Just Take a Day Off

There’s a lot to be said for just taking a random day off work. One day, you’ll be on your death bed, and you won’t remember all those days at the office. They’ll have blurred into one long day where the same thing happened again and again. But you *will *remember those times when you did something different, something out of the ordinary.

Routine is a funny thing. I believe that for most mere mortals it is essential for long-term productivity, consistency and focus. However, it can also be extremely oppressive, and inhibit creativity. Another danger is that routine results in a safety net, a certain set of activities where you feel comfortable. Comfort has its place in moderation, but if allowed to inhibit growth and exploration, it is toxic. The groups who allow comfort to rule them are the unambitious, the risk-averse and the weak. Comfort is another thing you won’t remember on your death bed. Taking a day off is a great way to deliberately break routine, in a way that a weekend rarely does (since weekends can often also become routine-filled). A day off is a time to do those things we always promise ourselves we’ll do “when we’ve got some free-time”…but then never do:

  • Start writing that book, or simply get round to reading a novel
  • Write an actual paper letter to a friend or family-member
  • Sort out your personal finances
  • Explore the place where you live
  • Spend quality time with a friend or family-member

It’s a weird quirk of human nature that often you never get round to these types of things on the weekend. I believe that because weekends are part of a routine, you do not feel so inclined to make an effort, the time is less “valuable” because it’s not scarce. Now, obviously some people do make the most of the weekend, but those are the types of people who would probably make *even more *of a day off.

Because of the value quirk outlined above, only taking one day off can actually result in fantastic productivity. The feeling of scarcity will kick-start your actions, creative-juices or just propel you out of bed. For this reason, I think taking a day off mid-week can be particularly useful – if you take a Monday or Friday off, then the tendency to slip into routine weekend habits is more prevalent. Fridays are particularly poor, since there’s the issue of mental and physical fatigue from the work week (this is another factor contributing to why less gets done on the weekend). How many times have you been out on a Friday night and all your friends are exhausted and ready for bed by about 8 o’clock? Sometimes the weekend can feel more like a recovery period than a recreational one.

The issue of fatigue is reduced on a day off. It’s important to get up early to make the most of the time. That said, you should strike a balance – decide on two feasible things you want to get done that day, like trying a new recipe and playing that violin you haven’t touched in years. Don’t try and cram too much in, you’re not supposed to feel stressed! It can be tempting to stay in bed all day watching decadent TV. Whilst this can be fun, in the long-term, those days are far less memorable (because they centre around comfort, rather than growth and exploration). I save that kind of behaviour for when I’m really sick.

Some days off have resulted in profound “red-pill” moments for me. Last summer I found myself walking through the financial district of London on a glorious, sunny morning. I was dressed casually and wearing flip-flops. I was feeling great, the sun was seeping into my bones, and I was on my way to the butchers (cooking is a favourite pastime of mine). All of a sudden, I turned into a main street and found myself caught in a wave of people: the lunchtime rush. I braced myself, and launched into the crowd. I felt hundreds of people in suits brushing against me, sometimes pressing into me in their impatience to get to that sandwich shop that minute faster. I could hear barked orders from people on their Blackberrys, business-speak crowded the air like smog.

No one was noticing the beautiful buildings. 50% of people were on their phones. Certainly no one was speaking to anyone…in fact no one appeared to really be *thinking. *I was the only person in a street of about a thousand people wearing flip-flops. I felt like a rock in the middle of the tide, and felt a surf of stress, artificial purpose and malaise all around me. That moment is frozen in my mind, I hope I never forget it. It was such a powerful reminder, for often I’ve found myself rushing around in similar fashion, head down, pissing my time away. I don’t consider those kinds of moments to be life, they are a weird sub-form of life, similar to those moments cattle live as they are whipped towards an arbitrary destination.

Those who work in the corporate world will be familiar with the sense of awkwardness that can accompany taking time off work. In some toxic companies, taking annual leave at certain times of the year is taboo. The classic question always asked is: “what for?” or “what are you doing?” as though you must have a definite purpose or reason to take time off from *the thing of great importance that is this company. *It’s like it’s weird to just want to do something else. This has always baffled me, as from my experience very few corporate workers really love their work, so they are behaving with this insincere “why would you not want to work” attitude…it’s unsettling andartificial.

Sometimes the reason for the question can be to gauge how seriously the company will take your holiday request – if you have flights booked, then you have a strong case. All these stupid games vary from one company to the next (I know that architecture and consultancy firms are serial offenders). My stock response has always been: “I have to take care of some very personal business that I would rather not discuss. I’ve had it booked for a long time, and I have taken care of all my responsibilities and arranged cover where possible”. If the answer is still “no”, then you have found yourself a truly grim place to work. Why are you still there?

Never feel guilty about ditching the firm. Never feel that you are “letting the team down”. There have been times in the past where I’ve had to cancel time off for that “crucial deadline” or have been made to feel awful for “leaving the team”. Invariably, nothing has ever come of it. Those deadlines never really mattered. In reality, the bankruptcy of the firm wouldn’t *really *matter. I think a good litmus test is to ask yourself the question: “will I care when I die”. If the answer is “no”, go for it. A firm will always try and get as much out of you as it can, it is in their interest. They may do this through creating a culture of responsibility and duty, which discourage time away (note, this is turbo-charged in the far-east, particularly Japan). Well…

Fuck that noise.

Go on, say it: Fuck it. It’s your right, annual leave is written into your contract. End of discussion.

Last week I took a day off so I could try getting a wet shave at the barber and work on some side-projects. When I’m lying on my death bed, I’m sure I’ll remember that first time I let a complete stranger put a razor blade to my throat.