When’s the Right Time to Stop Working?

Today is, at least in the U.S, a holiday. Personally, I’m theoretically on vacation this weekend — visiting family and attending a cousin’s graduation. I managed to smuggle along my laptop, though, and every couple of hours I’ve pulled it out and done a little bit of work.

Just for the record, this isn’t a question of being rude — at least in my family. My mother and uncle have done the same thing and my aunt has actually slipped out of the house to go see patients every day.

The Real Question

Instead, around here, we struggle with the question of when we should stop working. We’ve all gone out of our way to find professions that we truly enjoy, so doing a little extra work here and there doesn’t make us feel badly about how we’re spending our ‘vacation.’

But as much as we all seem pretty pleased with how we’re spending the week, we all have a little bit of guilt that maybe we don’t have the best sense of work/life balance — that maybe we should stop working for the whole trip. When you enjoy what you do, it can be a tough decision to take a few days or even a week away from your work.

There’s a necessity to take a break, at least sometimes. It is possible to burn out on anything, even those things that you enjoy on every level.

Identifying a Stopping Point

Creating a way to step away from your work for hours or days at a time requires preparation beyond telling people you’ll be out of the office. If you’ve gotten to the point where getting your work done is necessary and you want to spend time on it, it’s often necessary to construct artificial limitations.

  • Leave the laptop at home.
  • Drive out of range of easy internet access.
  • Make plans that aren’t conducive to pulling out the smart phone (like rock climbing).

Of course, such steps can be just as necessary with other things you enjoy. World of Warcraft comes to mind: more than once, I’ve heard stories about people not being able to pull themselves away without an artificial constraint, like unplugging the computer. The same holds true for some people with reading, working out or just about every other task you can think of.

It doesn’t have to a constraint that you’ve created, of course. Little things like spending time with family can be just as good of a way to remove yourself from your work (or your hobby). The important thing is to make sure that you do have some balance in your life, no matter how much you enjoy one particular type or work, hobby or other project.

Stepping Away

As hard as it is to take time away from something you enjoy, assuming that you want to get out of the house occasionally, it is necessary to take time away from even those things that you enjoy. You can recharge, think of new ways to do things and generally be better equipped to go back to those projects that you enjoy if you spend a little time away.

With that in mind, I’m going to put the laptop away and go spend some time with my family.

Image by Flickr user Quinnanya

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4 Responses to “ When’s the Right Time to Stop Working? ”

  1. Kat Eden says:

    Leave the laptop at home?! Soooo hard. I battles with this for 3 weeks in the lead-up to my 4-day get away last week. Pathetic, I know. The idea was to fully rest and recuperate with my daughter and my sister, and initially I swore to myself (and everyone who ‘jokingly’ asked if I’d be able to manage without it) that my Air would stay at home. But as the trip loomed closer the panic set in, and sure enough the laptop was firmly by my side on take-off. Amazingly though, I didn’t switch it on until waiting for my flight home. But it sure felt good having it nearby just in case. I think I have a problem. Especially ’cause the high I experience on furiously writing/emailing at the airport post-trip was nothing short of disturbing.

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  3. You’ve hit on something here, which is that if you like your job, you don’t feel the same need to pull away from it that our culture keeps claiming is necessary. Indeed, if you love your work, you probably draw energy from it. If your family is upset with you, then it’s probably a sign to back off a bit. But if everyone loves what they’re doing, and you still have time to do things together, there’s no harm in putting up a quick blog post or making a quick call. Work-life balance means *balancing* the two, and I really dislike the assumption that it always means we should work less, because work is a bad thing. Not if you choose the right job!

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