I’ve asked this question of two of my Guide for the Journey clients this week and now, I’m going to ask you.
What is your plan for getting more rest?
The beginning of a new academic year is a crunch time. It is normal that you work longer hours in the first couple of weeks of the semester. Even without the added complication of figuring out how to teach in a pandemic (in whatever conditions you are being required or supported to do so), this would be the case. You don’t need to feel guilty about that, nor about not writing during that first couple of weeks. You do need a plan to get back to something more sustainable.
Fatigue impairs cognitive function.
There is a lot of research on the impact of fatigue and long hours on productivity (a word I normally avoid). Working more hours is effective in a crunch. If you work a 60 hour week for a short period (a week, maybe 2), you will get more done. However, if you always work 60 hours a week, you will get no more done than if you worked a 40 hour week.
Your body can compensate for a short period. You cannot sustain long working hours. You will have trouble focusing. You will make more mistakes. Your memory will be impaired. You will find it harder to control your emotions, and may cry more easily, snap at people, or act in other ways you would prefer not to. Your cognitive impairment will probably be most noticeable for the more difficult intellectual work (which you also find most meaningful), but it will also mean that even simple tasks take longer and are more difficult.
Difficult decisions are required
Things will not magically let up. You have to make them let up. This means making tough decisions about what won’t get done.
In the short term you will have to accept that you get much less done. You cannot compensate for the reduced productivity caused by fatigue by working longer. You need to allow a couple of weeks of reduced productivity in order to recover.
You also need to make difficult decisions about what is realistically possible in 40 hours once you are back up to speed. Your estimates of how much time and effort needed to go into teaching this semester may need to be revised in the light of your experience of the first few weeks. Your initial plan got you this far. There is no shame in revising it in the light of new information. Priorities. Boundaries. Slack.
Plan to rest
Rest won’t magically happen either. You will feel restless. You will struggle to fall asleep. You will feel guilty for “doing nothing” when there is “all this work to do”. If you don’t have a plan, it’s easy to just keep working in the evenings. If you don’t have a plan, you may find yourself saying “well I might as well do that bit of work, I’m not doing anything else”. Set achievable goals. Remove distractions. Plan restful activities to do in the evenings and weekends.
Set achievable goals.
You might not be able to go from your current practice to your ideal bedtime, but what feels feasible as a first step? If you want to be in bed by 11, what time will you turn off your computer and potter about the house, sit chatting to your partner, knit, or whatever before bed? You might also consider limiting what kind of work you do after dinner (if any) as a first step.
Similarly, if you haven’t taken a weekend off at all, start by taking 1 day. Not checking anything. If you are exhausted on Friday then make that day Saturday. Turn off your computer at supper time on Friday. Maybe make a list of the things you are worried about. Take 15 minutes to go through the house and gather up any work things that have migrated to next to the comfy armchair or the bed or whatever and put them in your office, or in a box of work stuff that’s out of the way. Rest.
You can check in with things on Sunday to decide whether you really do need to do something, but you’ll be more rested by then. And once you’ve established Saturday, you can push your time to check in later and later on Sunday.
If your PhD student’s chapter is on the end table next to your armchair, you are more likely to pick it up and read it even if you intend not to work. It’s fine to work in the living room, but remove your work stuff from your living spaces at the end of your day/week. Make it harder to be distracted by the work. Put it out of your sight-line.
Make a plan for restful activities
You need things to do in evenings and weekends. Make it easy to pick those things.
- Schedule a weekly movie night with your partner or a friend (you don’t have to be in the same physical space to watch a movie together).
- Have a games night.
- Schedule a phone call to catch up with a friend or relative.
- Go for a walk (or a run, if you must).
- Put magazines, novels, knitting, embroidery, etc near your comfy chair.
- Plan a nice meal (take out or home made).
- Get out the good dishes, candles, and nice tablecloth or whatever you do to make your dinner feel special.
- Buy epsom salts or some other kind of bath stuff and have a long hot bath (book and wine optional).
You don’t want that loose ends, not sure what to do feeling. Make a list of possibilities and stick it on the fridge.
You can do this!
This post was originally sent to the Studio members’ Newsletter on 9 October 2020. It has been lightly edited.
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