Off Days

Self-help writers have thrown a lot of conflicting advice out there on what to do when you can't do much.  It happens to the most productive of us. When you're sick, tired, heartbroken, burnt out, or so stressed that you don't really want to do anything all day except lie in bed and wallow in self-pity.

Some propose knocking back some coffee, finding some way to motivate yourself, and just getting out the door. Once you're out the door, they suggest, you'll find you can be much more productive than you expected.

Others say you should take it easy in the morning and then get to work later in the day, so the whole day's not lost.

I argue that on days like that, don't even worry about being productive. Do whatever will give you the most peace of mind. Declare a mental health day and go watch every movie Christopher Nolan ever made if that's what you want. If you can't enjoy that because you're beating yourself up all day for not working, then go work.

I don't think there's one answer. All I know is one occasional day of spontaneous relaxation is, if anything, a good idea. If you have commitments that day, go ahead and cancel whatever you can but fulfill the rest. Don't blow people off. Just do the bare minimum and take a break. Off days are your body telling you that you need one.

Every time I take a day off, I am at my most productive the next day. That lapse-response cycle of doing nothing one day and accomplishing a lot the next day has near perfect correlation in my own experience. It's so predictable that if I know I'm going to have a hard day ahead of me, I take the previous day off, or just do a light load, and then I'm feeling refreshed for the brutal day.

The only caution I will offer is don't let an off day turn into an off week. Get to sleep early that night and hit the ground running the next day.

Don't stress the off days. Enjoy them! Treat them as a reward for pushing yourself to your limits.


As part of my effort to simplify my day, I've placed a moratorium on buying new video games and books, starting new TV series or movie franchises, and accepting new leadership positions or long term commitments.