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‘In the words of MIKA; Relax, take it easy…’

The messages are popping up everywhere; ‘No pain, no gain’, ‘Hustle now, relax later’, ‘No productivity, no results’.

People are convinced that in order to ‘make it’, you have to bend over backwards 24/7 and be happy to do so, slaving away with minimal reward and maximum damage to your physical and mental health.

Rest is just as, if not more, important than work.

For something so overlooked in employment and day-to-day life, rest has a profound effect on us all. Adequate rest time has been shown to delay the onset of work-related injuries, benefit worker productivity and wellbeing, particularly in computer-based work, with active rest being equally beneficial to passive rest.

The problem is not that we don’t know how to rest, but that we often feel like we don’t deserve rest.

When the constant narrative of ‘hustle culture’ is embedded so deeply into our work ethic, the concept of taking time away from work is deemed as unproductive time and an unnecessary distraction.

How much can we realistically work to our full capability without adequate rest? Our capacity for work is at an all time low when we’re tired, physically or mentally.

You know the feeling. When you’ve woken up, be it after two hours of sleep or eight hours, feeling groggy and irritable, unable to shake the feeling for the rest of the day, yet when it comes time to go to sleep that night you’re unable?

Rest isn’t just sleep.

Rest is about finding head space, giving yourself a separation from work, whatever the medium.

It doesn’t have to be a huge debacle of going outside with a yoga mat for 40 minutes and following it up with 20 minutes of breathing exercises, either. Sometimes the most valuable rest we can find in a day is on the commute home when we put our phones in our pocket and just tune out to the sound of music.

If we treated the brain like we treated muscle, then we’d understand that if we want it to work at high capacity, we need to let it rest in order for it to strengthen.

The people who are loud and proud about working 24/7 are unlikely to be working at half-capacity for the duration of their day, because it is physically impossible.

Did you know that, on average, the longest we can stay committed to a single task is forty straight minutes?

Accounting for facts like this gives you space to prioritise rest in your working week, and here are some tips on making rest a priority:

Plan your day

Whether you’re a bullet-journaling, calendar-blocking maniac, or a ‘do what feels best, ignore the rest’ type of person, adding a little bit of awareness to your day is only going to help.

The best piece of advice? Start the hardest task first.

It doesn’t matter if you’re an early worker or an evening worker, doing the task you are probably most apprehensive and avoidant of first will mean that the rest of your day can flow easily.

When you do a difficult task in between several other tasks, you spread yourself so thin that you often forget to take breaks and acknowledge your progress.

Always take a short morning break, dinner break and intermittent five-minute blocks between tasks to let your mind rest.

Have a home-holiday

How often are you taking your work into the weekend or the evenings?

We’ve all been there, and once that line is crossed it can be hard to get out of the habit. We convince ourselves that we’re more productive when we keep working all week/day, and that we’re more ‘in flow’, but it’s usually the complete opposite.

Pick a weekend approaching, whether it’s a regular weekend or a bank holiday weekend and make that rest time.

Treat it like you would a holiday, no answering emails, no checking notifications (mostly) and absolutely no work.

You’ll find it difficult at first, but you’ll revel in the weight lifted from your shoulders when your brain isn’t swimming with unanswered emails.

Acknowledge the power of daydreaming

Daydreaming is historically looked at as a childish pastime, or a waste of time, but it’s an extremely valuable function we have!

When we’re daydreaming, our mind is back at its baseline, uninterrupted by outside triggers and worries, and it’s usually when our best ideas come to us.

Think of that sweet spot between awake and asleep, when you’re drifting off a little and your mind is wandering aimlessly.

Often, that time can be interrupted by impending feelings of dread over deadlines and work.

Make time and space for your daydreams, listen to music or ambient sounds, lie down and just feel whatever it is you want to feel.

The next time you return to work, you may find yourself more focused and idea-driven!

Filter out what you don’t need

We get notifications left, right and centre every hour of our working days. It’s enough to distract anyone and cloud their head with anxiety.

Particularly now when we’re getting news updates regularly, we often find ourselves sponging up all of the panic and negativity, usually in the first hour of waking up.

The best thing you can do? Avoid your phone for the first hour of the day and allocate time later in the day specifically for viewing news from reputable sources.

Do not disturb can be your friend if you need it!

Sometimes those little red buttons can do us more harm than good when it comes to winding down.

Appreciate the power of ‘no’.

An essential part of rest is setting boundaries.

It’s easy to fall into the habit of working overtime you’re not getting paid for, of doing hours at the weekend after a text from your boss, but it’s detrimental to your ability to relax.

If you have working hours, make them clear. You are not obligated to work outside of these hours, especially without compensation.

Don’t feel guilty for taking time for yourself, and never feel guilty for saying no. The power of saying no is that it becomes easier to do and less laden with guilt, and people often realise that they may have been impeding on boundaries once you do start saying no.

Add your availability hours in your email footer or input it into your email host to make your work hours clearer. When it comes to social interactions, your friends and family will likely be completely understanding if you say you just need a night to yourself.

Never feel guilty for needing and wanting rest.

It can be hard to move rest towards the top of your priority list when you’re in a culture that places pride on unrealistic working standards, but once you take that first step, the change is fundamental.

Rest is not something you should have to feel like you’ve earned due to twelve hours of straight work, it should be a given.

Looking to find head space in your downtime? Why not listen to Episode 36 of the Dark Coffee Podcast?