Power up by Unplugging
The weekend gives most of us the chance to downshift and recharge. But how often do we seize on it to catch up or get ahead on our work instead?
If researchers are right, more than ever before. Not only are we working more hours on the weekend, we’re cramming the time with more chores, errands, and other to-dos. “[T]he data support the theory that Sundays . . . are becoming ever-more harried,” says one report.
Why? We like the feeling of being productive and getting ahead. But we should slow down and resist the temptation.
If you’re a high-achiever like I am, you have more projects than time. It’s easy to think of weekends as simply another opportunity to get more things done. But downtime is crucial, and there’s more evidence than ever it’s essential to our productivity and wellbeing.
A “symphonic life,” as I’ve posted before, doesn’t allow work to dominate. It takes advantage of natural times to blow off work and rejuvenate. Here are three reasons to unplug this weekend.
1. We Need to Play
When researching people who demonstrated deep joy and life satisfaction, Brené Brown found they “fool around a lot.” In other words, happy people play.
It’s easy to disregard playing as trivial, especially when there are so many “serious” things we need to do: problems to solve, deadlines to meet, tasks to finish. But play actually help us with all these things. It’s rejuvenating and stimulates our creativity.
“Play nurtures a supple mind, a willingness to think in new categories, and an ability to make unexpected associations,” says Virginia Postrel after reviewing some of the growing research on the importance of play. “The spirit of play not only encourages problem solving but, through novel analogies, fosters originality and clarity.”
“Nothing lights up the brain like play,” says researcher Stuart Brown, and it’s worth watching his TED Talk on the topic.
Play also helps us pop the stress balloon. Greg McKeown talks about this in Essentialism. Maybe that’s a “duh” for most of you, but I forget it pretty easily. Then I goof around with my grandkids and feel almost instantly refreshed. Just a brief time playing makes a big difference in my energy level and how I see the world.
2. We Need to Rest
I’ve talked a lot about sleep over the years. A while back I read that Yahoo’s CEO missed a high-power advertising meeting because she fell asleep before the event and kept people waiting nearly two hours.
The strange thing is that most of the coverage I read said nothing about how she brags about sleeping just four to six hours a night. She defends working 80 hours a week by saying she gets enough vacations.
Can we stop this already—this culture that values accomplishment at the cost of basic human needs like sleep? People have been sleeping since the beginning of time, and yet we think we can go without it. Isn’t it bizarre? We wouldn’t do that with food or water, but sleep is just as essential.
So close the laptop and take a nap. Or go to bed early. Or get up late. Don’t set the alarm. Just rest.
3. We Need Time with Our Thoughts
Now for the hard one. How often do you daydream or even allow yourself to get bored? This is a major struggle for me. It’s far too easy to scan Twitter or Facebook, flip through Netflix, or catch up on my RSS feeds. If I’m unoccupied I feel guilty. But it turns out there’s a lot of value in letting our minds just wander.
Daniel Goleman calls this “open awareness” and says when our minds wander we’re free to:
- constructively envision our future—essential for planning and goal setting
- reflect on our thoughts and actions—central to living intentionally
- make fresh and creative associations between ideas—key to problem solving
Defending this kind of deep-thinking downtime, Scott Belsky recommends intentional unplugging on the weekends. “The notion of a day every week reserved for reflection has become more important than ever before,” he says.
I usually feel unproductive in these moments. But that’s the point. Our brains aren’t designed to go nonstop. When we drop into neutral, ideas flow on their own, memories sort themselves out, and we give ourselves a chance to rejuvenate.
If you read music at all, you are familiar with the various notations that signal rest. The marks on the sheet music tell the musician when to stop. The weekend is a signal to rest, and the symphonic life is one that pays attention to the signals.
If we try to cheat this natural rhythm, we won’t be more productive. And we won’t get ahead. We’ll start falling behind.
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