Let me guess. You feel like you really need to de-stress.

Of course you do…you’re a parent. 

Pretty much every parent I talk to is tired. Well, more than just tired. Stressed. Deeply stressed.

And kind of exhausted.

There’s a fatigue that comes with parenting that’s a little hard to describe. Throw a global pandemic into the mix and you’ve got stress on steroids. 

You know what most families do to try to alleviate the constant stress? Live for vacation:

  • Fall break
  • Christmas break
  • Spring break
  • Summer Vacation

And in between, most parents throw in a few weekends at the lake, a trip to the spa, or get some time on the golf course in and tell themselves this is as good as it gets. 

Now the bad news. And as tough as it is to hear, even large amounts of time off won’t be enough to refuel you or even fully destress you.

Yeah, I know.

Even if you get a few fleeting glimpses of peace at some point in your time off or day away, that usually evaporates the moment you head back into normal life. It’s like two weeks of progress get erased within minutes of heading into the SUV to head home.

So two questions:

First, “why?”

And second, “what should you do?”

Let’s tackle each in turn.

Time Off Won’t Heal You When Your Problem Is How You Spend Your Time On

Why doesn’t time off work?

The problem with most people is not how we spend our time off. It’s how we spend our time on.

I learned the lesson of time off that doesn’t refuel you the hard way. The worst summer of my life happened back in 2006.

Personally, about a decade into parenting and running a growing organization, I was burning out. I suspected burnout but I thought I could stop it with a vacation, because, you know, I’m strong like that and only weak people burn out. (Yes I know, but tell that to young me who didn’t listen well.)

I took three weeks off that July. I was convinced I would heal and everything would be back to normal by August 1st.

What scared me to death that year is that instead of getting better during my vacation, I got worse.

I moved into a deep slide and cratered out in August…a burnout deep enough that it took me months to get out of and then a few years to finally shake.

Know anyone who has had that experience? Been there yourself? 

You know what I learned in that season (along with about 1 million other lessons)?

How I spent my time off wasn’t the solution, because how I spent my time off wasn’t my problem.

Time off can’t heal you if the problem is how you spend your time on.

The problem for most exhausted and depleted people isn’t how you spend your time off, it’s how you spend your time on.

Back in 2006, I finally realized my crisis was personal. I was living at an unsustainable pace. 

When you’re exhausted, how you spend your time off isn’t the solution. How you spend your time on is. (Think you may be burning out? You can take my free Burnout Quiz to find out the warning signs.) 

If you’re wondering whether you’re burning out or not, I’ve developed a short burnout quiz that will give you a customized answer for free. You can take it for free  here

So…What Will Help?

If the problem is how you spend your time on, here are a few things that can help you find a more sustainable pace in your everyday life. 

1. Make Some Categorical Decisions

Categorical decision making is a superpower for people who have too much to do, which these days is most leaders.

By default, you make decisions one by one in…as they come at you or need to be made.

One of the best ways to simplify decision making is to think in categories.

For example, when my kids were young, we decided they would only be allowed to participate in one sport at a time and one music lesson at a time. That was it. And yes, I only have two sons. That might seem like low thresholds by many standards, but it was life-giving to my wife and I. We had time for date night every week. And for a season, our marriage needed a lot of work. We did the work and made it through.  

What categories can you set, and what things can you categorically eliminate from your life? 

I have a friend who’s raising three kids under the age of five, and one of her categorical decisions was that she doesn’t do multi level marketing parties (candles, essential oils, kitchen stuff). Easier on the budget and easy on the calendar. 

What won’t you do? Where are your limits?

If you don’t make a decision about how to spend your time, other people will decide it for you. So decide. 

2. Ditch The Endless WorkDay/WorkWeek

For parents who are working at outside employment, the last two years have been a pressure cooker. 

These days, the boundaries between work and home are likely as blurry as they’ve ever been.

You used to go to the office, but thanks to technology, now the office goes to you. And it’s fully capable of interrupting you any time, anywhere, even on vacation.

Technology has not made this simpler.

You’re watching Disney+ with your daughter after dinner and a co-worker texts you about your expense report.

Today’s a really good day to start forcing yourself to make hard stops, to put your laptop away, turn off all notifications on your devices (if not all the time, then after a certain hour), and to move your phone out of your bedroom at night. 

3. A New Mantra To Focus On

Since I burned out, my mantra has been to try to figure out a way to live in a way today that will help you thrive tomorrow.

I think that’s a good principle. I don’t always get it right, but when I do, things are so much better.

If you’re not thriving—and many parents aren’t, even in the best of times—adjust today to improve tomorrow.

Living in a way today that will help you thrive tomorrow will help you win the marathon ahead.

Take an honest look at the pace that you’re currently living at. Could you do this forever? Would you want to?  

For most people, the answer is no. 

You tell yourself it’s a busy season, but if your busy season has no ending, it’s not a season—it’s your life.

I wrote my new book, At Your Best, to help you do just that. At Your Best will give you simple, proven strategies to get time, energy and priorities working for you, not against you. It’s designed to help you get out and stay out of burnout. 

You can purchase your copy of At Your Best in the Parent Cue store today.