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  • Writer's pictureEve Bernfeld

day OFF

You know it’s a bad sign when you can’t remember how to turn off your computer. Evidence of the epic need for my newest undertaking: day OFF*. Once a week. What a novel concept, right?

It all started about a month ago, when I…drum roll…took a day off. No, I didn’t head to a spa or stay in bed and binge-watch 30 Rock. I took the kids to an activity, did the week’s grocery shopping, cooked dinner. But I did NOT do any work. And perhaps even more amazingly, I stayed away from screens.

Maybe this sounds obvious to someone with a 9-5 job. The kind of job you leave at work (what?). But as a small-business owner**, there is always, always more work that could be done. And there is always more work that really should be done. Having talked to lots of other mom-business-owners, I know I’m not alone in trying to fit just a little more work into every nook and cranny of my day, from my 5:30 am wake-up to when I fall into bed at night.

And I suspect in the age of all our “helpful” technology, it’s not just business owners who feel pressure to be available day and night. We’ve been sold the lie of infinitely increasing returns on our investment of time: DO MORE! BE HAPPIER! I don’t know who is getting rich off this Ponzi scheme, but it certainly isn’t me. Instead I’m beating myself up that I haven’t gotten more done. That is when I’m not anesthetizing my brain with just a quick look at my email, or facebook or The New York Times online.

I’ve been observing my addiction to screens for some time. Despite our “no phones at the table” rule. Despite trying to not be on my phone when I’m around the children, unless I “need” to be… Despite removing facebook from my phone. It creeps me out to admit it, but near the end of the day, when I’m tired and grumpy, I have found myself wandering away from my kids (into another room) for the “hit” of dopamine that comes from checking something—anything—on my phone. I could justify it if it made me feel better—hey, parenting is hard—but it really doesn’t. It just makes me grumpier, and less present to my family.

So I committed myself to taking Saturdays off every week. And my rules are: no work, no screens. Otherwise, it’s still my crazy, lately-snot-filled parenting life. But I’ve started to notice a few things. A sense of relief to not have to worry about work for a whole day. It’s not like I was accomplishing much on a Saturday, but I still felt the weight of all that stuff to be done. And a sense of really being present for my family. “Mama, can you…?” “Yes, I can!”

It’s not perfect—in fact I set myself up for some failures by expecting life to be AMAZING for 24 hours, simply because it’s my day OFF. I still get grumpy with my husband and children. I still feel tired and overwhelmed.

But something else is happening too. I’m noticing I’m more productive around the edges of my day off. When I know I can’t work tomorrow, suddenly I’m more inclined to do more today. To stop procrastinating and accomplish the things on my list. And this is even spilling into the other days of the week. Noticing that I do better when I commit to really working and then really not working, I find myself more efficient during those work hours. There’s less inclination to multitask or follow unnecessary tangents or goof off because I know I will have more meaningful rest (like taking a walk or reading a book or playing with my kids) later in the day, without the pressure of all that stuff I should be doing hanging over me.

And by taking the complete and dedicated time off each week from screens, I’ve started to feel my phone's claws loosening their hold on me. The sense of needing to check it is diminished. Is it melodramatic to pick up my phone and yell at it: “You have no power over me!”?*** And here’s another incentive to back off from the phone: This morning Brian—without a single nag from me—mentioned he wants to put down his phone more too. We were watching our children hunch over play phones, devastatingly imitating the behavior that they apparently saw a lot of on our recent trip to visit extended family (and, to be fair, that they probably see at home too).

Do any of these experiences/behaviors I’ve just copped to sound familiar? I am officially slapping you with my glove to challenge you to try taking a day OFF. Or half a day? Or an hour? And please report back on what you observe!

“Welcome to the real world.”****

*This idea was inspired by the book An Oasis in Time: How a Day of Rest Can Save Your Life.

**When I describe myself as a “small-business owner” I sometimes get a puzzled look. People think of a small business as a store or a coffee shop. They picture my work as me in my studio, imparting the wisdom of the Alexander Technique to eager students. Yeah, that’s what I thought too. And I do get to do that, and it’s awesome. But then I remind the puzzled friend of all the different departments in a business: administration, bookkeeping, marketing, outreach, research & development…I do all of that too!

***How many is too many footnotes for a blog? Anyway that’s from one of my favorite movies: Labyrinth.

****The Matrix.

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