Take A Break Or You Will Die

When I got home last night, I was exhausted. My work day was extremely busy, I was emotionally worn out from three full days of extroversion, and the whole thing added up to me wanting to just sit and cry. I’m pretty stoic–crying isn’t generally my thing–but I was nearing emotional overload.

Once I’d had some time to read (I’m finally getting into The Sandman – Preludes & Nocturnes, which so far is really great you guys!) and decompress, I glanced through my RSS feeds before dinner. The article Killing Your Wife While Freelancing caught my eye, which was probably the author’s intent; thankfully the article was more bland than the title, so it didn’t add to my tension.

The article did surprise me though. It went like this:

  1. “Working around the clock can have adverse side-effects.”
  2. “Scheduling is more than making a to-do list.”When I read this, I nodded in agreement. The problem with to-do lists is they don’t tend to end, so you always feel like you have work to do. You never end up with free time. Scheduling activities can really help with this. OK, good, I like where this article is going.
  3. “Make a to-do list.”Huh, what?
  4. “Organize your list.”So now I’m spending time organizing a list I probably shouldn’t have made in the first place?
  5. A bunch of other steps
  6. “Reward yourself” once all your work is done!

This doesn’t work. My friend Brenda is a good example of the problem with to-do lists, because hers regularly creeps above 100 items and she only sleeps about four hours a night. As for me, I’ve got so many projects spinning and so much going on that I will never be finished.

When you’re creatively productive, or productively creative as the case may be, you’ve always got new ideas. You have lists upon lists. You won’t be done until you die. And while thinking all the time won’t necessarily help us live longer, it does make life more interesting.

But we’re not immune to burning out. We still hit emotional and mental walls, and because of our creative natures, these walls are more dangerous for us. They can put us into a feedback loop of terrible negativity: we have to stop working because we physically, mentally, and emotionally cannot do any more, but we feel guilty and depressed when we stop working because we feel compelled to create. Either the depression will drive us further into exhaustion, or the exhaustion will drive us further into depression, and either way we’re screwed.

The solution is to schedule your rest and relaxation time. Set aside time to read something not related to your work, or go outside for a walk, or play frisbee, or nap. By scheduling this time, you create two powerful plusses for yourself:

  1. You force yourself to do something not work related, which gives your mind and spirit some time to recharge
  2. Because you scheduled it, you know that you will be returning to work, which lets you actually relax instead of thinking about everything you’re not doing

It seems counter-intuitive, but give it a try. Most of our guilt from taking time off comes from a fear that we won’t get started again. What if I never get that book written? What if I never finish that painting? By scheduling, we eliminate that fear.

So give yourself a break. It’s the only way to make sure you have a life.

2 thoughts on “Take A Break Or You Will Die

  1. Here’s the steps that I would use.

    1. Scheduling is not the same as a to-do list.

    2. Make a to-do list.

    3. Sleep on it.

    4. Attach your to-do list with an eraser.

    5. Sleep on it.

    6. Categorize your to-do list under major headings

    7. Simplify the headings

    8. Sleep on it.

    9. Delegate the work to other people.

    10. Go on vacation.

    11. Return and enjoy the fruits of other people’s labor.


    P.S. It takes several days to get it going, but once it’s done it’s great.


  2. Not to detract from a really good article, but scheduling in time for me is what’s got me sleeping four hours a night 🙂 I don’t touch work outside of work hours, but by the time I have worked, gone to the gym, eaten something, cleaned up the kitchen, and caught up on personal correspondences (if I even get that far), it’s bed time… which is when I get to start in on my personal projects.

    Work/life balance is something I am really struggling with lately.


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