The Lost Art of Recovery

If you’ve never felt burnt out and you’re wondering what it’s like, might I suggest getting a degree in music?

When I was in college, I was taking full-time classes, working part-time in a violin shop, playing in a piano trio and the orchestra, and expected to practice the violin for 4-6 hours a day on top of keeping up with my regular homework.

My boyfriend at the time was super social and would often try to entice me into going out on weekends. UGH. I didn’t have time for a social life.

At the end of each semester, I felt like a lasagna that was left in the oven and forgotten about, and I just wanted to hibernate for weeks on end.

At the time, I resented my boyfriend’s asking me to waste precious time on things like dinner parties, and I developed a superiority complex over how hard I worked compared to my classmates.

Burning ourselves into the ground has somehow become a badge of honor, as if we’re participating in a busy-ness contest, fighting the be the ones who can arrive earlier and work later, work on weekends, train in the gym 7 days a week, juggle the most side projects…

These are not bragging rights. This is a lack of self-care and boundary setting.

What I didn’t realize when I was in college was *sustaining* intense effort requires mental breaks. For one, your body will literally start breaking down if you don’t take time off. But if you do take breaks, when you return to your work, you will actually increase your level of focus, feel more creative, improve your attention and memory, decrease stress levels…and this is not due to how hard you work, but by doing things that you enjoy, whether it’s socializing with friends or playing a game.

These things are by no means unproductive—they’re NECESSARY.

There are a few different cycles of rest periods to consider:

  • In the short-term, you have something like the Pomodoro technique, which is working for 25 minutes with 5-minute breaks in between.

  • On a slightly larger scale, you have your day broken up into working hours and off hours.

  • Then you have your work days and days off (think weekdays vs. weekends for a typical job).

  • On an even larger scale, you have week-or-so long vacations sprinkled throughout the year, or summer months off if you’re a teacher or student.

These breaks, regardless of the size, are essential to maintaining your focus and productivity.

They are productive in and of themselves.

They help you to sustain effort over the long-term, which is the key to achieving success.

Making progress in a creative or academic endeavor operates the same way as in something more physical, like building muscle: you need provide periods of “recovery” for yourself so that you don’t burn out.

In order to be as *efficient* as possible at building my business, for example, I need to take breaks throughout the day and shut my brain’s “work mode” off at night. I need to have days during the week that I work a little less and do something fun, and every few months it will be to my benefit to take a week or two off of intense work.

Learning to treat your mind the same way that you treat your body means better results and better output.

The solution is simple: reframe your rest periods from “unproductive” to “productive” and watch your work—and your endurance to work hard—improve.