The only real idea I got while I was lying there was that I need to spend a little more time being, a little less time doing.

After I got home from the trip, I realized that every time I thought about writing a blog post, I cringed. Even my novel, which I love dearly and am eager to revise, feels like a grand piano I need to move up three flights of stairs by myself. Despite the fact that my week was full of emergencies that kept me from writing, I felt like I was going crispy around the edges. I swear I could smell smoke. Burn out was right around the corner.

The time has come to take a break from writing, even though I adore it. Creation is draining, and while it is a good discipline to write regularly and post on my blog according to my schedule, taking a break can be a good discipline, too. I’m taking off the month of August; no blogging for four weeks. It will give me a chance to recharge my batteries, collect fresh ideas, and re-discover my enthusiasm for writing. When I took a week off from the blog this spring, I came back to the task excited and inspired, so I have great hopes for what this month off will do.

photo by Kurt Fristrup
photo by Kurt Fristrup

So, dear readers, I’ll see you in September! Right now, I need to go watch some clouds.

*Of course, it’s the argument that not doing anything is actually productive that got my attention.

Do you take breaks from your favorite activities? How do you decide when you need a break?

5 thoughts on “We Need Breaks, Even From Activities We Love”

  1. Ah… You’ve put into eloquent words what I’m sure many of us are feeling or have felt at some point trying to ‘maintain the creative flow’. Here’s hoping you have a fantastic month off of cloud watching and freed thinking!

    1. Thanks for the kind words and good wishes. Here’s hoping my Puritan side doesn’t make me crazy while I’m trying to take it easy!

      1. Someone once said to me: ‘Allow that voice which doesn’t want you to simply kick back and enjoy to have it’s say. But when it’s done, politely tell it you’ll be out of the office for an unspecified amount of time and will call when you return.’ I kind of like that advice!

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