There are times when life demands a lot from us and from time to time we just need a break from certain aspects to provide breathing room for others. For this post, the concept of a "break" will mostly be focused on stepping away from an activity or activities that require effort (physical or mental). For me, this may be taking a break from work as a software engineer, taking a break from learning, or taking a break from working out. I'll be honest in saying that I'm not great at anticipating when I could benefit from a break and often I'm never able to fully "shut off" whatever I'm trying to take a break from.
I was recently lucky enough to take a break from just about everything. My wife and I took a much-needed trip together and I had the opportunity to step away from work, parenting, learning, working out, etc. This provided my wife and I an opportunity to recharge our batteries completely, while also being able to spend some great time together. For me, I think the aspect of this break that made it more beneficial than others was that I made an intentional decision to step away from my normal day-to-day completely. This meant not checking Slack or email, not thinking about my next blog post, not worrying about what I'm going to learn next, not worrying when my next run is going to be, and all the things in life that I typically enjoy but also require a lot of mental and physical energy over time. This intentionality is what I want to focus on and potentially think about how it can be applied in smaller increments to result in similar benefits.
So first, what do I mean by being "intentional" about rest? To me being intentional involves actively thinking about something before acting, versus passively letting the action happen to ourselves. For example, my wife and I could have gone on vacation and without intentionally thinking about my behavior I most likely would have continued to read Slack messages and emails from work, stay up to date on software development newsletters, check HackerNews and Twitter, and doing many of the other things that I've already mentioned. Would it still be a good vacation? Most likely, but would I have come back from vacation as rested, recharged, and ready to get back to the rigors of daily life as I did when I was intentional about truly stepping away? I don't think so.
So how can this intentionality be applied incrementally rather than having to be a "big bang" break from everything? For me, I think compartmentalizing life as much as possible can go a long way in being able to take breaks from each "compartment" separately. Compartmentalization helps with being able to completely transition from one phase of the day to the next. I work from home most days and I have an office at home. My office at home is used only for work. Once I step into the office my mind knows that it's time to focus and work. When I step out of the office it's easier for me to "take a break" from that mindset completely. It's not always perfect, but I think it helps a lot.
The last benefit of intentional rest for me was the resulting motivation to "get back to work" once the break was over. I took about ten days to rest and recharge. By the time the end of the vacation rolled around I felt reinvigorated and as motivated as I have ever been to get back to my daily activities. This feeling was a little unexpected for me. I was a little worried that I wouldn't be motivated to pick up where I left off, but it was completely the opposite.
This all goes without saying that everyone is different and what works for me may have a completely different effect on others. Although if you're feeling a little worn down or burned out, then intentional rest might be a piece of the puzzle to feeling that desire and motivation to keep going.