Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Human Rest Requirement

I find myself willing to contend that, when we have a lot of work to do, we need to take breaks and yet we don't need to take breaks.

I realize this makes little sense thus far. Do kindly humor me until I have explained.

Some time last weekend I had the awful realization that the list of things I had to do this week was monstrous. There were tests, there were assignments, and there were things to do for the club I run on campus. I decided that the best way to deal with the problem was to schedule my entire week, Monday through Saturday, to within a precision of half an hour, and then follow that schedule exactly.

It worked perfectly until I started to feel burnt-out. I had allowed myself about half an hour for each meal, and eight to ten hours of sleep each night. That seemed like enough rest, and I wasn't sure why I was feeling so fatigued. More baffling was that this occurred about mid-Tuesday.

I faced two major options: take a break, or suck it up and keep going like this for the rest of the week.

So, I watched an episode of Leverage, thereby giving myself a forty-five minute break for something frivolous and enjoyable. I then skipped an unnecessary class to do something more useful, and my productivity rose through most of the evening. I was also much happier.

Through the rest of the week, where I found myself finishing items early, or when I realized I'd allotted much more time for something than I would need, I permitted myself to cease working for a bit so I could watch shows or read books or otherwise chill out. My productivity and general mood were likely much higher as a result.

So, we need breaks. At least, I need breaks.

I also know that we can't always afford to take a break. I thought I would have literally no time this week, and I was wrong, but if I'd had just one more assignment due, I probably would have been in that situation. The other side of this human rest requirement is that we often can continue longer than we thought possible.

That is, we do not actually need breaks nearly as often as we think we do.

If I had pushed through Tuesday, Wednesday, and the rest of the week without a legitimate mid-day hour of uselessness, I probably would have been fine. Productivity may have decreased as I continued to fatigue, and I may have become quite unpleasant to deal with, but I would have survived. At some point, I might even have gotten used to it. However, if I kept going, I'm fairly certain I would have gone insane. I haven't tested the limits of this and I don't intend to.

So my point, I suppose, of this end-of-the-week stress-dump, is this:
  1. You do not need breaks as often as you think you do.
  2. You do need breaks more often than never.
Have a good week and see you on Wednesday!

1 comment:

botsfri said...

As I've done the same, schedule-wise, during my "I can work 55-hrs a week, take 6-9 credits a semester in an engineering discipline,...and maintain a top 10% GPA in my engineering class" --> The one thing I've learned over the years is that after 20-minutes of brain-stagnation sets in, a 10-minute walk is the best "Reset" to getting the proficiency flow to once again return. Many times the answer sought still does not immediately reveal itself upon return to the desk. Yet, reasonable, alternative paths to explore suddenly present themselves,…one of which will eventually achieve the goal. In retrospect, after such an event, it can be easily seen that the 10-minute walk was the best catalyst to besting such a challenge, efficiently.