Don’t be Afraid to Take a Break

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.

–John Lubbock

Whether or it’s with school, work, or even a personal project, pretty much everybody I know at one time or another has slaved over something without wanting to take a break.

Some people study all day, others work from the moment they get up until they fall asleep.  Others just have something they want to achieve and figure that the only way it’s going to happen is through brutal, grueling hard work.

And to a point, that’s true.  It is hard work  to get some of those bigger projects on your list done.  You do have to devote the time and work hard, because you’re the only one who can do that for yourself.  But when you start working to the point where you refuse to take a break, it starts to become unhealthy.

Working too hard will actually impede your progress

There are two reasons for this.  The first is that if you don’t take regular breaks from your work or your study, you’re going to burn out.  The second is that if you’re anything like me, you’re just not going to be able to keep up the pace.

I’ll talk about burning out first.

To be honest, burning out is pretty self-explanatory.  We’ve all experienced it.  When you’re going for 6-8 hours straight on something, eventually you start to run out of energy.  You’re not able to think as clearly, you’re not performing as well as you were.  You start to get sloppy and tired and suddenly your work or whatever it is you’re doing starts to become frustratingly difficult.  When you burn out, you’re just not working at full capacity.  In fact, you’re probably not even working at 25% capacity.

And yet, when something needs to get done by a deadline people often try and work through it despite the fact that they’re doing poor work because they’re so tired.

This may seem like very obvious advice, but here it is anyway:  Don’t do that.

When you’ve been working for several hours and you start to wear out, take a break.  Take 30 minutes to an hour and do something relaxing or something fun.  I know, I know.  That 30 minutes or that 1 hour may slow you down so much that you won’t meet your deadline.  That may be true, but deadlines aren’t everything.  If there is absolutely no room to budge on the deadline then it might be worth working through the pain and finishing on time, but usually that’s not the case.  (In fact, unless the world is going to be devoured by penguins on the 28th, and you have to get your Penguin Extinction Ray running by the 27th, it usually isn’t worth it.)

Why?  Because the product you’re going to be presenting on that deadline is going to be far inferior to the one you would have come up with had you taken a break.  Think about it:  If the quality of your work is not up to snuff, then it doesn’t really matter whether or not you hit your deadline.  Personally, I prefer a product that is finished and that is made with quality rather than something that has been obviously rushed and is unfinished simply because it had to be out sooner.

When you’re dealing with something like your career or your school work, sometimes it’s worth it to explain to your boss or your professor that your project isn’t going to be done on time, take whatever penalty is dished out to you and ensure that your project has been done to the best of your ability.

In the case of school, sometimes that 2% you’re getting docked for being late will be made up thrice over because of the quality of the work you ended up handing in a day later.

Keeping up with your own schedule

So, the second thing I mentioned was being able to keep up with your own pace.  I find this happens more often when I’m trying to learn something new or accomplish something on my own time.  Here’s usually what happens:

I set a schedule that I am not able to keep up with.

I fail at keeping to this schedule.

Upon realizing that I have failed to keep to my schedule, I set an even more rigorous schedule and promise myself that I will stick to it this time; like a form of penance for screwing up the first time.

I fail at keeping to this schedule.

I go back to my original schedule that I am not able to keep up with.

I fail at keeping to this schedule.

See the pattern?  Khatzumoto over at All Japanese All The Time calls this being a 3-day-monk.  It happens to me more often than I’d like to admit.

The reason it happens though is because people, including myself, have the tendency to A) Set an over-ambitious schedule for themselves in the hope that they can rush towards their goal without taking the time it normally takes to achieve it.  And B) They punish themselves for not sticking to said over-ambitious schedule.

The result of all this is a cycle that prevents you from ever completing anything.  You’re so busy failing and the punishing that you never actually spend any time working towards what you want to achieve.

My point here is that if you set a schedule for yourself that is too much for you to handle once you’ve started it, don’t be afraid to cut back!  You can always ramp up later, once you’re used to the change you’re trying to make.  Taking a break doesn’t mean you’ve failed, or that you’re terrible at whatever it is you’re trying to achieve.  It just means that you’re human, and that until you adjust to a less time consuming schedule, you’re not going to be able to adjust to an incredibly time consuming schedule.

If you try to schedule 8 hours of your day into being productive when your days currently consist of sitting on the couch and eating potato chips from the moment you wake up until you go to sleep, you’re not going to be able to make the switch right away.  You’re just not.  And that doesn’t mean that you’re weak or a failure, it just means that you’ve been accustomed to a different way of living and that it’s going to take some time to adjust. So when you start your new schedule, don’t be afraid to take a break if it’s getting too much for you.

That doesn’t mean quit.  You should still go back to working after you’ve taken a break, but don’t be afraid to take some time for yourself– don’t feel guilty about it.  We all need breaks, and we all need time for fun and relaxation, no matter how pressing our business seems to be.

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