“Not today.”

Some observations on the subject of rest.

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25 Sep, 2011

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We are living in the age of Performance and Productivity. Never before have I witnessed such an obsession over speed. Everything is accelerated and at such maddening pace we’re only able to realise it when we can’t keep up with it. We realise it’s unhealthy only when our health sends us alarming signals we cannot ignore.

Whenever I explain what I do for a living to people who don’t know me very well, the general consensus is that I’m ‘lucky’ to be working from home because, among other things, I don’t have a strict working hours’ schedule. Yes, it’s nice to have the freedom of getting up at 11 in the morning and not having to go to an office somewhere, with the added stress of commuting (either by driving there and then back home, or by using public transportation). But it’s a blessing and a curse, and I have to remind my interlocutors of the flip side: that often you don’t realise when it’s time to stop working or generally ‘doing stuff at the computer’.

For me personally, the problem is even more exacerbated by the fact that both my job and my creative endeavours involve sitting at my desk. And reading a lot of things online is both beneficial to my job and to my inspiration for, say, writing an article here or a short story. When my workload is in high-tide mode, the amount of hours I spend at the computer is ridiculously, embarrassingly high. Today, an increasing number of independent professionals who work from home are in the very same boat. My advice is, don’t reduce rest to an afterthought. Don’t lose sight of it.

In this performance– and productivity-driven age, rest is pictured almost like a luxury. Remember the famous speech of Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross? When he barks at Jack Lemmon that coffee is for closers only? I’m worried that today more and more people are trained to think (or otherwise led to believe) that rest, too, is for closers only. That rest is the prize you get after hours of work and hours of overworking.

The fact is, we need rest to work better. At least I do, and I sometimes have learnt it the hard way. It’s important to factor some rest time in our day. It’s important to overcome the fear of not being productive enough if we decide we need a break. We’re not machines. Rest shouldn’t be considered a hindrance, but a necessary activity that makes us function better and ultimately be more productive.

I’ve been unwell, lately. One morning, after getting up, I experienced a moderate back pain that wouldn’t go away that easily, very probably due to a contracture in my lower back muscles. This happens because I haven’t been exercising and I spend a lot of time sitting at my desk. I’m taking measures to prevent such a thing from happening in the future, and I’m angry with myself for letting things get to this point. Again, rest should be part of the plan from the beginning, not something you’re forced to take into consideration by the physical or mental stress you’ve been accumulating all along.

I have learnt to say “Not today”. There are moments in which I just feel that, no matter how hard I try, I can’t translate a certain passage the way I want, or I can’t write a piece to publish here despite taking a lot of notes and having gathered my thoughts. If the circumstances allow it, rather than force myself to do something I know won’t come out at its best, I just stop and say “Not now”, or even “Not today” if I’m particularly down and low on energies.

It’s not a cop-out, and certainly I’m not suggesting that you should work only if and when you really, really feel like to. Some people have strict working hours, and have to work and rest according to someone else’s schedule. My advice is especially aimed to professionals and freelancers who have complete freedom to plan and schedule their time. You need sleep. You need to get up and go for a walk. You need to stop obsessing over that thing and find some distractions. No matter how busy you are. Even computers feel more responsive after a reboot.

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One Comment

  1. Michele wrote this on September 25, 2011 | Permalink

    Bel pezzo in cui trovo molto di me e delle mie autocritiche riflessioni (dagli scarsi esiti pratici). La chiusura è davvero magistrale e fa pieno centro. Grazie, complimenti e … buonanotte!

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