How I Learned to Stop Feeling Guilty for Taking Breaks During Work
We’re only human and we all have the same number of hours in the day
For those of us who work in the corporate world — and even those of us who don’t — we’re all too familiar with the feeling of letting out that giant sigh of relief once we’ve sent out our final email or completed our final task of the day. For those of us who are familiar with this feeling, then you know that there’s no greater joy than this.
However, we should also be very familiar with the one (or two, or three, or several) emails or tasks that we often receive outside of “appropriate” work hours. Whenever they come in, we then internally debate whether we should tackle it right away or wait until the morning.
If you’re anything like me, then you feel immediately inclined to handle it right then and there, just so that you can take one less thing off your plate for the next day.
But, this isn’t always necessarily a good thing.
Sometimes, many of us get so carried away with trying to get every single bit of work done possible to the point where we never actually stop to take a break when it’s very much needed. This is an issue that I have been adamantly acknowledging more frequently and trying to work on over the last few years.
Being fortunate enough to have been hired for a corporate job right out of college, I used to feel this legitimate sense of guilt for not responding to an email right away or not getting a task done as soon as it’s been given. I used to feel like a failure — to myself and my colleagues — for not getting something done the very minute that it was requested of me.
And so, I would push myself to the point of exhaustion trying to get everything done and please everyone around me. But, the thing that I realized was that this workhorse mentality was taking on a significant toll on my mental health and well-being, edging me onto the brink of burnout.
That’s when I made the conscious decision to invest more in myself so that I avoided burnout and could put the best efforts forward. I learned how to stop feeling guilty for taking breaks when needed. And this is how I did it, and how you can do the same.
I started flagging the most important tasks
When I started prioritizing the most important tasks that needed to be done, it gave me a better sense of what I should or shouldn’t work on right away. Then, once I handled these high-priority tasks, I knew that I could take a break before starting on any smaller, newer, less urgent matters.
Making a priority list is essential because you can better manage your day when you know what is urgent versus what’s not and what should really get done right away.
I started blocking off time in my calendar
A few years ago, my company hired an outside sales mentor to coach us into being better Salespeople. It was a great workshop overall, but the one thing I took away from it was learning how to maximize my time by proactively blocking off time on my calendar for the days and weeks ahead.
I used to think it was pointless to block off a specific time for tasks because I assumed that the day and time you actually completed them would be subject to change. While that’s true, however, visually having time blocked off on my calendar served the following purposes: a.) it reminded me to complete the task b.) I was able to record how long it took me to complete it. This process helped me better manage my time and give colleagues or clients a more accurate timeline for certain tasks.
I started taking full advantage of my lunch breaks
Back in the day, when we physically went into the office, I would often find myself either simultaneously eating lunch while working at my desk or just completely forgetting to eat all together. Either way, I was missing out on nourishing myself and taking the necessary time that was needed to recharge my brain from work.
Now, I make it a point to physically step away from my computer, sit down at a separate table to eat lunch, and fully recharge my brain before I started work again. This has done wonders for my productivity, mental health, and well-being.
I started monitoring my daily step activity
By far, one of the biggest differences I’ve noticed since adjusting to a fully-remote working environment is how many fewer steps I’m taking in the day. Going back and forth from my computer to the bathroom only generates so much physical activity.
According to Healthline.com, 10,000 steps per day is a reasonable number and having this goal in mind helped me learn how to get up and get away from my computer a bit more. If you have a smartphone, you should have the ability to monitor how many steps you take in a day, and if not, you can always invest in an alternative step counter product.
I started constantly updating my “away” statuses
Not all companies have Slack, but I imagine that most companies have some sort of non-email communication platform where you can interact with your colleagues. Since my company uses Slack, I can set personal statuses and mark when I’m away or at my laptop.
I’ve taken advantage of this feature and have found it helpful because it lets people know whether they should reach out to me, and it gives them a reason for why I might not be responding right away. It also gives me comfort in knowing that people are up-to-date on my latest whereabouts.
Doing these things has not only helped increase productivity in my day-to-day routine, but it’s also reduced a lot of the pressure I feel under when it comes to working. Being mindful of your calendar and knowing what lies ahead is what sets you up for success.
I’ve learned how to prioritize and de-prioritize the essentials, give myself time back in the day, and recognize when I needed a break. It also gave me clarity in knowing that I deserved a break.
I know that facing the day can be daunting at times — honestly, it is for most of us — but if you learn how to navigate your days better, it’ll be much less stressful and much more fulfilling.
We’re only human, and we all have the same number of hours in the day. In those hours, work does play a huge role, but it shouldn’t play the entirety of it. We do — or at least, should — have our own lives, hobbies, and passions outside of work. If we don’t, then we’re not living it right.