The Art of the Intermission: Mandatory Rest for Productivity


Apr 03 2018

Gold Tape

The Art of the Intermission: Mandatory Rest for Productivity

“How do I practice self care?” 

Perhaps my most asked question: “How do I practice self care?” Or, “Self care! Ahh! Help!”. I believe that most of us know what self care is, and that it’s ‘something we should do’, but designating how and when to practice it is the hardest part.

After years – YEARS – of seeking balance in my work week, I finally achieved it. I stayed awake during the day for an entire week! I showed up to work at consistent times every morning! To me, these were huge wins.

Until recently, my work would get done, but in a manic, unbalanced way. Now I feel like I can pace myself with certainty and consistency, by making one simple shift.

How I do it:

Take a daily Intermission.

At the theatre, as Act I ends, the curtain closes, and the audience gets up for a stretch and refreshments. This break is a full recharge from the action.

It’s not scrolling through your phone or mindlessly munching while you watch tv. It is a complete, distinct break from the Acts of your day. 

This could be a long lunch, or even a short lunch: Most theatrical intermissions are just 20 minutes. More important than what you do is how to approach this time with intention. 

Jennifer L. Scott (a fellow author with a background in theatre!) writes about lunch as the intermission of your day. She suggests proper cutlery, cloth napkins, and no phones for this occasion. I like to extend the idea of the interval (British for ‘intermission’) into mandatory rest en general.

Mandatory Rest Mindset

Somewhere between 3 and 4pm I schedule in mandatory rest. It could be a meditation, a nap, or designated time to watch the latest episode of The Amazing Race. Once a week, I make sure to spend this time on exercise: going bouldering, attending a spin class, or walking up Arthur’s Seat.

That’s. It.

It’s not complicated. In fact, it’s startlingly simple.

The Art of the Intermission: Mandatory Rest for Productivity

Rest in your own way.

Since we have limited time to do this, get acquainted with what will be the most effective use of that time. Some options that help me:

  • A nap will aid your sleep at night, as long as it doesn’t exceed 30 minutes, and you will get the full benefits of sleep even if you lie down and close your eyes but never actually fall asleep (I learnt this from I Want to Sleep by Harriet Griffey).
  • Meditation when I’m extra buzzy or stressy.
  • Yoga or stretching when I’m achy in my body.
  • A brisk walk if I’ve been stiff and sitting still all day.
  • A planned lunch date, scheduled at least a few days in advance, with a reservation, because anticipation is half the fun.
  • A tv break. It feels indulgent to take a break in the afternoon to catch up on a tv show, but if I schedule it in, I have something to look forward to. If I have such a break, it is free of snacks and laundry folding and other such multitasking. Just viewing.
  • Painting my nails. A productive, artistic activity that forces me to sit still or face the consequences. One of my favourite forms of meditation.

Take note of your daily energy and productivity dips. Since I have the luxury (and the burden) of making my own hours, I know that I would rather have a swift and quiet lunch alone, do a bit more work, then take a proper break around 3pm. 

My friend Steph, whose Muggle job is at Apple, noticed she wasn’t enjoying spending her lunch break at her desk, so she researched a lunch replacement smoothie. She still takes a full hour (plus two fifteen minute breaks), but spends it walking, playing Pokémon Go, and working on her Wizard Rock band, Tonks & the Aurors.

Why this works

Have you ever found yourself so exhausted, scrolling through social media into the early hours of the night? That’s zombie mode. It’s easy to spot when I’m glued to the computer, but harder to spot when it’s disguised as work.

When you recover fully, you will be renewed and refreshed when it’s time to start again. No zombie work mode.

But I don’t have time to rest!

I hear you. Because I say this to myself every day.

Even though I know how effective this afternoon rest is, I resist it every single day. I am tempted to squeeze in just a bit more work. 

When I feel this way, forcing myself to stop is better in the long run. I want to run with momentum when I have it, but noting down the next steps and ideas is a good way to ensure that when I start tomorrow, I will bring today’s momentum with me. 

Starting is often the hardest part, so I find it easier to get started when a task is part-way completed. It’s not losing momentum; it’s preparing it for the next day.

Close the curtain. 

When you’re taking a break, ‘close the curtain’ to indicate to yourself and to others that you’re off the clock.

At conferences, I remove my name badge.

When I am working, I put on earbuds (even if I’m not listening to anything). This helps me zone in on the task at hand, signal to those around me that I am paying attention to something else. When I’m taking a break, I unplug.

I close my laptop. I quit out of work applications. (It only takes seconds to open them up again).

I physically leave my workspace. I sit in a different chair.

If I’m really committing to rest, I change into pyjamas, put Snug in her crate, and tuck myself into bed for a nap.  

How do you close the curtain for mandatory rest?


P.S. For a full day on self care, join Kayla and me for the Rebel Heroine Retreat!

P.P.S. In addition to daily rest, I take a full day off once a week.

Play Audiobook

Be my pen pal!