On Rest and Recovery, or Balance in the Force

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A cup of coffee and a highlighter are the best weapons in my productivity arsenal.

From 5 a.m. Monday to about 2 p.m. Thursday I was the definition of productivity. Writing goals were met, laundry was washed AND put away, food was prepped and cooked, and lessons were planned. I exercised, drank plenty of water, went to bed early and woke up before the dawn.

Basically, I was killing it.

On Thursday I felt myself starting to slow down. I began feeling tired and depleted, and the couch/tv combination of earlier times began to sound appealing again despite all that I had accomplished and the knowledge that my newfound schedule and priorities were better for everyone (including me).

Even Maggie was exhausted, and all she had done was nap-eat-nap all week.
Even Maggie was exhausted, and all she had done was nap-eat-nap all week.

By Friday morning I was d-o-n-e. I slept in until 6:30, barely got through the revisions that needed to be done before the weekend, and couldn’t even muster the energy to watch the film version of a play I am writing a chapter on. I was no longer kicking butt and taking names; my butt had been kicked and I couldn’t remember my name.

Was my newfound productivity unsustainable? Were my new resolutions regarding sleep, exercise, and living in the present (including getting tasks done today rather than putting them off until tomorrow) about to go the way of so many older resolutions? Fondly remembered but ultimately impractical?

Then, I took a step back and really examined my mental and physical symptoms. I had been fighting a sinus cold for days; I began teaching again this week; in addition to my normal writing schedule, I had a stack of revisions to work through and I had set not-too-distant deadline for a full, polished draft and defense; and I had begun a more rigorous exercise regimen (in truth, it was the most intense exercise I had engaged in for years).

No wonder I was tired! There was nothing wrong with the way I had used my time from Monday-Thursday; in fact, all of the work I got done during that time created a space later in the week for some self-care, like taking sinus medicine (which can make productivity grind to a halt as it blurs mental clarity more quickly than a pint of vodka).

By taking care of business when I was at 100%, I was able to rest peacefully and recuperate when I was sinking to 20% (<– an optimistic assessment).

In my previous all-or-nothing mentality, I was either working out regularly or loafing; writing or watching tv; keeping a clean home or ignoring the mess. By focusing on the present, I am better able to gage what are realistic goals for a given day. I am reminded that I am not perfect; I’m human. By taking myself and what I can accomplish too seriously, I risk ignoring signs of exhaustion and sickness, thus tempting long-term burnout that could have been avoided had I just taken the medicine and indulged in a nap or two.

I have an addictive personality in which I am always tempted to push myself beyond what seems a comfortable threshold. There is nothing inherently wrong in this–actually, pushing beyond our boundaries allows for greater mental and physical abilities–but we must rest after intense exertion so that what has been stretched can recover.

This weekend I encourage you to take some time for yourself, to schedule a nap, and to recharge your batteries. Monday will come whether we want it to or not, and in order to be productive then, we must rest now.

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