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Real rest: Switch off from work and feel good

By Jane Caro

We live in an era that worships work. Far too many of us believe that unless we are actively doing something every waking moment, we are wasting time. Many people feel guilty about scrolling aimlessly through social media, whiling away an afternoon (or even a whole day) binging on a TV series and/or nodding off on the couch.

I am not one of those people. We all have our gifts and my ability to be completely idle without guilt is one I value dearly.

Such is our worship of work that we even turn attempts to relax into a form of pressure. Wellbeing, mindfulness, meditation (yes, yes, I know they benefit many) are far too worthy and earnest for me. I don’t want to be lazy and do nothing because it’s good for me (even though it is). I want to do it because I like it and my joy in skiving off is actually enhanced by a messy house, laundry that needs doing or dishes that need washing.


Perhaps this is also because I work for myself and I have never had a more demanding boss. She (me) is always taking on more work, agreeing to impossible deadlines and working on weekends. She says yes to far too much. Some of it unpaid! This slave-driver (me) is the reason I feel entitled to rebel against her (myself) on a regular basis and collapse on the couch, Netflix remote in hand and give myself over to blissful self-indulgence.

If you run a small business or work as a freelancer or subcontractor, you will know how hard it is to carve out a little time for yourself. If you are not actively working, you are accounting for that work, taking care of the inevitable admin tasks or you are actively seeking more work. It is hard to escape the nagging sense of guilt whenever you’re not actively engaged. But, take it from me, it is necessary both for you and your business. Let’s not even mention your family.

Recreation is a word that we no longer understand. It literally tells you to re-create yourself through activities – or lack thereof – that have no purpose but fun. It is no accident that creativity is part of the word. If you work till exhaustion, if you haul yourself miserably through every day or even most days, your productivity will fall. You are not at your best. Your heart is no longer in it. You’ve lost sight of why you started your business in the first place.


Every successful small business has one important similarity – a principal who loves what they do. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to love it every day, or love every task, or even every customer, but you have to love what you do and what you provide – at least most of the time. The paradox of hard work is that you can have too much of a good thing. If you lose your joy in your business for too long, you are at risk of eventually losing your business. When you lose joy, you lose creativity and the ability to come up with new solutions.

We have an epidemic of anxiety in our modern world, brought on for many, I believe, by overwork. Exhaustion is a result of working too hard for too long with no emotional reward. Exhaustion is useful to those who would control our world. Exhausted people, terrified of losing their income if they take so much as a holiday, are compliant people. It’s not just their businesses that become plodding and uninspired, it is their citizenship, their family lives and their view of the future. And, I know this is modern-day heresy, but I believe that if everyone worked 30% less, everything would improve. We’d be more joyful, rested, fun-loving, hopeful, generous, energetic and creative.

I know this is modern-day heresy, but I believe that if everyone worked 30% less, everything would improve.

Maybe the essential paradox of running your own business is that it may be the time when you let yourself lollygag, laze about, daydream and, yes, scroll aimlessly through social media, that is when you are able to have your best ideas and come up with solutions that all the agonising and late nights in the world will not liberate. You will also model sane behaviour to your employees so they too learn the value of rest and recreation, and so become more productive and enthusiastic. It isn’t the hours you put in that are of the greatest value. It may well be the hours you take out.

This article originally appeared in the December 2019 print edition of Leadership Matters, IML ANZ’s exclusive Member’s magazine. For editorial suggestions and enquiries, please contact


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