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Color of Money: Take time to harness the power of the pause

Michelle Singletary on

WASHINGTON -- It's the vacation season, a time to get away. Regrettably, many vacationers take their work with them.

Some people don't even take the time off. Among employees who receive paid leave, only about half (54 percent) fully took their earned vacation time in the past 12 months, according to a survey by the job-search site Glassdoor.

Of those respondents who do take leave, 66 percent said they still end up working. We've become so tethered to our technology that we think nothing of checking our email or text messages even while we are supposed to be on holiday. (Guilty!)

Just pause for a moment to contemplate how far out of balance too many of us have become. We work so hard that we end up not being able to take time to enjoy the good life we are trying to fund.

Imagine how much happier and less stressed we'd all be if, throughout our careers, we learned to slow down and stop -- even if for just for a little while.

That's what Rachael O'Meara did. She was a customer support manager at Google, and she was miserable. Her employee performance evaluations weren't good and she was getting the message that she wasn't working out in her position.

But before her career imploded, O'Meara took a break. She requested three months of unpaid leave to reboot. And out of her experience came the pick for this month's Color of Money Book Club, "Pause: Harnessing the Life-Changing Power of Giving Yourself a Break" (TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House, $15).

"All I could think about was work," O'Meara wrote. "I would be at friends' houses, and while everyone else was engaged in conversation, I was in my own world, two feet away, lost in my emails and worries."

O'Meara is still with Google, now a sales executive. But her break led to a breakthrough in, what she calls, "the power of the pause."

I know that many of you don't have the luxury of taking extended time off, either because your company doesn't offer unpaid or paid leave or you can't afford to take it. Nonetheless, when was the last time you stopped to really consider what's working for you -- in your relationships, your marriage, your finances?

"Pausing isn't tied to any amount of time," O'Meara writes. "It's about the quality of how that time is spent. I define a pause as any intentional shift in behavior that allows you space to experience a mental shift in attitude, thoughts, or emotions that otherwise wouldn't have occurred."

As someone who is always on speed dial, I could get what O'Meara was saying. I also see how this concept is needed in personal finance. I sit down with a lot of people to help them get out of debt, make a budget or develop a plan to save. They often believe their problems are rooted in not making enough money. That's not what I see. It's not always a lack of money that causes financial stress. They're off-balanced. They haven't spent any meaningful time creating a workable plan for their life or their money.

So, is it your time for a pause?

O'Meara says there are at least five signs that you need a break.

-- You loathe the job you once loved.

-- Your manager is complaining about your performance.

-- You spend too much time with technology. Not being plugged in makes you panic. Think about it: How often does someone close to you complain about your inability to put your smartphone down?

-- You've been hit with a major change -- good or bad.

-- You're faced with a new opportunity. You could get laid off but it might be an opening for you to set up a new business.

If you're going to pause for five minutes, a few hours or months, you'll need a strategy. O'Meara provides a wealth of tips and resources, including how to budget for a break. At www.rachaelomeara.com/pauseresources, click the link for the "Don't Break the Bank" worksheet.

I recently fell and badly sprained my right ankle. The pain lasted for days, and I was forced to pause. O'Meara is right. My brief respite helped me realize how overscheduled I was, and how hard it was to be still.

Let me leave you with a question from O'Meara: Without the awareness gained from pausing, how do you know how you feel, what matters, or what aligns?

I'm hosting an online discussion about "Pause" at noon Eastern time on Aug. 31 at washingtonpost.com/discussions. O'Meara will join me to take your questions. Take a break and join us.

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Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1301 K St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/MichelleSingletary). Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

 

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