“I’m so busy.” “I’m so tired.”
For many people, these complaints are voiced daily—if not hourly—without the slightest thought.
But what if we actively tried to carve out time to avoid the hassles that lead to day-to-day “busy-ness”? Catching up on emails, finishing up work, handling errands, shopping for groceries ... the list goes on.
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Dr. Matthew Sleeth, author of "24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life," has indisputable proof that life doesn’t have to be quite so frantic all of the time: himself.
“For most of my life, I worked in emergency medicine. Ten years ago, I was given a 24-hour Sunday shift. I felt wiped out, and I was dreading Sunday each week, so I decided to take Saturday off to have a very simple day to read and explore my purpose in life,” recalls Dr. Sleeth.
The experience changed his life, leading him to write his book—a guide to refocusing your life around the principle of taking a much-needed rest day. Find out what living “24/6” has meant to Dr. Sleeth and others who've adopted the routine, as well as how you can incorporate his learnings into your own busy schedule.
LearnVest: What was your life like before you adopted a rest day into your routine?
Dr. Sleeth: I was so stressed out working the 24-hour shift—I felt overwhelmed by my work. Even though I'd never been religious before or kept the sabbath, I was suddenly attracted to the idea, so I decided to reserve one day that was totally without work.
But doesn’t working 24/7 make us more productive?
It’s ingrained in us to go 24/7, but people don’t get more done. And the world doesn’t stop if you’re not in sync with that constant schedule.
In my book, I talked to people who believed in keeping a day of rest. David Green [of arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby] started his store in the late 70s, and grew it into a huge chain. In 1991, he closed on Sunday—even though it was a big gamble, since Sunday had his largest per-hour sales. Although it took a while to bounce back from that loss of hours, his business has only flourished—despite only being open 66 hours per week, Green is able to give away $330 million annually.
The takeaway? Workers lose their enthusiasm if they’re always working, but if you carve out time for them, they’re more loyal and appreciative.
Since publishing the book, a number of people have reached out to me to say that they’ve tried the experiment of living 24/6. One realtor had been working seven days a week, and the day he dreaded most was Sunday because he had the most open houses. When he stopped holding open houses on Sunday, business actually improved because taking a rest day let him appreciate his work to a greater extent and do a better job.
What are the negative effects of being “on” seven days a week?
Throughout most of American history, we took a day off for the sabbath. Yet, compared to other cultures, Americans have worked the greatest number of hours—even with that day off! And as we’ve stopped taking that day of rest, we’ve become more anxious and depressed. One benefit of observing a day of rest is that you have something to look forward to—it's a positive mental break.
There are also physiological repercussions tied to being under constant stress. When you’re highly stressed, you rise to accommodate the stress based on how severe it is and how fast it’s going to affect you. So if a lion roars from behind you, a five-alarm fire begins, and you start contracting some blood vessels and dilating others. This reaction is mediated by your hormonal system, which produces chemicals like adrenalin and epinephrin.
While these hormones might produce a positive effect in the case of you versus the lion, over time, they have a deleterious effect if they’re constantly being produced. For instance, look at law school students after a few weeks of finals—they all look terrible! And even if the stress is at a slightly lower level than taking finals, it still has a negative physical effect over time.
So I think of it this way: If you’re 70 years old, and you keep the sabbath, you'll have spent 10 full years of your life resting, relaxing and expanding your mind in some way. If you took away ten years of education or ten years of your childhood, think about how that would affect your character and the way you approach life! The effect of keeping the sabbath in this way is immeasurable.
How can you get your boss on board, especially if your manager expects you to respond to emails on the weekends?
Be upfront, and approach it like a three-month experiment. Tell your boss that you're trying to keep a day of rest in which you won’t be available to look at emails, and then ask your manager to re-evaluate with you at the end of the month to see whether it was a success.
In spite of not answering emails, have you accomplished the true goals that the company wants to achieve? If you have, then it will likely be hard for your boss to say that you can’t continue the practice. And, in my experience and those of people who've written to me, the experiment may actually make you more productive—due to your rest day!
Mark DeMoss of the DeMoss Agency, a major public relations firm in Atlanta, says that once they instituted “sabbath practices,” which included not expecting people to answer emails, they found that employees were more productive and happier. And they saw an improvement in employee retention, which was a terrific benefit!
So what's the best way to work a day of rest into our lives?
1. Commit to a trial period for at least a month. It’s like sit-ups—if you only do it for one day, you’re not going to see any results.
2. Plan ahead. You should aim to map out your schedule, and be prepared. Don’t leave things undone that will stress you out. For my family, this meant doing certain things ahead of time, like cleaning the house. On the sabbath, we don’t make the kids do any chores or even make their beds, which they really enjoy!
3. Map out restful activities. On my day of rest, I take long walks with my family, and we read aloud together and roast marshmallows in the fireplace. We all started to look forward to doing more of the little things.
4. Get support from friends and family. Share your plans with them and say, "Don’t expect me to get back to you on Sunday." Personally, I will pick up the phone for close family, but I don’t do any email or shopping—for me, it ruins that glow of transcendence that comes with a day of rest.
What do you think: Could you commit to living a 24/6 lifestyle?