Give it a Break! Why Taking Your Time Off Matters


A few weeks ago, I went on vacation with my family.  Or, perhaps I should say, I took some time off, because it certainly didn’t feel like a vacation at the start of it. 

While I scheduled the time months ago when schedules looked relatively clear, new obligations and responsibilities invaded my calendar like weeds in the time in between, requiring negotiation and delegation just to be able to feel like I could leave.  Then, the morning we were to leave on our trip, three new important requests came in, as if people knew I was going to be unavailable for a week.  

Even though there were systems and processes in place to handle the new work, I was at least 3 days into our week long trip before I felt like I could relax enough to start to relax.  It honestly took strength, determination and focus to turn off my phone for the remaining time I had on my trip. 

Can you relate?

Why we need breaks

Too often I hear my coaching clients yearning to take a break, to rejuvenate from their important work. They know it’s “good” for them, but they tell themselves it’s selfish, not “right”, or that they can’t because others or their work will suffer without their constant tending.   

But just like the flight attendants say when we travel by plane, we have to put on our oxygen masks first before assisting others.  In order to serve others, in the important work that you do, time off, self-care, rest and renewal have to become non-negotiable. Rather than being selfish, taking time for our own rest and renewal actually means we can do more, stretch further, and move faster on the far side. 

Whether you’ve been able to take a summer vacation or not this year, here are some simple ways to build in rest and renewal in your day and week:

1) Do it now.  Sure, we’d all love to go to Hawaii (or your version of paradise) to chill out for two weeks.  But instead of waiting for “one day”, do it now.  It can be small:  one coaching client of mine swivels her chair around and takes a 1 minute “window break” a few times a day.

2) Intentionally plan some breaks in your day.  Set a chime on your computer or phone to sound on the hour.  When you hear the tone, bring your awareness back to yourself.  Breathe, get up, stretch, walk around, get outside if you can.  

3) Take your breaks randomly:  take a intentional deep inhale and exhale before picking up any ringing phone.   

4) Give yourself a bedtime: turn off screens at least an hour before you go to bed, and create a calming bedtime ritual for yourself.  Our brains register electronic screens like a miniature sun, so create a “sunset” for these devices so you can rest more deeply at night. 

5)  Create your own mini-vacation once a week:  Block off time in your weekly schedule for fun – even an hour will do.  Make a list of things you love to do in your city or town, but somehow never find time to do: take a stay-cation and be a tourist in your own town.  Find a spot in nature for a hike.  Seek out a quiet contemplative indoor space such as a museum or architectural gem in your area – take a journal and unwind. 

Notice what shifts in you, and in your impact in your work when you do allow yourself to take a break.

In the comments below, I’d love to hear your thoughts:

– How do you build in breaks in your day and week?

– How does taking time for rest and renewal help you have a greater impact?

Hanna Cooper is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Francesca El-Attrash

Hanna, love this post! So important for the many workaholics in this country! I love to take the periodical break and take a walk outside, even if it’s just five minutes. If I’m eating lunch in the office, I look to put on a fun youtube video or read some articles just to get my mind off work for that 20-30 minutes.

Christina Smith

Hi Hanna! Another great article – thanks for writing this! I am not always great at taking breaks, so thanks for this reminder and great tips. I was able to take a week-long vacation this summer, and, like you, after a few days, I was finally able to unwind from work thoughts and really enjoy myself. I had something personal come up yesterday, in fact, and finally (after talking with my very kind boss), I allowed myself the freedom to take part of the day off and that made a huge difference in my outlook. Sometimes it’s hard to take time for yourself, but it is so important! 1) Some of the ways I build in breaks during my week are to try to at least do lunch 1/week with a friend or colleague, whether it’s in our break room or at a restaurant. i also try to get up and walk around at least twice during the workday (inside or outside). I also like to drink hot chamomile tea with honey and read a fun book in the evening to help stop the million thoughts in my mind and to relax. This ritual has really helped bring a sense of calm and helped me get the rest I need to be a great worker the next day! Thanks again for a great post!

Hanna Cooper

Thanks for that feedback, Christina, and for your excellent additional suggestions! It can be hard to take a break, but the benefits really pay off!


Love this article! So many employees think their job can’t be done if they aren’t there, but it will get done! Relaxation is so important in today’s world with most days feeling like it is spinning out of control. I encourage my employees to take their time off to rejuvenate so they will be able to serve and assist our clients better. If they are stressed, it shows, and therefore makes our clients even more stressed when they themselves are already in a stressful situation.

Hanna Cooper

Melissa, so great that you know this for yourself, and encourage it in your employees as well! Stress can snowball or spread like a virus, so it’s great to know what to do to manage it. Your staff are lucky to have you!


I guess I am not even in the same stress league with some of you. I can’t do it every week, but I go outside and take a short walk with a goal of at least 3 times a week. I also ALWAYS eat lunch away from my desk — normally in the break room. If something is dire, everyone knows where to find me. And I always schedule a big vacation in the year. Maybe I’m a bit senior and have too much vacation time, but I try to get a 2 or 3 week vacation in every year. My favorite is to get on a cruise ship — just because no one will call or email me on the ship. Learning to delegate responsibility is a part of leadership. Forcing subordinates to make critical decisions without you is a part of their growth too. Too many people don’t take breaks because they completely and wrongly believe that things will fall apart without them. Nope, sorry. None of us are that important.

Brenda Dennis

I’m with Darrell as far as taking vacations a couple times a year. I do the same thing, and I almost always try to go somewhere for some culture shock. When I am trying to find my way around a strange city or trying to work out a currency conversion, whatever is going on at work is the last thing on my mind. My downfall is not stopping during the day. Even knowing your mind works much better when it has a break once in a while, with big workloads, it always feels like a break is not a priority.

Hanna Cooper

Great points, Darrell and Brenda – and congrats on modeling vacation taking! Thanks to you both for taking the time to comment and share your experiences.