On Work and Recovery and Being Intentionally Unproductive: How Rest Days Actually Make You Stronger

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” ~John Lubbock, The Use of Life

What’s your personal rhythm?

This is question I’ve been contemplating a lot recently. Especially as my old routines and rituals have been disrupted in various ways over the past year while I’ve navigated the largely unfamiliar territory of relationship and — more recently — cohabitation.

This stuff is not easy, you guys.

Over the past three weeks, I have been in a sort of struggle against my own body. I’ve felt bad more days than I’ve felt good. Intermittent persistent nausea, waking up in the middle of the night with severe intestinal cramping, lots of fatigue, the desire to just run away into the woods and hide for a few days. Or months.

But mostly I’ve maintained my usual pace. Have continued to wake up early every morning. Haven’t missed a work out. Or a social obligation. Have kept a steady pace at work.

Oh, and I also moved. So there’s that.

I was feeling pretty good about myself and my ability to just push through in spite of all the signs my body was giving me that what I really needed was to slow down.

I’ll get to the other side of this soon, I thought.

No time to rest. No time to rest.


When this becomes my inner dialogue with myself, it usually means that what I really need to prioritize is . . . wait for it . . . rest.

Yep. The very thing I’m trying so hard to avoid is actually the one thing that will likely get me back on track most effectively and efficiently.

And the thing is, I know this already.

So why do I resist it so fiercely and defiantly?

Because on some level, I’ve absorbed the cultural message about productivity and busyness and always being on.


Which was the same message I learned in my family of origin. Productivity and getting shit done above all else. Rest and rejuvenation were very rarely, if ever, to be found. And they were certainly not encouraged or modeled when I was young.

So even though I know I need quiet moments and unplanned hours and days during which I am seemingly unproductive, I have a very difficult time allowing myself this time.

Because it feels like a luxury.

And while I acknowledge that in some ways it is a luxury, it’s also true that—for me—solitude and downtime and the freedom to do nothing for a little while are absolute necessities if I expect to show up in the world as my best self.

And to do my best work.

Honestly, I think this is true for all of us.

You can’t live and engage with your life while simultaneously trying to process and unpack your experiences. It’s just not possible.

Which is why you have to intentionally carve out time for these things. And regularly take a step back from the busyness of your life to assimilate everything that’s happened.

Without feeling guilty about doing so.


I’ve written about this before, but I think the message bears repeating. Because it’s an easy lesson to forget and one you have to relearn often as you navigate the messiness of work and family and finances and feeding yourself and clothing yourself and just dealing with the general overwhelm of being a human being in this modern world.

Because here’s the thing, you guys:

Growth happens on the rest days.


Just as working out actually breaks down and does damage to your muscles, living life in this crazy, often confusing, emotionally complex world can be disorientating for your system as a whole.

And just as your muscles rebuild and repair and get stronger while you rest, your system recalibrates itself during the down times, if you allow yourself the space and the quietude — and, yes, the luxury — to truly absorb and integrate your experiences.

And if you choose to ignore your body’s need for regular recovery periods and your own natural work-rest rhythms, your body will find a way to remind you that these things are necessary.

And it might not do so in a particularly gentle fashion.


As Maya Angelou so eloquently stated:  “Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.”

Give yourself permission to rest. In this respite, you will evolve and rebuild and grow stronger.

I promise.