Why You May Feel Guilty Resting, Even During a Pandemic

As a coach, I’ve connected with so many entrepreneurs who are exhausted, burnt out, and feel too guilty to rest. And that was before the pandemic! As I share in my new book Build From Now, I didn’t want to tell people I took a nap that day while my new business was struggling. NPR and TED veteran Celeste Headlee’s new book Do Nothing addresses this conflict head-on.

On time management expert Laura Vanderkam’s Best of Both Worlds podcast, Headlee made a great point:

“I’m trying to decouple the idea of ‘laziness’ from ‘inactivity from work.’ They are not the same. If you think idleness is the same as laziness, it will give you feelings of guilt whenever you stop being active…the human brain doesn’t persist, it pulses.”

Genius takes time

The biggest business iconoclasts of recent years — from Warren Buffett to Bill Gates to the late Steve Jobs — all carved out time to think. Warren Buffett taught Bill Gates not to overcrowd his schedule. Bill Gates takes at least a week out of the year to unplug and read books. Steve Jobs would take very long walks, sometimes to conduct meetings, sometimes to be quiet enough to think.

It’s why our biggest ideas hit us in the shower, while we are exercising, or during playtime with kids. As I’ve often written about, our brain continues to work on our challenges even when they aren’t top of mind. In fact, studies have found letting problems go gives the brain room to quietly work.

All of this requires scheduling time to stop.

Refocus your attention

When you slow down, you can strategize the next move — and where you should put your time. To paraphrase Think Again author Adam Grant, it’s not about practicing time management, but attention management. Where should your focus go?

It’s even more crucial now: According to recent studies, our pandemic work days have expanded almost an hour. It’s too easy to keep working when you’re doing it from your kitchen table, the den, or a playroom, rather than coming and leaving a physical office. You need to stop for strategy — and for rest.

Manage your business shame

Being busy is a badge of honor, particularly in Western culture. That metric doesn’t work. As I’ve written before, being busy is often mistaken for being productive, and yet we still end up being frustrated with the progress we’re making. And the pandemic has really shown that 24-hour hustling isn’t the answer.

As it is, we don’t always recognize when we’re too busy because we don’t know why we’re so busy. Sometimes it is fear of judgment of others, especially when we’re already struggling to get our business through a rough patch. And sometimes it is the need to stay busy to avoid things we would rather avoid.

Either can poison your well of productivity. In a discussion on busyness, I wrote, “Unfortunately, if you don’t like where you are from, then the decisions that keep you busy will likely be reactions to your past rather than smart strategies about your future.”

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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