“If I just could work 3 more hours today, or 10 more hours this week I could get all this work done.”
Then you sit there hour after hour, day after day and the work is still there, but you are more stressed out because your productivity has gotten even worse. Why, you wonder, is this happening?
We all think the solution is to just work more hours. While this sometimes works in the short term, it can have dire consequences in the long run. The problem with such long hours of focused concentration is the burnout that we have all experienced at one time or another. Especially if you are a freelancer, you have to be extra conscious of how you spend your time and you can’t afford to make these mistakes. You don’t have the security of a regular job – if you are not putting in the time, you are not getting paid. However, at the same time you don’t want overwork yourself up to the point where you are burned out.
Balance of uptime and downtime
We all need to strike a balance between our work lives and our personal lives. It is far better to have eight hours of productive, focused work than 16 hours of unfocused staring at the screen. As much as we would like to think that we can work 24/7 if we just put our minds to it – we can’t. Balance in your life means you are well rested, you don’t feel the need for coffee or stimulants to keep you going and you are able to focus on your own. You will generally feel everything is doable and you don’t have any excessive stress.
When we talk about balance in our lives we are talking about the proportions of uptime and downtime in our daily routine. Uptime is anything that requires you to think. This is what we all do when we are “working.” These are traditionally “left brain” activities such as processing emails, taking notes and analyzing information.
Downtime is anything you consider “fun” and does not require a lot of conscious thought. However, this need for balance can be a subjective idea. One person’s downtime could be another’s work drudgery and vice versa.
Switch it up
It is important to actively schedule breaks into our work day. Make sure they are short periods of true mental disengagement. Professional athletes call this performing “dissociative activities.” They know they need to balance periods of extreme concentration with a completely different activity. If you could see the locker rooms of many pro athletes during breaks on practice days, you would see them playing video games or watching movies. Even though their bodies are still clad in their uniforms their brains are completely removed from the previous tasks and are completely focused on something else.
These activities may seem to us to be mindless and without real purpose. You may think playing a short computer game on your computer during work hours when you have a 10 minute break is not a good use of your time, but it is the changing of thought patterns that is exactly what your neural pathways need.
When we are trying to insert these types of activities into our daily personal lives we can do things in our off hours such as getting a massage, catching up with friends, shopping or learning a new skill. Using the right side of the brain in creative pursuits such as art can be tremendously relaxing for this very reason.
The need for balance varies from person to person and depends on your attention span. Find out how much balance you need. During the work day, experiment on small breaks at different times and find what works best for you. Most people need 15 minutes of rest every 90 minutes of work in a day, and at least one day a week, and one week a quarter off. When you discover the pattern of breaks and rest that allows you to remain focused and productive you will have reduced your stress level and you will have more consistency in your daily routines. This self-management tip is key for your personal success and I hope that you will incorporate this into your life.
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