It's been a tough week. You're behind on some important deadlines. Your customers want more from you than you can give. Or maybe you don't have enough customers and desperately need to find new ones. As always, you're worried about cash flow.

What should you do this weekend? Make sure to take a day away from work.

Counterintuitive as it may sound, taking a day off when you're overwhelmed and behind schedule is the smartest thing you can do. Unless you're coming off a vacation or a restful weekend, there's a good chance your brain is overloaded with everything you have to get done and all the problems you haven't yet solved. This is why it--and you--need at least one full day off out of every seven. Two full days off is ideal.

You may think you can't afford the time to take a day off. Actually, you can't afford the time not to. There's plenty of research to show that the function of an exhausted, overloaded brain is so impaired that it can take you twice as long or longer to accomplish tasks than it would if your brain were rested and alert. Experiment participants who committed to taking one full day off every week worried that they would fall behind, but discovered the opposite was true.

Taking time off isn't self-indulgent, and it isn't lazy. It's necessary for you to be the kind of leader you want to be. It will also help you improve the productivity of your entire organization because the people who work for you will feel empowered to take the days off their own brains need for optimal function when they see you make sure to do it every single week.

Here are some ways to make sure you get the full benefit of your day off:

1. Take a full day, not two half-days.

You can't pile up partial rest days to make one full one. Your brain needs that full 24 hours away from work, and it needs them all at once.

2. Don't set foot in your office.

This can be especially difficult if, like many of us, you have an office at home. If your home office is a corner of the dining table, then put away all your work stuff so the dining table is just a place to eat. (And consider getting yourself a real office, which would make you much more productive.) Just walking into your office puts your brain into work mode, and undercuts the advantages of taking time off. If you absolutely must respond to a work-related email, do it from a mobile device.

3. Respect your day off even when you're on the road.

When you're traveling, you want to have as many meetings and events as possible to maximize returns on the expense of travel and of being away from the office. But you can't maximize anything if you're too exhausted to function at your best. So if you're taking a trip that's longer than a week, make sure to build in one rest day for every seven no matter where you are. Spend that time exploring an unfamiliar city, or lying around your hotel room reading mystery novels. It's your day off and how you spend it is up to you.

4. Make sure you get the rest you need.

If you're working hard and can only afford one day off a week, you'll be tempted to cram as much as you can into it. You'll finally get the laundry done while also seeing your friends, visiting the gym, catching that movie you've been wanting to see and cooking a large-batch meal to see you through the week. Oh, and you promised to take the kids to the zoo.

Over-scheduling yourself and multitasking in your home life isn't much better than doing those things at work, and you already know what a mistake that is. So make sure you have a reasonable plan for your day off. Face the fact that you won't be able to do everything you want to do, and make sure to build in plenty of time for the sleep and relaxation you need to be your best when you return to the office.

5. Do something outside your routine.

Any full day off will bring health and productivity benefits and improve your mood. But you can amplify the brain-resting benefits of your day off if you spend at least part of it doing something you don't usually do. So try zip-lining or going on a haunted house tour. Just make sure to do something you think is fun.

6. Spend some time with family or friends.

Human beings didn't evolve to be alone. So while everyone needs alone time, and you may want to include some in your day off, try to include some time with friends or loved ones as well. Being with people you care about is so good for you that it can actually add years to your life.

7. Get out in nature.

This can be a nearby park or garden; you don't have to go on a hike into the wilderness. But (weather permitting) it's a great idea to get out among the trees. The benefits of being in nature are so well-established that in Japan, they're covered by insurance.

8. Do something that makes you happy.

This is the only thing on this list that's really a rule. You work long hours all week, and your day off won't have the rejuvenating effect you need if you spend it fulfilling obligations or doing things just because they're good for you. So--even if it means ignoring every one of the previous tips--make sure to spend part of your day off doing something you truly enjoy. Your brain--and your colleagues--will thank you when you do get back to work.

Published on: Nov 25, 2016
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of