Do you Believe in rest?
If you find your self on the brink of burning out or saying things like, “I should have been more productive today” chances are, you need to believe in rest more and take a break.
It took me a long time to believe in rest. Whether it was rest from work, creativity, or fitness, I always felt I should be doing something, doing more, or “being productive.” A lot of us fall into the trap of feeling like we need always to be productive. Eventually, though, you’ll take a step back and realize that in rest, we allow our minds and our body to relax, flush out the stress, and it’s then that we find our best ideas and perform our best. Forcing yourself to be “productive,” doesn’t work. Most of the time, we’re far less productive than we think.
There’s often a feeling of “wasted time” from sleeping, or reading a book for fun, or going for a walk, etc. It’s easy to say, “if I wasn’t doing that for those 2 hours, I could have gotten so much done.” So much, what? Only through experience and introspection will you realize that those two hours are far more valuable as an investment in rest. In more ways than one, resting enhances your productivity and time available to you when you do sit down to work. I’m not saying I’m an expert at dealing with the feeling of wasted time in rest, It’s always a struggle as I want to do more and I want to finish that project sooner.
Without proper rest, your mind doesn’t respond as well to the exercises you put it through, especially creative ones.
One needs only look to fitness and athletics to get a better understanding of how critical rest is. It’s pretty simple, if you’re training–for an event, or health–and you want to make improvements, your body needs rest. You can’t do intense workouts back to back every day without time to recover. One, you’ll be sore, and two (the more important point) your body will be too fatigued to respond to exercise, and progress will plateau. You may even get injured or burn out and take a backward trajectory. The same is true for your mind. Even if you pretend you’re rested, and you feel like you’re functioning well. Without proper rest, your mind doesn’t respond as well to the exercises you put it through, especially creative ones.
Resting, whether it’s sleeping, going for a walk, or taking a shower, creates a scenario where your mind can wander, create fabulous stories, or solve complex problems. Whether you’re questioning big life decisions, stuck on some puzzling problem, or staring at a blank canvas, when you forcefully try to solve a problem, you create stress that makes it nearly impossible to find the answer. When you’re forcing your pencil to “fill the blank page” the result is never as good as it is when you’re flowing. In rest, you’re allowing your mind the space it needs to solve the problem at hand. And when you’re relaxed (not stressed), you can get into a flow state and be truly-productive.
The opposite of truly-productive is when you’re sitting at the computer, not really doing anything; pretending to be productive. You tell yourself and maybe even your family that “you need to work.” But, when “work” is undefined, you’ll find yourself struggling to focus. Soon you realize that the hour or two hours you blocked off to work have disappeared, and you’re more stressed now because “you wasted time”. Perhaps “searching for inspiration” is the best excuse you can give yourself to justify the time spent–I’ve been there. It takes discipline and self-awareness to notice these types of false productivity. When you do notice them, and you start to prioritize rest and do anything else, you’ll be ready to focus the next time you sit down to work.
Treat rest as a requirement, not as a reward or a “nice to have”
Believing in rest means that you need to carve out time, sometimes hours, sometimes days. Prioritize that time and schedule it into your calendar if you have to. Treat rest as a requirement, not as a nice to have. Ask any elite athlete or their coach, and they’ll tell you that rest is a requirement. That often means, though, that you’ll need to be patient. In the example of solving a big problem, creative or otherwise, you need to have patience in finding the solution. Most things can wait until the morning and some more significant issues–big projects, or life decisions–may take a long time to decide. Give yourself the option to wait. Be patient and know that you might not find the answer today or even tomorrow–and sitting at your desk switching from tab to tab isn’t going to help you find that answer. Give yourself space to relax and rest–then the best ideas and the best solutions can be formed.
If you find yourself taking lunch at your desk on a daily basis because “you need to get stuff done” it’s a good sign of false productivity.
There are many kinds of rest, from small breaks mid-day to month-long vacations. Whatever the length, it’s important that you commit to the break. If you find yourself taking lunch at your desk daily because “you need to get stuff done,” it’s a good sign of false productivity. Without getting into the research on multitasking, ask yourself how much you’re really getting done while eating at your desk. For your day to day work, take breaks after every focus block (90 minutes of focus) or big task. Walk away from your computer, don’t look at emails, take a walk, eat food with friends, or have a conversation about things not related to your current project (in person is good, but online or phone calls are excellent too)
Believe in weekends!
A lot of us, myself included, rely on weekends and evenings to work on our side projects, and that’s fine, to a point. Allow yourself the time to spend a weekend fully relaxed and away from your work. Put down your pen or pencil, shut down your computer (because it’s probably hasn’t been for months), and do something.
It’s cliche to say you’ll be “recharged”. However, more often than not, by going out and having experiences, talking to people in real life, seeing nature, and believing in rest, you’ll find inspiration that you wouldn’t find by sitting at your desk. At the very least, you’ll have new memories and new visuals to pull from in your current work, or your future work.
I write these blog letters as something to help my past self and as a reminder to guide my current and future self. In doing that, I hope they help you, too! Let me know by replying here, or on twitter, @genkihagata!
I know this sounds odd, but I often find organizing and cleaning my art studio to be like rest. Once done, I just enjoy sitting in the space and relaxing. And boom, just like that, my muse helps me make a new mess and all is good in the world again.