Taking a Break from Life (Without Taking a Holiday)

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My motivation and focus has been very up and down this year. Several conversations with readers have revealed I’m not alone in this. Many of us feel we could really do with a break from life right now.

More and more articles are talking about “pandemic fatigue” at the moment. Last week, I was having one of those days when decisions were hard to make. My mind was flitting around all over the place. I had a realisation:

Other than taking some time off at Christmas, I’ve really not stopped in over a year. With lockdowns causing us to have to juggle work and childcare, there’s not felt like there’s been time to stop. And with international travel off the table, it’s not felt like there’s been much we could do anyway.

A Surprise Statistic

I wondered how common this was, and took to Twitter to create a quick poll. The results were revealing:

Survey about taking time off

Now I accept that this wasn’t a huge sample of people. BUT my little poll suggests that 70% of us have taken little or no time off since the pandemic started. No wonder so many of us feel we need a break from life!

While my question was directed to freelancers, I feel this issue has validity regardless of your work situation. The simple fact is that we all need downtime. Some of my best ideas and inspirations come when I’ve purposefully switched off and made an effort not to think about work.

Over the years I’ve come to respect this reality. In non Covid times, I always made a point of getting away roughly four times per year, usually to coincide with when I need to reset and set my goals for the months ahead.

It works wonderfully well, as you will surely know if you’ve ever felt refreshed and ready to take on the world after a good break.

The science supports it too. There’s a very real thing called decision fatigue. It’s why you end up having those days where you brain just doesn’t seem to work any more. We NEED downtime, and that’s why most employed positions come with mandated time off.

How to Take a Break From Life (Without a Holiday)

With all that in mind, there’s a very clear point to all of this: many of us are in dire need of a holiday!

But it’s not as simple as that. Some countries are still in lockdown at the time of writing. And here in the UK, it’s actually illegal for me to try to head off overseas to clear my head!

This got me thinking.

What CAN we do instead?

The ideas I had are what’s coming next in this article. I’ve tried some of these, and will be trying some of the others.

When it feels safe, I can’t wait to get on a plane and have a real holiday. But between now and then, I’m keen to act on the fact that I’ve not been giving myself as much of a break from life as I need to fire on all cylinders.

Let’s look at the ideas:

1. Just Take a Week Off!

We begin with the really obvious idea – but it’s worth mentioning. I also think it’s particularly relevant to freelancers.

In the absence of really being able to go anywhere interesting, it’s easy to just fall back to a stance of “I might as well just work.”

But that’s a stance that can lead to burn-out.

There’s nothing to stop you planning a week off, setting that lovely out-of-office auto-reply, and not actually going anywhere.

You can do as little or as much as you wish, and I expand on some ideas for more active weeks below. The main thing is that it’s a week when you’re not in work mode; A week when you’re telling people you won’t be getting straight back to them when they email you. Many people with full-time jobs will have had these weeks over the past year, but the majority of freelancers haven’t.

It’s STILL a break. It’s still time when you’re “off work.” It can be time for you, time for your family, time for whatever you want – even if what you want is nothing at all.

Sounds tempting doesn’t it?

2. Have a “Training Week”

This is one I have planned.

I’m constantly learning – reading books and taking courses. If you want to keep progressing your career and giving yourself more options, you should be too!

So why not take it a step further? Set aside a whole week for training. It doesn’t have to mean a structured course. In fact, in my case, I plan to wait for a week when the weather’s looking good, and do much of my “training” by reading books on the beach.

It’s still work – of sorts – but it’s a great change of pace, and one that could leave you inspired. It’s certainly a wise thing to do, and not something you should see as an indulgence.

3. Have a “Declutter Week”

As a freelancer, you never truly wish for a quiet period. But there are typically times of feast and famine, and when I have my next lull, I plan to have a “declutter week.”

Here’s the plan: When it looks like I have a week coming up where there’s not much in the way of assignments and deadlines, I’m going to set that week aside and not take on any additional work.

Then, while I will keep an eye on basic admin (this isn’t a “set the out-of-office” type week), I will take my regular week down to a bare minimum. I will then use that time to finally clear all the clutter I’ve accumulated in the past year of pandemic and lockdown.

I’ll be boxing up books to sell on Music Magpie, listing large items on Facebook Marketplace, and posting lots of other things on eBay.

eBay Selling

I do, of course, acknowledge that this isn’t very exciting compared to a week in Antigua. However, it brings lots of benefits. It’s a change of pace, a way to declutter (which always clears the mind), and I’ll likely end the week with far more money than I started with. What’s not to like?

4. Throw Yourself into a Hobby

Hobbies have been my saviour over the past year. I’ve started doing many of the things I talked about for years but never did: DJing, making music, gaming, reading.

If not going on holiday has left you with some spare cash, is there perhaps something you could treat yourself to that will give you a break from life?

I get into a full state of flow when I’m making music, and feel revived afterwards. It takes effort to make myself do it, but it’s totally worth it. Invest in your “thing” – and if you don’t have a thing, find one!

Once again, this isn’t frivolous nor indulgent. It’s an investment in yourself and your mental health.

5. Go on Staycation Down the Road

While I’ve not been on a real holiday for over a year now, I did have a little staycation last year.

I only travelled to an Airbnb about 20 minutes from my house. But it meant working from somewhere different, being in different surroundings, and eating different food from different shops and takeaways.

Most importantly, it provided me with that revived and re-inspired feeling.

If you live with a family, don’t underestimate the power of doing something like this on your own. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder, and if you’ve been in close quarters with your nearest and dearest for over a year, they’ll probably appreciate some space too!

No, it’s not that exciting, but we have to make the most of what’s available to us in these challenging times.


So that concludes my list of actionable ideas for taking a break from life. While some of them may seem a little frivolous, I’d urge you to consider one or two – especially if you’re one of the 70% of people who has been neglecting taking time for yourself.

If that’s the case, the chances are you’re not performing at your best, or giving yourself the resources to make effective decisions.

Once again, remember that re-inspired feeling you get after a real break. It may be a little harder to achieve right now, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

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