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.

It’s OK to take a day (or two)

Twitter message from KC Green

It’s hard to take a break when you’ve got a gig on the side. Balancing a full-time job and writing, reviewing, and the tech stuff I can never find enough time for is pretty tough, and it leaves me feeling like I’m working all the time. The constant pressure to deliver is stressful.

Taking time off feels like I’m cheating people out of something. Like that’s one more day later that the book will be done, or one less worthwhile article for people to read. Every day that passes takes with it news that I haven’t read, or on which I haven’t commented; thoughts I haven’t shared; stories I haven’t told.

And somehow it’s worse that the time has been forced. I didn’t really do any work this weekend, but that R&R wasn’t scheduled or planned. I meant to be productive, but the motivation wasn’t there, and I lacked the energy to force myself. I rested, and felt guilty.

And then I saw this Twitter message. It wasn’t a flash of insight, or anything I hadn’t thought before, but it was reaffirming. Writing and doing all this extra stuff I’ve been doing has been fun, and it has provided me an outlet and some balance to my life. Yeah, I constantly wish I could do and accomplish more, but it’s not like I’m ruining people’s day by not getting something done. What happens if I’m a day late? Less free stuff on the ‘Net?

I’m not going to let this turn into an excuse for laziness, but hopefully I’ll sleep a bit easier tonight. I needed some unplanned R&R, and I had it whether I liked it or not. Time to relax–work can wait until tomorrow.

Twitter message by the illustrious KC Green.

Bordering on the Sicklands

I’ve been almost sick for a little over a week now.

It started on our anniversary weekend, when we stayed in the Walnut Street Inn for a night. We had stayed there on our wedding night, but this time we were in a different building. The air seemed dryer, and my allergies kicked into high gear. Or something. I don’t know, but I didn’t sleep well and was all phlegmy the next day. And the five days following that.

I couldn’t call in sick to work because I just had too much stuff to do. I’ve always got something important going on, something that can’t be delayed, so I made sure each evening to rest well and drink lots of fluids. I’ve been doing a lot of reading. I’ve spent lots of quality time with our Sumo Sac. Every evening I have done my best to make sure I didn’t get sick.

Finally, I began to feel better yesterday. The congestion was gone, and my nose was only a little runny. I still feel more tired than I would if I were well, but I’m getting closer. Despite that, work was a complete… well, it wasn’t the worst Monday I’ve ever had. Not even close. Relatively speaking, it was a very good Monday. But it included a surprise call to go work on the Help Desk (for the rest of the week), a major system going down, and my not having any idea what was going on because I haven’t worked in the Help Desk (our call center) in six months.

Then I came home and cooked dinner because I’m awesome. And April and I watched Friends. Now I’m going to go to bed and read.

I figured out chapter 4 of Herbert, and I’ve got theological essays piling up left and right. A couple of things clicked for me today and I know what I’m going to write now in response to a few Biblical questions that have been posed to me. But instead of doing all that, I’m going to go to bed and read about Raistlin Majere; stories that are like old friends to me and, because they are so familiar, are ones I don’t have to think too hard about.

I feel bad about not getting anything posted. Sorry! I have lots I want to share, but I’ve got to keep healthy. The Help Desk is down to two User Support Specialists, and they both have tests in a couple of weeks for their Apple certifications so they need some time to study. Drew was the only other Labs person there today, at least for the second half of the day. I’ve got projects to kick off, oversee, and guide. Health comes first.

Also, I have class tomorrow night, and the night after. And my voice was going by the end of today, so even podcasting or doing video reviews are too demanding. Bah. I’m going to bed.

Rediscovering Reading

With the state of my clavicle, my options for how I spend my free time are rather limited. I started to play World of Warcraft last night but realized it would keep me up too late, and I desperately need my rest while healing. I can’t get heavy dishes down from tall shelves, nor can I mow the lawn or clean with the exuberance I once did. Instead, I am spending most of my time sunk into the SumoSac, reading.

I haven’t read much in the last couple of years due to my rather busy schedule coupled with my pursuit of other past times. Between work and school, I’m pretty busy during the semester, and I’ve been trying to go to the gym, and trying to spend time with my wife, and trying to keep housework under control, etc. The kid who used to read 200-300+ books a year is long gone, his time filled to the brim with other activities.

The last few weeks though, I’ve been rediscovering the nature of reading. This has had two interesting affects on me.

First, I’m learning new things, which is always fun. April has me reading a lot of Diana Wynn Jones, who has a very different writing style from me, and especially the latest book I’m reading from her is quite intriguing. She almost completely ignores description, be they of setting, scenery, or characters, instead relying on plot and what the characters say to give you an idea. She uses very basic colours, images, and shape, and lets the dialogue and internal monologue drive your imagination. It’s a concept I’m excited to learn more about, but without sitting down and reading other authors, it wouldn’t happen.

Second, it really seems to slow down the passage of time for me. Before my accident, it seemed like every day, week, and month flew by. Weekends rushed up and shot by, months flew off the calendar, and every day passed quickly. Since I began spending my evenings just sitting and reading, every day seems to take forever to go… but not in a monotonous, dull way. I’m still fairly busy at work and I’m not bored, but I find myself thinking, “My goodness, it’s only Tuesday…” Two days seem to take the same amount of time as an entire week did before, and I attribute this perceived slowness to my attention.

By slowing down, reading, thinking more, and examining the world around me more due to my surplus of free time, things aren’t going by so quickly. I’m not skimming the surface of life as much, but instead resting and really taking things in. April feels like our communication has improved, and I’ve likewise begun praying and spending time in God’s presence more. Two hours goes by quickly when I’m making dinner, running to the gym, coming home and showering, and trying to get 20-30 minutes of World of Warcraft in. Two hours is a lot of time to read or pray though, and I subsequently have more time to notice things and just be.

It’s remarkable, and I’m not entirely certain how I feel about it. After I’m healed and able to return to my old schedule, will I? I suspect I probably will, because I prefer to be doing things, instead of having to leave almost all of the housework to April. I want to contribute more. But I somehow need to hold onto the lessons of this break, to slow down more often and not let life rush by. We have so little time on this world, I don’t want it to fly by and never take the time to do more than skim the surface. I want to slow down and learn a little more about… everything.

Remembering the Sabbath

After the furious update to SilverPen, I was finally able to sit down and take stock. My Saturday was rather full, but that was by design. I work full time (forty hours) during the week, and then add on six hours of class, two or three hours of college ministry attendance, and a few other obligations to pretty much fill my weekdays. As such, Saturdays are the only time for other work, so I spent the morning mowing the lawn, cleaning the house, and then working on my website with Ryan.

I’ve got twelve drafts saved here in WordPress with ideas that I’d really like to write blog entries about, and I considered doing that tomorrow morning before church. I’ve also got a scifi novel sitting in Scrivener, mocking me, that I’d really like to work on. So far I have finished a first draft of the first chapter for that book, which was promptly torn to shreds by my independent editor, as well as a revised outline for the story. Thought I did some writing during my music class last Monday night, I haven’t made much progress yet, and the temptation is strong to spend some time tomorrow working on chapter two.

In addition, there’s mopping, cleaning the office, and doing laundry so I actually have something to wear next week.

If I actually do everything I want to, however, Monday would come and I’d be exhausted. I would have spent this third weekend in a row doing stuff other than resting, and I can only take so much of that. The healthier and wiser option would be to force myself to sit, relax, and actually rest a bit.

It is unbelievably hard to turn down my projects, even for a day, because I know that I really won’t have time to work on anything again until next Saturday. I can get a few words in here and there, but writing at length during the week just can’t practically happen. There’s so much I want to do and accomplish, but I’m moving at a snail’s pace because I just don’t have the time.

Yet if I pushed myself any harder, I’d burn out, or at least break. I can’t work forever without rest, so taking time off tomorrow will actually improve my productivity in the long run.

Instead of writing tomorrow, I’ll read, or play games, or go for a walk. Probably all three. I was going to record a book review this weekend, and a podcast, and make some progress on two of the four books I’m writing, but it’s already past five in the evening and I’ve been working since around seven-thirty this morning.

It’s time for a break.

Deluge

Upon arriving home earlier this week, I commented to April that it felt like I had only begun my work day about 15 minutes prior. That’s how busy I have been this week.

On the plus side, I’ve gotten some solid overtime in, enough to pay for the pair of pants I shredded when an errant net (the one by the softball field which marks the pitch-practicing area) was blown into my handlebars as I rode by, causing me to fall/fly/roll off my bike onto the rocky ground.

April and I are going camping today, and intend to return tomorrow, should the Lord tarry. I know I haven’t done hardly any writing this week, because I’ve been busy every day and busy/exhausted every evening. Two nights ago, I had time to write, but I crashed on the couch with a book and a glass of scotch and didn’t move for several hours. I fell asleep at 8, April woke me up sometime later and I read some more, then slept until 5:30 a.m., like I’ve done all this week. I don’t know what’s waking me up at 5:30 everyday, but I shake my fist at it.

I’m taking some really good books, and my notepad/pen as well. I won’t have my laptop, so no longer pieces will be completed, but maybe I’ll get a poem or two written. Hopefully, I’ll also get rested, because I’ve been exhausted. Truly. exhausted.

By the grace of God, I will carry on.