Why do I feel guilty taking breaks?
If you read this blog (*insert upside-down smiley emoji*) you know that I’ve been working remotely full-time for the past few months. Prior to this I’ve been lucky enough to always enjoy flexibility as part of my full-time jobs and have always had the opportunity to work from my home to varying degrees. As I reflect on my journey to teleworking full-time I think a lot about the similarities and differences between this and going into an office daily, a lot of which I strive to capture in this blog. One has kept creeping up in my thoughts lately: taking breaks.
We all need breaks to function. Studies show taking regular breaks in between bursts of work then, well, working again, improves creativity and productivity whereas not taking breaks can lead to stress and exhaustion.
But I’ve noticed that when I take breaks while working remotely I feel significantly more guilt about doing so then when I would take a break in an office. Which is odd because even with the same amount of time spend “breaking,” I am still being far more productive and spending more time on work than when I was going into an office.
Consider: a 30-60 minute workout during lunch actually takes me less time while working remotely since I don’t have to make myself look presentable (i.e., re-do my hair and makeup) after the workout; I can opt to stay in my gym clothes for the of the day or rinse off then put sweats right back on. I estimate I save a total of 30 – 45 minutes when I work out during lunch while working remotely but I continue to feel more guilty about it. The same goes for running an errand. When I was in an office I would have to navigate my way through a maze of elevators, then out of a 10-story parking deck before even starting the errand. Starting and returning to my house saves me about 15 minutes, but again, I feel more guilt leaving my home office for just 30 minutes. The examples go on and on but the story stays the same: breaks seem more guilt-invoking when remote.
And it’s not just me. I had lunch with a peer a few weeks back (in the office) who mentioned that since she’s been working remotely a lot she couldn’t remember the last time she stopped to eat. I had to gently remind her that short breaks–especially to refuel–are essential.
I often try to understand why I feel a certain way before, or in conjunction with, remedying it. I imagine my feelings are partially a function of the fact that I know working remotely is a luxury; it represents a company showing faith and trust in you to be responsible and productive and get your work done. I don’t want to let my manager or team down or appear not to be pulling my weight or more generally, doing my job. But, I also want and need breaks.
So how to get past this mental block? For me it’s a constant, gentle reminder to myself that while my company is affording me the luxury of working remotely, they still want my best work. And since we are not part-robots (yet) I am still a working human and require breaks.
I have begun to use a personal litmus test of asking myself, “Would I do this in an office?” and if the answer is yes I do it and if the answer is no, I don’t. So going on a short walk around the park in my neighborhood during lunch or watching a 30 minute news program while I eat mid-day: fair game. Depleting my DVR or taking a nap: keep reserved for outside the 9-5.
How do you who work remotely manage your breaks– both the actual breaks you take and telling yourself it’s okay to do so? What strategies have my fellow teleworkers–and office dwellers alike– found to be helpful?