How to Really Take a Break This Christmas (so Your Family Won’t Hate You)

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Christmas has always felt like a mixed blessing for me as a leader. For years, it hasn’t felt like a break.

As a pastor, Christmas is our biggest outreach and largest services of the year.

Realizing that this is the time when most people who don’t go to church would come to church, we developed an outreach strategy that saw our Christmas Eve services grow into big outreach events (I outline the strategy here).

But year after year, after a bazillion services, I would come home on Christmas Eve honestly exhausted.

The house was perfectly decorated, the food was out and friends and family came over. But I was often just trying to stay awake. You can only run on adrenaline for so long.

Sure, we’d always carve out meaningful time for the kids and gifts and meals, but too often my mind was elsewhere or I was just so exhausted that I couldn’t really engage.

For sure, some of that was unavoidable. Coming off our biggest season left me tired.

But some of it was avoidable. As a leader, I honestly have a hard time “being off”. I feel responsible for everything—too responsible.

What I’ve realized (especially after burning out years ago) is that an unending sense of responsibility to work eventually destroys your ability to work.

I’ve gotten better at taking meaningful breaks over the years, but it’s challenging.

By the way, taking a break at Christmas isn’t just an issue for church leaders. It’s an issue for almost any leader: entrepreneurs, owners, founders all struggle to truly disengage.

So how do you do it?

How do you take a break deep enough that you rest and your family doesn’t end up resenting you?

Here are 5 approaches that, when I follow them, help immensely.

An unending sense of responsibility to work eventually destroys your ability to work.

1. STOP SAYING YOU’RE TRYING TO TAKE A BREAK. JUST DO IT.

My guess is you’ve probably already told someone you’re going to ‘try’ to take a few days/week off.

That’s what driven leaders say all the time:

I’m going to try to take two weeks off.

I’ll try to unplug.

I’m trying to relax.

A-types stink at vacation.

I know people who can take time off easily… they don’t worry, they’re never tempted to check email, they can easily shut down social media for a week, and they find a hammock to be relaxing.

That person is not me.

Here’s the first hack. Don’t try to take time off. Take it.

It’s amazing what happens when you stop trying and start doing. For starters, things actually change.

Eliminate try from your vocabulary. Don’t try to do it. Do it.

Don’t try to take time off. Take it. It’s amazing what happens when you stop trying and start doing. For starters, things actually change.

2. MESS WITH YOUR MIND: CHANGE ALL THE SETTINGS ON YOUR PHONE

One of the biggest problems you have as a leader is in your pocket. It’s your phone…

The smartphone means work is with you in your pocket wherever you go, wherever you are.

Realizing that you probably need your phone to take pictures or access Google Maps over the holidays, one of the best ways you can avoid work is to change all the settings on your phone.

Here’s a quick bullet list of things you can do to eliminate or at least minimize the temptation to ‘check’ work (email, texts VM)

  • Turn off all notifications on all apps. (This will take you ten minutes but save you hours every week.)
  • Set your phone to Do Not Disturb.
  • Move your email app and another work apps off your home screen and onto a new page all by themselves, or bury them in a folder.
  • Delete the apps you’re most tempted to look at. You can reinstall them later.
  • Put a fun app in the place of a work app (like Netflix, Disney Plus or a game).

If you make these changes, not only will you never hear your phone (or feel it), but you’ve changed the Pavlovian behaviour most of us have to compulsively check apps that take us away from the people we’re in the room with.

When you go to open email instinctively but open up Mario Kart instead (because you swapped out Gmail for a game), your kids will thank you. So will you.

One of the biggest problems you have as a leader is in your pocket. It’s your phone.

3. DITCH YOUR DEVICES

Sometimes limits aren’t enough and tricks won’t be enough.

It’s a good idea to set up technology-free moments, hours, or zones in your home.

Just ditch your phone for the afternoon, or leave it behind when you go for that family walk. If you’re worried about missing photos, borrow someone else’s in the group and grab the pic later.

And remember, not everything you do has to be shared with the world or captured.

Sometimes moments are just meant to be enjoyed and not shared with anyone. Sometimes you enjoy the break more if you don’t feel the need to compulsively share it or see how many other people like what you’re doing.

My family is actually leaving on a 7-day trip. I plan on posting nothing personal to social during those 7 days and ditching my phone for large amounts of time.

In a world with a thousand distractions, presence is becoming a superpower.

In a world with a thousand distractions, presence is becoming a superpower.

4.  FOCUS ON WHAT FUELS YOU

Christmas break can be draining for anyone with all the gatherings, travel and people. Add the fact that you’re probably suffering from withdrawal from technology (see above) and you’ll want to replace the absence of work and technology with something positive.

It’s a good idea to pick new goals.

For our trip, I picked up some new books I really want to read. And we’re planning some adventures together as a family.

Plus I’m going to work out and develop some new routines for fitness.

Most leaders are wired to accomplish goals. So when you’re off, just switch your goals. Goals that fuel you and make the time away meaningful and restorative.

Otherwise, if you don’t know what fuels you, even your vacation can drain you. You’ll be thinking about what you’re missing, not what you’re gaining.

If you don’t know what fuels you, even your vacation can drain you.

5. PREPARE FOR YOUR VACATION, DON’T JUST TAKE IT

I used to run into my holidays full speed, and it would take me half my holidays to unwind.

Which is exactly why people say that it takes them three days to unwind, then they relax for two days, and then get nervous about going back.

Some vacation. 

While this might be a bit late this time, flag it for next time: prepare for your vacation, don’t just take it.

  • Use your evenings to rest up before you leave.
  • Slay your to-do list.
  • Craft a killer auto-responder that gives you peace of mind to abandon your inbox.
  • Pack a day or two early if you’re traveling so the last few hours before you leave aren’t crazy.

When I do these things well, I can start day one of my break fully rested and ready to enjoy.

Prepare for your vacation. Don’t just take it.

Last year for the first time, I took a week off before our family left for a week together, just to unwind alone and be ready for them when they were free. It helped. I won’t do that every time, but even this week, I took my foot off the gas pedal days before my break and planned far ahead so when my first day off comes, I’m ready.

You might think this sounds excessive, but if you put the same kind of thought into your time off as you do in your leadership, you’ll have a much better family life and return far better rested to lead again.

If you’re curious about more things you can do to stay healthy and optimize your leadership, this post outlines 6 productivity experiments I engaged in this year and one that failed.

If you put the same kind of thought into your time off as you do in your leadership, you’ll have a much better family life and return far better rested to lead again.

Get The Tools You Need In 2021 (A Free Toolkit)

As hard as it might be, what if 2021 could be a year of real growth for you and your church?

You know that in 2020, some organizations grew while others struggled. I’d love to help your church thrive in 2021.

I know, that sounds crazy (especially after a post like this), but like most things, it’s crazy until it’s not.

I believe 2021 can be a great year for you and your team, and I’d love to help you make it happen.

That’s why I created the 2021 Church Leader Toolkit.

Inside, I cover:

  • How To Produce Content That Actually Gets Read & Watched
  • 5 Keys To Better Digital Preaching
  • How To Keep You And Your Team Out Of Burnout
  • 7 Strategies To Deepen Digital Engagement
  • 3 Key Pivots For Every Organization In 2021

I’ll be releasing 5 parts of the toolkit throughout December. And it’s free.

You can get access and share these skills with your team here!

WHAT HELPS YOU TAKE A BREAK? 

In the meantime, what have you learned about getting and staying healthy in leadership? And why do you think over-working traps so many leaders?

Scroll down and leave a comment!