Does the phrase "summer break" sometimes feel like an oxymoron? Banish the free-range kids to the yard and read on, as super-busy people share their best tips for catching your breath ( ahhh) in the midst of chaos.
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Woman in rooftop garden
Credit: Shout

Begin the Day with a Good Book

I used to get up in the morning and immediately plunge into work. But about six months ago, I started doing something different. Now, the very first thing I do is make a cup of coffee, take it back upstairs, and sit up in bed with the book that I was reading the night before. Currently it’s a novel. Before that it was Jon Meacham’s biography of Thomas Jefferson. It’s always something that puts me in a world other than my work world. For the first 15 minutes of the day, I sip coffee and read and take intense pleasure in it all. The minute the cup of coffee is done—or once it’s cold—I put the book down. I really believe that happiness is a collection of small, pleasurable experiences, like buying flowers or eating a square of chocolate. I try to have a few of these moments every day.

Anne-Marie Slaughter is the president and CEO of the New America Foundation, a nonprofit think tank and civic enterprise based in New York City and Washington, D.C. She lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

Get Away from Traffic

The noise that exhausts or upsets us the most isn’t necessarily loud. It’s noise we cannot control, especially from machines. The screech of big trucks braking, for instance, is really disturbing. So I suggest seeking out places without car and truck noises. When vehicles are out of the picture, you hear all the other sounds that are usually smothered: footsteps, church bells, bicycles, trees swaying, or rain splashing on the sidewalk. Absolute silence can feel barren. But the sounds of nature, mixed with a sociable burble of human activity, can be most refreshing.

David Hendy is a professor of media at the University of Sussex, in Brighton, England, and the author of Noise: A Human History of Sound and Listening ($28, He lives in Brighton and Oxford.

Crack Someone Up

When I get home from work, I grab Elmo and we chase my three-year-old daughter throughout the house. Once Elmo and I find her, the tickling begins. Few things in this world compare with the feeling I have when I hear my three-year-old daughter laugh out loud—it is pure, honest, unadulterated joy. At the end of a long day, hearing her laugh reminds me how important the simple things in life are. I feel transported to a calmer place. It does wonderful things for my soul.

Stacy Brown-Philpot is the chief operating officer of TaskRabbit, a service for errand outsourcing. She lives in Palo Alto, California.

Reflect on Why You Do the Work You Do

It’s easy to get burned out doing the kind of work my organization does, in which staffers deal with global issues related to HIV/AIDS and maternal and child health. What helps: Every day, be sure to identify what you love about your profession and what excites you.

Barbara Bush is the CEO and cofounder of Global Health Corps, a nonprofit that supports and mobilizes young leaders to work on health-equity issues. She lives in New York City.

Hang Up the Phone

Everything is on my phone—work e-mails, Twitter, family, friends—so I constantly check it. But twice a day I get away from it. At around 3 P.M., I keep my phone at my desk and take a 10-minute walk. When I get back, I feel refreshed. I also don’t sleep with my phone. If you wake up in the middle of the night and look at your phone, that’s not healthy. I leave it in the kitchen when I go to bed.

Doree Shafrir is the executive editor of BuzzFeed. She lives in Los Angeles.

Plan a Feast (Cooking Optional)

When I get brain fatigue, I focus on something grounding, like what my husband, my 16-year-old son, and I are going to eat. I’ll daydream about tackling something super-ambitious, like porchetta, a complicated Italian pork roast. Or I’ll just think about what to make for dinner. This relaxes me because it’s a goal I can accomplish if I want to: Boil some water for pasta, grate cheese, sauté some vegetables. So few of life’s problems can be solved so easily!

Susanne Antonetta is the author of the new memoir Make Me a Mother ($26, and the nonfiction work A Mind Apart ($15, She lives in Bellingham, Washington.