Why Taking A Day Off Can Transform Your Life

Entrepreneurs are passionate, driven, and hardworking folks. We love to grind. We love to go hard. “I’m building my future”, is what we all say. No more 9-5!

The problem with this attitude is that it can lead to burn out – that state where you KNOW you should be doing something productive, but you physically and/or mentally can’t.

All you can do is sleep, watch YouTube or Netflix, and deal with the guilt and shame that comes with that. You can hardly get out of bed. It’s even hard to go to social things with friends because you are so zapped of energy.

The stress behind this will kill you. Seriously.

So you keep promising yourself things will be different. “I’ll take it easier next week! I’ll take some time to myself!”, but you know it’s probably not going to happen.

You over-complicate things unnecessarily stressing yourself out even more. So, you hope the burn out guilt and shame kicks you in the ass tomorrow to get going for being so unproductive today.

But for now, you just feel like you’re wasting time as you mope and watch The Walking Dead.


How Taking A Day Off Can Transform Your Life

I’m going to discuss why taking a day off every week has helped me and many other workaholics, counter-intuitively, do better work. Here’s what I’ll be going through:

  • I’ll start by talking about you shouldn’t work continuously everyday and where this all comes from.
  • What’s the idea behind taking a day off per week.
  • I’ll get into some science and the psychology behind it all (decision fatigue and ego depletion), as to how all humans were built for cycles of energy and productively, and how you CANNOT work continuously.
  • I’ll wrap it up connecting the ideas with the science so you have proof that not only should you take time off, but YOU NEED TO.
  • By the end of reading this you should be convinced (even if your mind says you should be working CONSTANTLY on your business) that time off and a day off are both necessary.


    Who Else Feels Like They Should Be Working 13-16 Hour Days?

    Many entrepreneur gurus and acolytes promote the working 13 hours a day getting a business started thing, especially in the early years. Personally coming from an engineering background in University, I know I can do this.

    My life was spent going from class to class, then burning oil on my homework.

    But you know what? I missed out on eons of socializing, connecting with people, and growth.

    I get the whole work hard now, enjoy the fruits later thing… But I don’t see the reason why we can’t have a balance. After all, a human can only output 6 hours of productive work a day. The rest will be sub-par, or downright crappy.

    Would you like to make decisions with a brain that’s tired, that could potentially cost you thousands?


    Amount of hours working per day is an easily quantifiable metric.

    Quality of work is not. Doing the right things to really push your business forward is not.

    I’m not saying that this is an excuse to slack off and do one hour of work per day or that you shouldn’t work hard, but there needs to be a balance with friends, hobbies, and so on. These things re-charge you so that you can do BETTER work.

    We were not made to run at full on productivity all day, everyday.

    We need re-charge cycles. This applies to at the end of the work day (not doing work at night and going to the gym), during the work day (only working in 1.5 hour spurts with breaks in between), and all throughout your life (vacations).

    For a step-by-step breakdown of turning this into an entire productivity system and organizing your day to get the most done, check this out.

    Exhaustion From Too Much Work

    You after hours and hours of work. What fun! Now, do you have energy for your actual life?

    Sure, there are certain times you’re going to grind. You’re going to have to.

    For my new book, Mastery Of The Mind, I grinded out 13 hour days for a week and it was worth it because it sold far past my expectations and became a #1 bestseller… but then I took a few days off and went back to a normal work schedule.

    It’s better to work at your maximum productivity level, stop, re-charge, and then begin over again, compared to burning oil and doing crappy work.

    So how can we apply this to output better work week after week?


    How To Feel Better And Re-vitalized For Work – Take A Day Off

    While the energy cycle idea applies everyday – work to a certain point, then relax: be with friends, go to the gym, play a musical instrument, read, sleep, etc… It also applies to your entire week.

    People SEVERELY under-estimate how much a day completely off from work can do for them. If your muscles need days off from the gym to grow and strengthen, why the hell shouldn’t your brain be any different? It needs dead time as well.

    Back a few years ago during my stressful Master’s degree, a good friend of mine recommended I do this.

    Initially, I resisted. But now while being busier than ever (working on two businesses of my own along with a full-time job working with for else’s business, gym, socializing, cooking, errands, having to deal with some family issues, trying to stay healthy emotionally, etc.etc.)… I refuse to give up this day off. I’d rather get less “stuff” done.

    For one day (your choosing), you have a completely blank day.

    There are no responsibilities. No set plans. You sleep in. No work. No e-mail.

    Just laziness, relaxation, and fun.

    Think I’m pulling your leg? Check this out. Here’s my current schedule as it is (yeah I’m a bit OCD with it but it really helps me XD):

    My Organized Productive Schedule for Success

    You can see I’ve got writing, work for my blog, a company I work for, the gym all there, but Saturday… there’s nothing. Even when I look at that I just breath a sign of relief because I know I grind on all these great things during the weekdays but on Saturday… That’s time to do whatever I want.

    Alright so this all SOUNDS good and you think taking a day off is great, but again, you keep telling yourself you should and it doesn’t happen and the shame/work cycle continues.

    Let’s get into the science and psychology that will help convince you to take a day off:


    Why You Make Bad Decisions – The Science Of Decision Fatigue And Ego Depletion

    This has been an obsession of mine as of late, along with looking into outsourcing (I need to get on those virtual assistants!).

    We’ve all felt it… At the end of the day we want to stick to our diet but we’re tired and we can’t fight our brain. We crack a beer and pig out on pizza and ice cream. “I deserve it”, you say. True, you might. But why couldn’t you hold back?

    Decision fatigue, or ego depletion, refers to the phenomenon of how we only have so many “points” of making good decisions everyday.

    This is why many successful people advocate setting up habits, because then you don’t need to make decisions at all… The habits are nearly automatic for good but simple tasks (e.g., you usually don’t have to decide whether you brush your teeth or not).

    The thinking is that for the really important decisions during the day where you need your “points”, such as in business mergers, software to use, choosing employees to hire and so on…

    If you’ve used up your energy on way less meaningful decisions like what to eat for breakfast and because of that you get lazy and make rash decisions based on whom to hire… yeah, you’re going to run into issues.

    It doesn’t matter the type of decision (what type of toothpaste to buy in the store vs. whether to accept a business proposition or not), it’s making decisions in general. Decision fatigue does not discriminate.

    It’s also why many people have set rules for making decisions to make their lives easier and less stressful. For example, Tim Ferriss discusses in an article on simplifying life and decisions some things he does to make things easier. He suggests you:

  • Eat the same thing for breakfast everyday.
  • Limit your options in any one decision to 3-4 choices (e.g. at restaurants, for new hires, and so on). More options doesn’t mean you make a better decision. In fact according to Dan Ariely in Predictably Irrational, the more options we have, the more difficult it is to make a decision, and the less satisfied we are (because we always wonder “what if” about the options we didn’t choose).
  • Consider if a decision will only result in a potential loss of $100 (or whatever monetary amount you choose), you should let an assistant make the call.

    How Can A Day Off Help Me Make Better Decisions?

    You can read more about how decision fatigue works and you might be thinking “OK, this is interesting, but what’s the point? What does it have to do with taking a day off?”

    Well after a long week of hard, regimented work, hopefully where you HAVE been taking breaks when you are done for the day… you’re still going to feel exhausted.

    Having a set, strategic day where you can do whatever you want gives your body a HUGE re-set and lowers your stress. You’re giving yourself permission to not be productive, not follow through on any habits, and not do work for an entire day. Basically, here, you should give in to hedonism and be a kid and do whatever you want.

    Follow the 80-20 rule: If 6 out of 7 days (86%) a week you are doing work and working towards your goals, don’t worry about one day off.

    By giving yourself a day where you don’t need to do anything, you are strategically fighting decision fatigue for the next week and after a day off, you will feel re-charged and can get back to crushing it.

    An example of where a strategic “day off” produces better results: diets. Wonder why some diets don’t work or people have a hard time sticking to them, yet something like Ferriss’ slow carb diet seems very successful?

    One main reason is Ferriss’ inclusion of a strategic cheat day where people can eat whatever they want – Not only does their willpower get re-charged, but I can tell you from having a day where you eat pizza and ice cream…

    You get pretty amped to just get back to healthy eating (and swear you won’t eat crappy food… until the week ends again and the cycle repeats *sigh*).


    4 Other Reasons Why Taking A Day Off Can Help You

  • It injects play and fun into your life for a whole day, which gives you inspiration to work harder.
  • It allows you to catch up on lost sleep (slept debt).
  • It allows you to catch up with friends, socialize, etc., which entrepreneurs typically neglect.
  • The time off actually allows your mind to subconsciously work on new ideas you wouldn’t get if you constantly churned and burned with no breaks.

    “I Don’t Feel Like I Can Stop”

    Stop making excuses. I’m a workaholic and I do it too, all entrepreneurs do. I know how hard it is, but trust me, you will feel better because of it. If you don’t feel like you can take an entire day off, just try taking half a day and see how you feel and continuously bump it up.

    As Tim Ferriss says, work will always be there tomorrow, but your life is passing you by. It’s up to you to prioritize what’s important, because work expands to fill the available time you give it.

    Don’t just work, that’s not what makes life – Working on your passion will make you happy for sure, but so will relationships, trips, exploring new places, and travelling – even if it’s just an hour away.

    Rules: No work. Go have fun. Play. Get outside. Spend time doing something you love. No e-mail. Cutting off tech completely can be a good idea (unless you are trying to arrange when to meet up with friends).

    Laugh. Nap. No responsibilities. Make “bad” (i.e. non-productive) choices. Eat chocolate cake and ice cream. Drink some good wine.

    Your body, mind, and work will thank you when you get that next project done feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, and inspired.

    Good luck, enjoy your life, and I’ll see you when I get out of bed at… I dunno, maybe 2PM?


    Further reading:

    Most links go back to Tim Ferriss’ site. Tim has written extensively on escaping technology and work to enjoy life, and I’ve found that he is one of the best resources on the topic.

    How 1 Day Off Can Help Your Career at The Muse – Dr. Matthew Sleeth worked constantly in emergency medicine with little breaks. Learn about his book (advocating the 24/6 work week) and how he and many others started taking a full day off, feeling renewed enthusiasm for work. If you take one day off and live to 70, that means you’ve spent roughly 10 years relaxing, having fun, and being with family.

    Preventing Burnout: A Cautionary Tale at The Four Hour Work Week Blog – Charlie Hoehn, who used to be Tim Ferriss’ assistant and go-to helper for publishing The Four Hour Body, talks about his reliance on work to be thought of as “good”. Also: how he burnt out many times with associated panic attacks, uncontrollable shaking, crying, and feeling like he was about to die.

    How to Cure Anxiety – One Workaholic’s Story, Six Techniques That Work at The Four Hour Work Week Blog – Charlie talks about 6 simple things he started doing that helped alleviate his stress and anxiety. No, they weren’t meditation, yoga, or therapy (though he tried all of them). Almost everything was FREE or if not, extremely cheap.

    The Choice-Minimal Lifestyle: 6 Formulas for More Output and Less Overwhelm at The Four Hour Work Week Blog – Tim’s article on the 6 rules/guidelines he uses for decision making and greatly reducing his stress, so he can save his energy for the more important things.

    Understanding the Dangers of “Ego-Depletion” at The Four Hour Work Week Blog – Dan Ariely, Professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University, talks all about knowing ego depletion and what it can do to you. Also: some experiments that have been done to examine decision making. Surprisingly, using brain power to make a silly decision before another more important decision makes it easier for us to give in to the bad option in the important decision.

    How to be More Productive by Not Being Productive at Crew – I re-read this article every few weeks. It talks about how the best people (e.g. star athletes and musicians) only output 4.5 hours of work a day, and how humans can do a maximum of 6 hours of productive work in one day (think about THAT when you’re trying to burn for 10-12 hours).


    Also a reminder – why are you trying to be productive? What’s the real reason behind getting things done faster? Is it so you can do more work, or so that you can go live your life?

    Image credit: Guiseppe Savo (flickr.com)

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