You probably know someone who brags about how little they sleep. They develop a reputation for working days on end, while subsisting on Chinese takeout and diet soda. They work so hard, they start to make you feel guilty for taking care of yourself.
And then you realize something. That coworker of yours never actually gets much done. Plus, they’re miserable.
Not everyone enjoys the luxury of deciding their own hours. But even if you’re still waiting tables or frothing coffee, you shouldn’t skimp on your recovery. In early adulthood, some of us deny ourselves proper rest — thinking it’ll free up time to pursue our passion. What happens?
We produce a ton of crap.
Maybe it’s necessary. And yet, my main regret in my early 20s was working too long and too hard without a break. Your productivity and creativity plunge when you don’t allow time for rest and recovery. It’s not just about sleep. Here’s what also qualifies:
- Reading a book.
- Watching a meaningful show or movie.
- Spending time with family and friends.
- Going to a museum.
- Exercise — even just a walk.
- Staring out the window.
- Watching porn (not all day, obviously).
- Gardening and yard work.
- Practicing a new skill.
You get the idea. We still tend to think of recovery as optional, something we can put off once we’ve finally conquered the world. But that’s not how recovery works. Your brain needs downtime to gather up and process new information and experiences. It needs sleep and distraction to form connections between ideas and observations.
You don’t need a bunch of fancy studies to understand how recovery works. Just look at what happens to your friends when they push too hard and stop listening to their bodies.
Indie actor Felicia Day knows a little about working too much. She describes what a bore she became at parties in her book, You’re Never Weird on The Internet (Almost):
“Hey, Felicia! Haven’t seen you in a while!”
“Yeah, I’ve been working.”
“You’re the hardest-working person I know.”
“Seen any movies?”
“Have you checked out my new web show?”
“No. But I’m finishing a new season of The Guild! It’s great, Codex goes to — ”
“Sorry to interrupt, I have to get a drink.”
I understood. I thought I was a total bore, too.
Pay close attention to the end of this conversation. If you cloister yourself, you’re not supporting your fellow artists. They lose their patience with you. Also: You’re not feeding your mind with the raw material it needs to produce. So your work suffers. You start to burn out.
It’s a dangerous trap for any driven person. If you’re creative, then you feel compelled to create all the time. Like Felicia Day says:
Work-play balance is, in retrospect, something that can EASILY get out of whack. Especially if you’re self-employed, you never turn it off. Your fate is in your own hands, so you can’t let up. Taking a weekend away for your birthday? Is your present to yourself RUINING YOUR LIFE?!
When you constantly skip recovery, you’re doing more to sabotage yourself than a hundred birthday parties. Your mental and physical performance will suffer. You won’t know it’s happening, because you’re too exhausted to think straight. So I’m going to suggest you write this down and frame it over your workspace. It’s the phrase I promised you:
The Less You Work, The More You Get Done
When you’re strung out, but fighting on despite your drooping eyelids and foggy thought process, you’ll look up and see this simple reminder. And you’ll know it’s time to push yourself away.
It’s not insanely original, but it’s effective.
Recovery means something different to everyone. Some of us can do just fine with a few hours of sleep, but we unravel if we don’t get enough quiet time. You don’t have to follow a prescription. Just figure out what you need, and then give it to yourself.
There’s nothing wrong with taking some time to recharge, even when you feel like you haven’t earned it. If anything, feeling like you don’t deserve any recovery could be a red alert that you do.
So grab a book (or some porn), and give your mind a rest. Your biggest breakthrough could be waiting on the other side.