The Merits of Taking a Day Off


Quintin Langley-Coleman dissects the advantages of taking a break, and discusses the importance of self-care.

Let’s be plain. Cambridge is busy and we are busy in it, often snowed under with work that compels us to live subnivean half-lives. We are constantly encouraged to excel – to study more, to sport more, to sleep more – and so the idea of taking a whole day off each week might seem not only preposterous but impossible.

The reasons for taking a day off are manifold, of which I have chosen five prominent reasons: religion, The Fallow Field of the Mind, guiltless enjoyment, the Important-Urgent Grid, and the Time Crunch Buffer Zone. Some people take a day off because their religion mandates such, and I am pleased to see some of my friends continue this practice despite the rigours of the Cambridge term. But, having probably lived all their lives in such a way, they have an advantage over those who need to calibrate themselves to the idea.

The Fallow Field of the Mind refers to the fact that the mind needs some rest time in order to fully consolidate what it has learned. Like any muscle or crop field, it must be left alone for some time before we can put it to work again. Granted, we can do a lot of this resting while we are asleep, but I think most people do not sleep enough (or well enough) here anyway, and taking a deliberate day of restful consciousness does us oodles of good.

This brings us onto the next point of guiltless enjoyment. There is and always will be the possibility of doing more work, of studying more books, of writing more essays, and of learning more vocabulary, and this leads us into the sinking grip of the Plague of Guilt – a plague that is solely an unreal product of our collective imaginations, but which seeps into our consciousness every time we go to the pub or have a cuppa when we suddenly remember some essay looming. However, if you set aside one day a week where you promise yourself not to do any work, everything else you do becomes a joy and a pleasure – even doing nothing, which we all desire and need to do from time to time.

You can explore the city, read a book for fun, or sit in nature, totally unhounded by any study- related worry. I have filled in some generic examples, but these will vary from person to person. The problem that afflicts many is that they mis- conflate what is urgent with what is important, and that is easy to do if your phone is constantly buzzing with idle demands and doldrum chatter. While I would suggest arranging your priorities in line with the numbers in brackets, this may not always be possible, and this is where the day off comes in, as it allows you a whole day to get down and gritty with those important, not urgent, and oft neglected tasks in group 2.

Further to this, a day off can be a time for self-care, which might manifest as an exquisite bubblebath, or homestyle cooking, or shopping. Maybe even get around to writing that novel, make a gift for a friend, or take a trip outside ‘the bubble’ to freshen your mind’s horizons and give you a healthy spoonful of perspective. Our last reason is the Time Crunch Buffer Zone. If you plan your work to fill seven days, and illness strikes from the blue and renders you incapable of study for a day, your remaining days that week will be ugly and unpleasant indeed. But, if you plan for your remaining days that week will be ugly and unpleasant indeed.

But, if you plan for your work to fill six days, and illness strikes rendering you incapable of study, you shall face that day with neither fear nor trepidation. You will substitute your end of week free day for the sick day, thus allowing you to recover quickly, heartily, and guiltlessly, and proceed with your work-allotment for the week unchanged. Apropos practical implementation, all I can say is start now. Parkinson’s Law states “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”, so you’ll manage to squeeze your work into six days if you promise yourself to it. Other than this, all I can add is that one friend of mine takes their day off to begin at sunset on a Friday, thus allowing them total freedom on a Friday night to go wild, and have the leisure of a workless Saturday morning to look forward to in case recovery is needed. I hope that you come away from this article knowing that the ever-working Cantab stereotype is nothing but a phantom, and I readily encourage you to take a day off. It does not have to be once a week – once a fortnight or every three weeks is fine, so long as you do not renege on whatever you have promised to yourself.