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.

When people run in circles it’s a very, very…

I consider it a failing to reach the point of exhaustion. To be stretched to my limits to the extent that I can accomplish no more than I am currently accomplishing means that I am too limited, too weak, and simply not good enough. If I were better, I could accomplish more in the same amount of time, in less time even. I should be able to manage everything.

There are a variety of reasons why I cannot accomplish everything, though. And at this point, I have reached my limit. I think about work just about all the time. It’s on my mind as I’m falling asleep, and I wake from my dreams with lists of what I need to do the next day. When I wake up in the morning, my first thought is of what needs to be done at 8 a.m., then at 8:10 a.m., and every five to ten minutes thereafter. Lists and schedules and reprioritizations, plates spinning with colored balls bouncing between them. I’ve got to keep it all going all the time.

I half work through lunch everyday, keeping myself accessible to student workers and assisting when necessary. I have random people stopping by my office all day long to talk, needing to know what’s going on or what they ought to be doing. That’s fine because it’s part of my job, but I’ve got a lot of parts that have added up to something greater than the whole. Or, at least, greater than what the whole seems like it ought to be.

Maybe it’s temporary, this overload. Of course, I’ve been thinking that for a while now, that once this project ends (whatever the project may be) everything will lighten up. There’s always another project, though. Right now, I’m banking on June or July. Who knows, maybe things will go back to “normal.”

For now, though, I’m kind of going out of my mind. Forty hours isn’t enough, when it comes right down to it, but the projects I’d like to give up are ones other people can’t do that well, and the projects other people could do are the ones I’d rather keep. Bit of a stickey wicket, huh?

I’ll keep on keeping on, and maybe I’ll feel better next week. I said that last week and really thought it–my schedule was totally clear this week. Now I’ll be lucky to get 2/3 of everything done that needs to be done.

Going for a walk. Maybe I’ll be able to actually write about something I want to write about when I get home.

Post-walk Update:: There’s a line from SLC Punk that comes to mind when I think about the work I do, especially compared to some others.

“I don’t know who started it and I don’t give a fuck. The one thing I do know is that we did it harder, we did it faster, and we definitely did it with more love, baby. You can’t take that away from us.”

– Stevo, SLC Punk

I don’t know that “love” is there. Right now, there’s mostly just bitterness and frustration. But there’s a certain amount of pride as well, and for now, that will have to suffice.

I work harder, I work faster, and I do it with more… whatever. That’s got to be worth something.

On the way home this afternoon I decided that the best thing I can do right now is make more lists while I’m at work. Really flesh out my todo, set reasonable deadlines, record more in our work management system, and take more notes. I need to start letting my computer do more of the scheduling thinking for me so my brain can do more of the analyzing and creative thinking. Maybe I’ll work on that… Thursday or Friday, because for the next few mornings I have some training lined up.

Whatever happens, I’ve got to change something. Either I’ve got to get better, or something’s got to give. I can control the former, so I’ll work on that. In a couple of months, maybe things will be lighter and it won’t be such an issue.