Taking Time

Long time no blog – it’s another teaching term, I’m writing on three separate projects (not quite at the same time, but I jump from one into another). And there’s real life with some moments of profound sorrow, as when we said goodbye to Ozzie, our Staffordshire Bull Terrier, early in the new year. But the hardest thing I’ve been doing is trying to close the door on work some of the time.

Like many academics, I’ve been guilty of letting work take over my life or, more precisely, to succumb to the idea that I need to work all the time. With the last book, there were weeks when editorial tasks ate up so much time that it simply pushed my other work into the remaining hours and, whoopsie, there goes actually living life. You know, the parts like spending time with your kids, taking care of your health, stopping to smell the roses?

It’s scary how easy it is to fall back into those bad habits where work takes over your life – grading piles of papers, writing others, tackling course prep.

So, while I avoid new year’s resolutions, I’ve taken the new term as a cue to remember to take time for myself and my family as well as to pursue more healthy work-habits during the week. This op-ed piece from the New York Times, Relax! You’ll Be More Productive makes a strong argument that rest is essential to true productivity. The author cites studies that show a good 10 hours of sleep (Wow!) helped basketball players to score 9% more free throws and three-point shots. The particulars of their 90-minute personal cycle I haven’t tested, but knowing when to step away for a bit is essential for my productivity, not only on the macro scale of taking a day off each week, but also in the daily grind

The idea is also at odds with the prevailing work ethic in most companies, where downtime is typically viewed as time wasted. More than one-third of employees, for example, eat lunch at their desks on a regular basis. More than 50 percent assume they’ll work during their vacations.

In most workplaces, rewards still accrue to those who push the hardest and most continuously over time. But that doesn’t mean they’re the most productive.

Most of us know now that burning the midnight oil or being continuously ‘on’ is no way to get things done. The idea that you naturally work in cycles of on/off is appealing. It’s also the mantra of one of my favourite personal/home-care blogs: Unfuck Your Habitat, which advocates cleaning and chores carried out in waves of work. The common rhythm there is 20 minutes on/10 minutes off or, in their parlance, a 20/10; alternatively, 45/15. When my available blocks of time in a day vary between half an hour and two, some of these cycling schemes work very well.

And blogging totally counts as a break from work, doesn’t it?

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