How Much Time Off is Enough?

how much time off is enough
Photo by Jennifer Pyle on Unsplash

“Time off” has become something of a dirty word in the US. We pretend it isn’t, but when was the last time you really took any significant time off? And I don’t mean “workcations” where you’re still available for work even if you’re not technically at work.

A lot of companies, especially those that are fully distributed, have “unlimited” vacation time policies. But what often happens is that people take less time off under these policies. (Massive props to those companies that require a minimum amount of time off each year.)

Part of the reason for that is sometimes it creates way more work to take time off due to all the preparation required. We effectively have to do all of the work we’d get done during our vacation before we leave for vacation. So it’s easier to just not take time off.

But time off is vital to our mental health, creativity, and productivity. If you never take time off, you’ll burn out (or end up with major health problems). It’s an inevitability.

So how much time off is enough? It’s going to vary for everyone, but here are my general rules of thumb:

  • At least one day per week. Taking entire weekends off used to be the norm. But more and more people either work multiple jobs or have their own businesses, so taking Saturday and Sunday off every week can be a challenge. But it’s important to take at least one full day off every week. It doesn’t matter what day it is, just take a day.
  • One long weekend every month or two. Taking a long weekend here or there to really recharge is also vital. These are often easiest to schedule around holidays, but you can take them whenever you can fit them into your schedule. I once had a boss who liked to close the office on Good Friday because he said there needed to be a holiday sometime between Presidents’ Day and Memorial Day. (Pro tip: look for bosses with that kind of attitude, who understand that time off is important to the success of the overall business.)
  • At least a week off every 6 months. Depending on how much vacation time you have, you can take off more than a week at a time. But you need to take longer breaks like this to fully recharge.

Confession time: I’m really bad at taking time off. Like, I’ve taken one real vacation since 2006. And even then I didn’t go anywhere, just took a couple of weeks off. But I do value my weekends and try to take an extra day off every month or two. When I don’t take time off, I burn out way quicker, especially if my workload is high.

I’ve had bosses in the past who were super understanding about this and some who acted like taking time off was a sign of weakness (look, just because you choose to work 80 hours per week doesn’t mean your employees should all be doing so, especially if you’re not paying them to work 80 hours per week).

And here’s the thing: The United States is one of only 7 countries in the world that doesn’t have mandatory paid time off for employees. (The other seven are: Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, and Tonga—which is working on legislation for mandatory time off.) Even more surprising: there are a ton of countries that require at least 30 working days off per year (including paid holidays), and some that require 40 or more!

Take the time off that you need to keep your creativity and productivity high. Seek out jobs and companies that understand how vital this is for happy and productive employees, and if you’re starting your own company, make sure you create a culture that embraces taking time off.

Learning to Say No

learning to say no
Photo by Daria Tumanova on Unsplash

A friend and I were talking about the Jim Carrey film Yes Man awhile back. In case you haven’t seen it, in the film Jim Carrey’s character says no to everything. But one day he decides to start saying yes to every opportunity that comes his way. And, of course, his life changes for the better.

But if you’re a woman, you’re probably used to saying yes to everything anyway. Society ingrains in us from an early age that we shouldn’t disappoint people. That we should try to make other people happy, even at the expense of our own happiness. We should be likable above all else. (Not that there aren’t men out there who hate saying no—there are plenty of them, but there don’t tend to be the same societal expectations.)

And so my friend and I joked that for women, you’d have to change the premise of the movie to the main character saying no to everything.

Imagine that: don’t want to do something? Just say no. Tired and want to stay in instead of heading out for a date? Say no. Rather not spend your entire savings attending a distant relative’s wedding? Nope, not gonna do it.

Your time is the most valuable thing you own. Once it’s gone, you can’t get it back. Once you’ve wasted it, it’s gone forever. If you spend your time making everyone else happy, what time is left to make yourself happy?

As a creative, you have to get over the idea of being likable and making everyone else happy all the time if you want to have any time for your own pursuits. You have to learn to guard your time for the things that are important to you. That are important to your goals.

Why Saying No is So Hard

As human beings, we want to make connections with other people. And saying no when someone asks something of us feels like a dangerous proposition. What if that “no” ends up breaking whatever bond may be forming? We feel embarrassed if we say no, and often guilty for disappointing the other person.

Saying no can also impact our view of ourselves. If you think of yourself as someone who never lets people down, then saying no goes against that view.

Do It Anyway

Protecting your time is vital to being creative. If you’re constantly running around making everyone else happy, you won’t be able to make yourself happy. And pro tip: if you’re unhappy, you aren’t as good at taking care of things, including people.

Block out time in your schedule for the things that help you recharge. And block out time in your schedule for your creative pursuits, whether they’re hobbies or your livelihood.

When someone then asks you to do something that infringes on that time, simply tell them no. If you absolutely must offer an excuse, you have a legitimate one: you have something else scheduled then. Treat  your time with yourself like you would any appointment and safeguard it against intrusions.