Why you shouldn’t feel holiday guilt

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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 has “right to disconnect” legislation that prevents bosses from contacting employees 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 next group starts July 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?

In the book — Peak Performance  — authors Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness suggest 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. Several years ago, 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 (Your Crappy First Draft) which was then 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 have taken me three extra days at the end 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.


Need some help developing a better writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. Application deadline for the program starting July 1 is this Thursday, June 23rd. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.


Have you ever been paralyzed by fear of writing? Don’t let this nasty psychological barrier make your life miserable or cost you missed income. I’ve developed a series of 18 videos (with audio and text versions) for just $95 that will help you banish the fear. Plus, you’ll get membership to an online group of others facing the same challenge. Have a look at the program here.


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 June 30/22 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To enter, please scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on July 11/17.


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