Read This If You Feel Guilty Taking Breaks

You know the feeling.

You should have been working.

You might have a deadline, you might not, but you’re somehow still just plain guilty.

And I’m sure you’ve heard the pitch that “taking a break is good for productivity!”

Just look at the Pomodoro technique, which advises 25-minute bursts of activity before taking 3-5 minute breaks.

And sometimes that’s true. Most people have about 3-4 hours of highly focused attention and energy before they get fatigued and need to reset. There is huge variance here, so don’t accept this number as the gold standard.

Over time, like training in a gym, you can improve your number.

You’ve probably also read stats somewhere claiming that the human attention span is about 8 seconds (compared to the 9 seconds of a goldfish,) and that it’s shrinking probably due to our use of smart devices.

A Brief Aside:

. . . Please check your sources. Most of these claims come from a report from the Consumer Insights Team from Microsoft Canada who surveyed ~2,000 people in 2015. This is not an empirically based study, it hasn’t been replicated, and there is no other body of evidence in the field support this. Just a public service reminder that not everything you read on the internet is verified.

So here’s the answer:

I’m not going to tell you the same B.S.:

  • “Listen to what your body needs.”
  • “Breaks help increase productivity.”
  • “Stop feeling guilty because it’s actually good for you.”


Feel guilty.

You’re allowed to feel however you’re going to feel. That’s how feelings work and that’s the punchline.

It’s only after you let yourself experience the feeling of guilt that you can 1) forgive yourself for not being perfect and 2) decide if you want to be present and deliberately experience your time off or get back in the saddle and push yourself.

There’s no right or wrong answer here.

You do have to go through it, though.

2 Minute Action:

When was a time you recently felt guilty about something?

Overeating? Taking a nap? Procrastinating?

Now ask yourself this . . .

  • What would happen if you didn’t beat yourself up?
  • What would you say to a friend or family member who was going through this?
  • What might your best friend advise you to do?

Try using these questions “in the moment” and see if you can better regulate your emotion and get your head back in the game whether that means pushing your limits or getting an extra REM cycle.

It’s up to you and there’s no wrong answer.

You’re just responsible for learning.

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