Taking Breaks: Rest or Procrastination?

There I was, sitting in a hotel lobby, on a long-awaited weekend retreat with a mastermind buddy. It was glorious. Two days away, with no distractions.

We were working on our business strategies for the upcoming year, plugging along, when suddenly I had this overwhelming urge to go make myself a cup of chai tea. (Chai tea had been my go-to afternoon pick-me-up for ages, and my energy was lagging.)

The problem was, I was in a hotel lobby with no access to my beloved chai tea.

I felt this weird, panicky energy start to creep in, grabbing hold and making me very uncomfortable. I wanted my tea NOW, but I had no way to get it. I couldn’t think straight, much less work.

Silly, right? It was just a cup of tea.

It was at that moment that I realized what was going on.

Away my usual working environment (my home office), I was able to see clearly that this was about more than just tea. We were doing hard, somewhat uncomfortable work that was stretching me out of my comfort zone, and tea was my procrastination tool crutch. This delicious, warm beverage was simply serving as a convenient diversion from the hard stuff.

Hmmm… and the more I thought about it, I realized that I often reach for a cup of tea when the project I’m working on starts to require more mental space than I want to give it at that time. My energy is instantly drained and I need a pick-me-up.

Oh boy, was that enlightening! A convenient diversion, yes, but ridiculously unhelpful when it comes to meeting my goals.

And all this time I thought that the urge for tea was my mind saying I needed a quick break.

Which brings up the question—how do you know when you really do need a break vs. when you’re just avoiding something that’s hard or unpleasant?

You know your body or brain needs a break when:

  • You feel numb, tired and unfocused
  • You’ve been staring blankly at your computer screen for the past hour
  • Your body feels stiff and achy from sitting in one spot for too long
  • Your head hurts from hours of intense brain-bending work
  • Your eyes hurt from staring at a screen for hours
  • You’ve been working for….how long, exactly? You can’t remember

You know you’re avoiding something when:

  • You’re agonizing about it, pushing it aside over and over for something easy
  • You’re jumping habitually from checking email to Facebook to the laundry, back to email, Facebook, dishes… wait, what was I doing again?
  • You feel an intense need to reorganize every closet in the house NOW
  • You absolutely MUST work on your taxes (even though they aren’t due for another 6 months)

Those are just a few examples. I’m sure if you think about it, you’ll be able to pick up on some of your own avoidance strategies, and the tasks that go along with them. Download my Urgent & Important task grid, and write them down. The next time you feel that pull, it will be easier for you to recognize whether you really do need a break, or if you’re just looking for your own version of chai tea.