Productivity Shame + 4 Other Things You’ll Experience If You Decide to Be Totally “Off” on Your Vacation

Most leaders I know really struggle with taking vacation of any kind. Curious if you do.

It’s been an epic battle for me over years.

Too many leaders never take a real break. And as a result, they end up breaking.

Instead, we cheat. You cheat yourself (and your family) by popping on email for an hour every morning. Or by checking in with staff  to see ‘what’s on fire?”.

Or maybe you’ve done a “working vacation” (oxymoron) to work on a big project or write a book.

I’ve done all those things, but lately I’ve been doing far more real vacations and real breaks.

As you read this, I’m on a full month off.

If you ever decide to try it, or have tried it and given up, here’s what to expect. The more driven you are, the more true what follows will be.

These are some things I’ve observed as I increasingly decelerate and unplug over the last few years.

1. Discomfort

When you’re constantly busy, you get used to a fast pace and the hum of always having something next or something that needs your attention.

When you take a real break, the quiet outside you reveals the disquiet within you.

Pay attention to the discomfort but don’t give into it. Don’t race to fill the stillness with activity. Embrace it.

Inside the silence you’ll discover a wealth of things:

  • Issues you need to work through.
  • Fears you need to confront.
  • Possibilities you never dreamed of before.
  • You..undistracted, uninterrupted and fully present.

If you don’t give in to the discomfort and linger in the silence and quiet long enough, you’ll find peace.

As John Calvin said, without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self, and where there is no knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God. This is how you’ll really begin to know yourself, and also, God.

2. A sense of being lost

If you’re used to running at a fast pace, you won’t know exactly what to do with yourself.

You’ll feel lost.

That’s okay, because if you do this well, you’ll eventually find a deeper and more mature you.

In addition to lingering in the stillness, resist the urge to fill the void with a surge of activity.

Allowing yourself to feel lost will help you find a healthier you.

If you worry that you’re heading into a dark night of the soul, don’t worry. It was coming anyway. It just got here sooner and under better conditions (you didn’t crash).

The inner battle is where all the powerful growth comes from anyway.

3. Productivity shame

Productivity shame is what you feel when your life goes from 60 to zero overnight.

So what is productivity shame exactly?

According to the leaders at Rescue Time, first, it’s the feeling that you’ve never done enough. No matter how many hours you work or how many tasks you cross off your to-do list, you always feel a sense of shame around your work. You keep thinking you could have done more.

Second, productivity shame is the feeling that you aren’t allowed to do things that are “unproductive”. You feel a sense of guilt when you spend time on hobbies, watch a movie, or simply sit back and relax.

4. Tears

Yes, tears. As in why on earth am I crying when I’m supposed to be on vacation??? tears.

If this is your first foray into being completely off work or if you haven’t done it very often, then all three factors above will at some point likely lead to tears.

Surprisingly, ending up in tears means you’re doing it right.

The quiet and the discomfort and your failure to give in to productivity shame means you’re giving the silence space to do its work.

I know the first few times I really unplugged I learned things about myself (my anger, my addiction to adrenaline, the performance addict I’d become) that I really didn’t like. And yes, it led to tears. And then therapy and coaching and eventually, to freedom.

The worst thing you can do if you find yourself getting emotional when you’re resting is to shake it off or bury the pain even further. Let it surface. Surrender it. Grow.

5. A fully rested you (and your new baseline) 

Who are you when you’re fully rested?

My guess is you have no idea how to answer it because the last time you were fully rested you were three years old.

Over the years I’ve been experimenting with finding what I call my ‘baseline’, which is essentially how I feel, behave and approach life when I’m fully relaxed, which I at first only got to when I was on an extended break (one week or longer).

Finding your baseline is a little like calibrating a speedometer. The reason a speedometer is accurate is that it’s calibrated to accurately tell you whether you’re going 35 or 75. If the calibration is off, so is your reading.

A lot of driven leaders lead like their baselines are calibrated to 50 mph. They live at 70-90 mph most of the time. On the weekend they might come down to 60 or 50 and think “there, I’m rested.”

But they have no idea that there’s even a 20 mph, or 10, or zero. They have no idea who they are deeply rested.

So how do you find your baseline?

Take enough time off that you sleep and rest until you’re no longer tired. Eat well and exercise some and nap as often as you need to until you’re ‘caught up’. Relax, unwind and get fully rested. Note: this might take a few weeks.

Then see who you are.

How do you feel?

How are you treating other people?

What do you enjoy?

Who are you now?

That’s your baseline.

Then, over the next season back at work, the rhythm of your workday and time off so you can get back to baseline at least once a month, and not stray far from it most weeks.

The way to do that is to live in a way today that helps you thrive tomorrow. I can show you how to do that here.

Find your baseline and get back to it regularly, and the next vacation won’t be nearly as hard.

In fact, you’ll eventually start going into vacations fully rested. Yes, it is possible. 🙂

What’s Been Your Experience?

My deepest hope for leaders is that they take care of themselves, because if you don’t declare a finish line to your work, your body will. It’s called burnout.

Having burned out, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

Living in a way today that will help you thrive tomorrow is a much better alternative.

As you head into deep rest, what are you learning about yourself? What are the pitfalls, and what are the benefits?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

Productivity Shame + 4 Other Things You’ll Experience If You Decide to Be Totally “Off” on Your Vacation

18 Comments

  1. I feel lighter on September 30, 2021 at 4:09 am

    This article really means a lot to me. I always believe in the existence of God, God saves souls and guides the way. Songs about him I also like very much, every time I sing them, I feel lighter in my heart. Let’s listen with me

  2. I feel lighter on September 30, 2021 at 4:08 am

    This article really means a lot to me. I always believe in the existence of God, God saves souls and guides the way. Songs about him I also like, every time I sing them, I feel lighter

  3. Michael L Hudson on July 11, 2021 at 11:30 am

    Very helpful blog. Clarified some of the chaos I’m living in right now.

  4. Lemi Siitia on July 10, 2021 at 5:38 pm

    Our church have problems with our neighbours,they’re complaining about our worshipping they said too much noise,we sing and play organ or keyboard ,we run fundraising during the day time to develop our church,we end up in court with the council and neighbours then we lost, we pay too much money for the court, the time frame in nsw from Monday-Thursday 7am-10pm;Friday-Sunday 8am-12pm.What is your help in this matters?

    • Negative Nancy on July 12, 2021 at 2:40 am

      The solution to making “too much noise” is to make less noise.

    • Michael L Hudson on July 12, 2021 at 5:36 am

      Paul concludes 1 Corinthians 14 with this general rule. It is part of a passage that runs from verse 36 to 40, where Paul is rebuking the Corinthians for their extreme pride in having spiritual gifts and their childish behavior in the congregation. The Corinthians were so self-absorbed that they behaved in some sort of uncontrolled manner that was different than other churches. The Bible does not tell us exactly what they did, only that it was a misuse of their spiritual gifts and disgraceful to God.

  5. Becky on July 9, 2021 at 5:44 am

    Carey,
    God’s timing is always perfect. He knew many people needed to hear your words. Laity “get there” also. You made me face a reality which I did not want to acknowledge.
    Bless you!

  6. Tom on July 8, 2021 at 5:03 pm

    Such sound coaching! Thank you.
    I had the responsibility of writing the Sabbatical Policy for our Church Movement and have encountered so many leaders who always started their sentences with, ‘But I can’t take that time …’ I have had to coach leaders through the ‘acknowledge the can’t but now focus on what you CAN DO’ many times. It was like a re-wire of the brain – a renewing of their minds so their bodies and souls could be renewed.
    I have taken two Sabbaticals in my ministry life (one of 11 weeks and one of 5 weeks) and in my first one it literally took five weeks – yup – five weeks! before my inner flywheel actually slowed down to my baseline speed. It was so profound I literally stopped mid-stride as I was walking out to breakfast and placed my hands on my chest exclaiming, “Is this what normal people feel like?!?!?” LOL
    Thank you Carey. Brilliant! Just brilliant!

  7. Excellent post! As a bivocational pastor and physician (of 30 years) I tend to always be “on call” for someone. The concept of being “off” for vacation has been hard learned in both my vocations as my family will tell you. I can attest to experiencing all the emotions discussed in the post. I would encourage everyone, no matter what their vocation, to set boundaries so you can can be fully rested and find your baseline. And then find times monthly, if not weekly, to be “off” with God! Thank you for the exhortation!

  8. Danette Buchanan on July 8, 2021 at 10:42 am

    Hello Carey and Fellow Colleagues,

    I am an ordained elder in my denomination and a licensed professional counselor. In my opinion, your thoughts are sound both spiritually and emotionally. I especially like the “how to” aspect of getting to your most authentic baseline/self. Your statement, “when you take a real break, the quiet outside you reveals the disquiet within you” is a compelling truth! What DO you do with silence whether internal or external? We know what to do with habitual activity, but silence…no.

    Your post is timely for me both professionally and personally. Professionally, my experience has been that the pandemic has pushed clients to therapy who would not have gone before- especially men. Working from home with everyone being home ALL the time has been so hard on families. It seems that part of our identity comes from interaction with the outside world – men or women. Personally, I chose to put my practice on hold for the next year to focus on my dissertation – hence my first time to experience a sabbatical and focus exclusively on my academic goals. “What will my clients do without me?” I’ve had to remind myself that I’m not THAT powerful, and that life will go on while I redirect my energies.

    Blessings to all!

  9. Jon on July 8, 2021 at 9:55 am

    Great post! I really struggled with this for many years, to the point that I almost crashed and burned 5 years ago. That really forced me to take a hard look at pace, never unplugging, etc. Thankfully, over the past five years, I’ve been able to push through and stay unplugged from email and all work related things when on vacation. I also use all of my vacation now, which is something I never did before.

    One of the things that has helped me with actually being on vacation and unplugging from work is turning off ALL notifications for any work related apps on my phone (eg- email, teams, etc), and then moving all those apps to an inconvenient, not directly visible on my main home page folder. I have been able to find the “baseline” and truly experience rest in ways I hadn’t before.

  10. Tom Sharpe on July 8, 2021 at 8:42 am

    Always like vacation but turning my head off from the church doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the critics voice swirl around in my head. Sometimes new ideas. I have had criticism for being gone to long when I go for a month. I still believe it is important for the church and myself to get away. Going to the Maldives next month and I want to make videos for our online outreach. I will not totally let go. “Life is a dance between making it happen and letting it happen.” Adrianna Huffington

  11. David H on July 8, 2021 at 8:40 am

    This post is entirely accurate to my experience. I’ve had the vacation tears 2 or 3 times, all while camping with no cell service or internet. In those moments, I could never put my finger on where all the emotion was coming from. The last time it happened began a spiral for me that led to wondering, “Wouldn’t it be better if I just wasn’t here?” – and then to therapy and a short sabbatical. I spent the first month of that sabbatical feeling guilty that I hadn’t “earned” it. That was in 2019 – it was a desperate time as a 29-year-old leader with a wife and 2-year-old son at the time. What a perfect reminder as I leave for vacation this weekend. Praying that many other leaders read this post at just the right time too.

    • Sara on July 8, 2021 at 9:06 am

      What a powerful post, David! Thank you for sharing your experience. It is a needed reminder of why leaders need to time off and how God can use that time to heal us.

  12. Kathy on July 8, 2021 at 8:29 am

    Carey, I value so many of your articles but as I have just begun a month of study leave and vacation and this really resonates. I am grateful to be able to ponder these things at this time.

  13. Wow! The timing of this article is perfect! I’m currently on a 40-day sabbatical. This is the first sabbatical that I’ve taken in 40 years of ministry. It has already taken a most unexpected turn (I’m only 10 days in) where I’m getting counseling help to work through a series of traumatic events that have affected me much more than I understood.

    Thank you Carey for all that you do! Our upcoming 95Podcast conversation should be really powerful as the both of us will have just returned from an extended break.

  14. Newton on July 8, 2021 at 8:02 am

    God bless you Dad. This piece was extremely helpful to someone like me who sometimes think the whole world is waiting for me.

  15. Jeff Yelland on July 8, 2021 at 5:51 am

    I’m 74 years of age, soon to be 75 and a ‘retired’ priest in the Church of England’ I have just started a long overdue sabbatical. I had only read the first few paragraphs and I was crying like a baby. I’m so grateful for your wisdom and help as I embark on this season

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