Why you shouldn’t feel guilty about your holidays

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Do you suffer from holiday guilt? Not only is this unnecessary, it’s also a really bad idea. With inadequate breaks, you’ll see your productivity decline and your writing will worsen….

Do you postpone holidays? Or feel guilty about taking time off?

The purpose of my column today is to persuade you that holidays are okay — even a good idea — for everyone, but especially for writers.

Let me begin with this fact: Did you know that more than 40 percent of Americans report working 50 or more hours each week?

But here’s the deal: shorter-working-hour cultures — such as Germany —  are more productive, and have stronger economies. This is because after about 40 hours of work a week, human productivity tends to drop off. Consider the implications of exhaustion, substance abuse, heart disease, and plain old human error. In fact, France recently passed a “right to disconnect” piece of legislation that prevents your boss from contacting you on weekends — or after 5 or 6 pm — unless it’s an emergency.

Productivity researcher Chris Bailey tested the concept of long hours in 2014 by experimenting with working 90-hour weeks for a month. His conclusion? “Working long hours pushes you to procrastinate more, work less efficiently, and causes you to get less done, usually without you realizing it.”

My clients sometimes seem to want 90-hour weeks, too. Whenever I sign up new participants for my Get It Done program (the latest group started July 1; the next one begins Oct. 1) many are astonishingly eager to log lots of hours. Some dislike my instruction to take off two consecutive days each week. Others resist my exhortation to make time for holidays.

But creative work is exhausting. It’s not physically exhausting, like moving bricks, but it uses brain synapses which require energy. And — guess what? — the fuel for your creativity is your own social, arts and exercise time. Do you spend enough time with your friends? Listen to enough music? View enough art? Go for enough walks? Stroll along the beach or in the forest? These are not niceties or optional tasks. They are like gasoline for a car or milk for a baby. They are what you need in order to write. But how will you do any of them if all your time is scheduled for work?

A new book — Peak Performance  — by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness, suggests that the best way to become a top performer, in whatever endeavour, is to take plenty of time off. Growth, they say, is a result of effort + rest. And the rest component is just as important as the effortful one. As a coach of top performance runners, Magness reminds us that researchers have found that hormones work to repair our bodies when we sleep. Without the sleep, these repairs don’t occur.

But in addition to sleep, we also need rest. And rest isn’t just watching TV or scrolling through our Facebook or Twitter feeds. Those mindless activities, which we puzzlingly see as “relaxing,” instead suck up our time and give us precious little in return. Instead of wasting hours on a screen, we’d be better doing more meaningful activities such as visiting with friends or going for a walk or reading a book.

Now, I have a confession to make. At the end of June, I spent a week volunteering full time. I was helping to lead a debate camp for students at my local high school. It ran from 9 am to 4 pm each day and I was responsible for arranging all the food and helping with the judging. I also had some out-of-town friends (thanks, Brian and Patricia!) assisting with the camp staying at my house, so most of my evenings weren’t free either.

For reasons that elude me now, I decided to get up at 5:30 each morning so I could spend 30 minutes on my book (working title: Your Crappy First Draft) which is now in its final editing phase. Because that didn’t give me enough time, I woke up at 5 am on the second day to start editing.

Can you see where this is going? I was exhausted and short tempered. My book had 30 minutes of effort each day but I was becoming unglued. Fortunately, I came to my senses and stopped working on the book for the remaining three days of the camp.

Did the world end? No. Did my book suffer? I don’t think so. It might take me three extra days to finish the editing, but who cares? In fact, I think my book benefited by not being edited by someone who was stressed and tense.

Take your holidays. Take your weekends. Use those breaks to relax and regroup. You’ll be a much more effective writer when you return.


My video podcast last week suggested how a writer might find the ending for her novel. See it (or the transcript) here and consider subscribing. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.

How do you defend your own holiday time? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by July 31/17, will be put in a draw for a copy of Business Writing and Communication by Kenneth W. Davis. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here** to learn how to post as a guest.


Posted July 11th, 2017 in Power Writing

  • Lisa and Bruce Miller – Pond

    Your recommendations are so important to hear and put into practice. I am going to pass this blog on to my son who is an engineer, but I know he will say, “but mom, my boss wants me to get things done by a deadline that means I have to work late many evenings, and others are working late in the office too.” Do you have any suggestions for a junior employee when the zeitgeist of the office or the profession is long hours and crazy deadlines?

    • That’s a really hard question. It’s true that at a certain stage in one’s career (esp. the beginning) one doesn’t have many choices. The best advice I can give for you son is to make sure he takes plenty of breaks. For example, he should NOT eat lunch (or dinner) at his desk, even if he feels it will save him time. It won’t! And when he gets home he should try to get some exercise instead of vegging out in front of the TV or Facebook. In the longer term, he can decide whether he wants to work in that sort of environment. But in the shorter term, he should concentrate on the simple steps that will help safeguard his wellbeing.

  • Jagadish Kumar

    Yes yes yes. I loved that growth = effort + rest. We should be broad enough to give and receive not only from others but also from ourselves.

    • Well put! Sometimes it’s hard for us to accept those “gifts” from ourselves, isn’t it?

  • Cathy

    Creative work is exhausting! After completing my thesis, I have had a terrible time reacquainting my creative brain with my writing habit after such a marathon of dissertation writing. I have taken a long vacation from the intense thinking work but when I get back to it I will take the breaks You wisely recommend, Daphne. Paced writing is key to long term success. I know that, now to act on your wisdom!

    • Cathy, you are undoubtedly suffering from burnout after finishing your thesis. Be sure to give yourself a generous break so you can decompress before you move on to the demands of other creative work. And when you DO get back to it, be sure to build in plenty of breaks and rewards!!

  • Alexey Mitrofanov

    Just to have fun:
    To make your best please have a rest!
    Please make your best to have a rest!
    To have a rest please get up steam!
    Your mind then may become clean!