I love to work. It’s so much fun to have a project, and there’s nothing like the feeling of accomplishment that comes from a job well done. Once I become focused on something, I have the capacity to work endlessly. And when I am not actually working, I obsess over it.
It doesn’t matter what the project is. It can be something important like finding a place for one of Tom’s workshops or something less pressing like painting the bathroom. But whatever it is, I will not stop until it is completed.
I don’t consider most of what I do work. I see it as fun. I mean, how can answering e-mails, organizing Tom’s schedule, grocery shopping, cooking, organizing the closet, walking the dogs, and being on Facebook be work? Well, as it turns out, it can be work, even when it’s fun. All that I do burns energy, and if I do too much, I can burn out.
Over the years, my husband has learned to see the signs of a crash coming on and often warns me. “Be careful,” he says. “You are working too hard. Please take a break. Stop pushing.” I don’t know what he’s talking about because I’m not really working! I’m having fun! I’m not tired at all! But soon thereafter, I get sick with a cold or a headache and collapse. Suddenly, I realize that I have burned out on all the fun. I’ve worked way too hard.
For me, the challenge is to learn how to rest before my body falls apart. And I have to get it into my head that rest means to “cease all activity.” Even if it’s fun.
One of my problems is that I feel guilty about resting. I always have. It’s one of the side effects of growing up with a mother who always harped on my father about being lazy. Did this mean I am lazy too, I wondered? Better not be lazy because that’s bad. And then we have our cultural conditioning. In society, we are rewarded for the things we do. We are expected to be productive, busy, and contributing. So if I am cooking dinner, working out, talking on the phone, and doing errands, then I feel that I am doing good.
This thinking is completely out of harmony with nature. Animals spend most of their day resting. It is no less important than hunting, gathering, and mating. There is a time every day when all living things must cease all activity, rest and recuperate.
Rest is so important to life that the vital organs are designed with built-in rest periods. The heart rests between each beat, the lungs between each breath. The stomach rests between meals and the central nervous system recharges when we sleep.
But do we feel comfortable when we rest? I’m working on it.
Thirty-one years ago, when I was pregnant with my first child, I remember so many days when I just was too tired to get off the couch. I would get up occasionally to get something to eat or to throw up. That was it.
One day a good friend called me on the phone and said “So what did you do today?” I had to be honest. I said I did absolutely nothing. “I rested all day,” I said. “I feel like a totally useless person.” What he said to me was so kind and it really stuck. He said, “You’re not doing NOTHING! You’re making a BABY!”
Today I remember that and think of it as a metaphor for what happens when we rest, gather, and recuperate. We may think we are doing nothing (and I’m not suggesting that we are all making a baby!) but when we stop doing, something really important is happening — inside.
I will always be an active person. It’s just my nature. But my challenge is to balance that activity with rest before my body collapses in exhaustion.
Recently, I decided to take a day off. I was feeling a little burned out and under the weather. I knew I was cruising for something and I also knew that my only hope of avoiding it was to take a day and do absolutely nothing. I made the commitment to it in my status update on Facebook. “Today I am going to do nothing,” I said. The first reply said it all. It came in the form of a question. “But what are you going to do?” my friend asked. “Nothing,” I replied.
And I did absolutely nothing. I lay on the couch in my bathrobe and I rested. No answering e-mail, no cooking, no cleaning, no exercise, no errands, no Facebook. There was something so restful and even rebellious about not getting dressed. It was a day to let everything go. It was a day to break my pattern of endless energy expenditure. It was my day to rest, and you know what? I felt like a total slob.
But here’s the good thing. I completely enjoyed the day. And the next day, I was rejuvenated and raring to go again. I felt so much better and I got even more accomplished! Everything and everyone survived my vacation day. The world didn’t fall apart because I rested and more importantly, neither did I.
A recent four-year study done at the Harvard Business School, published in the October issue of the Harvard Business Review, showed that time off can have a larger and more positive effect on productivity than working more hours. Imagine that.
The results showed that the reduced work schedule actually resulted in greater job satisfaction, improved communication, increased trust and respect for colleagues, more learning and self-development, better products for the firm’s clients, and a better work/life balance.
Well, I’m glad that Harvard agrees with me! I could have told them that a day lying on the couch in your bathrobe is actually better for getting work done than working. Too bad they spent all that money on a study. It’s just a fact that when we deplete our energy reserves – no matter how we do it – the quality of our work and our lives will plummet. On the other hand, if we take more time to rest, we will be refreshed and get more done than we did before.
Lately I have had to learn the bass part for a huge repertoire of chorus music. I was having trouble getting the words straight on this one particular song, so I just listened to it non-stop, at every possible moment. If I had to go to the bathroom, I would grab the discman. When I did the laundry, I’d do it with my discman playing. Went to Whole Foods with the CD in the player. Obsession! Then I heard the voice! “You’re getting obsessed again! Stop it!” So I did stop it. I took the night off. I just went upstairs and stared into space while Tom watched the Australian Open, or one of those Opens. And guess what? The next morning, I woke up and I knew the song!
Now this may come as a shock to all you athletes out there, but resting is just as important as exercising, and in some cases even more important. Resting is the only way we are able to provide our bodies time to repair or recuperate. The body has to fix itself all the time and it needs food and rest, even from exercising.
So just remember, no matter what you are doing and how much you are enjoying it, take lots of breaks. Just stop all work from time to time. You’ll feel better, get more done, and experience less stress. As for me, I just wrote this whole article so I am going to soak my feet in hot water, put on some warm socks, lie down on the couch with the dogs, and just rest.