Take a break. Step outside and have a drink. I promise this will work.
We all like to relax, but let’s face it, when you are ‘locked-in’ you face no chance of stopping until the issue is resolved. It doesn’t have to be a difficult task, maybe just a tedious puzzle with the solution on the tip of your tongue; you look up, and now the sun is rising. Shit. Time for work.
Have you taken a break lately?
I often have long sessions in front of a keyboard, and though I love the work, I can’t help but wonder where all the hours go sometimes. I was on Codecademy last night/this morning, grinding out imaginary points that don’t buy anything, and I realized when I saw the sun coming up that maybe I was doing it wrong.
I started to realize that I am not taking breaks. I get a cup of coffee, sit down, and then spend 4-6 hours at a time, writing articles, reading news, working on tutorials and videos..
I decided I needed to do something about it, and I did not want to sacrifice any productivity in the mean time. I don’t care how mentally strained I am when I get off the computer if it means I am operating with the optimal amount of productivity; something was hinting to me that this was, in fact, not the case.
It is time to test the hypothesis.
I started out by stopping about once an hour to just walk around the house, grab a bite to eat, play with Spicy and Daisy, maybe watch some TV and then come back to the computer. At first it was a bit disorienting, as I am forgetful by nature and it would take me a few minutes to remember what I was doing.
Most of my time was spent sitting back down at the computer trying to remember what the task was that I was working on, remembering the completely wrong task, resuming it, and then getting knee deep into it and remembering what I was doing last time. This is my life, I just try to roll with it
To pass the time relaxing, I also included other computer tasks, but more of the type of tasks that are centered around delivering pleasure. I spent about 30 minutes one day just mentally mapping all of the different ways you can annihilate a horde of zombies with a chainsaw in L4D2. This brought me great pleasure, strangely, considering I’ve not been a video-game player in some years, and the best part was it completely distracted me from whatever the task was that I was working on.
I started to notice something.
When I would come back to my task, after about a week or so, my memory retention of what I was doing before the break was starting to improve. I first noticed this when I instinctively opened my web browser as soon as I sat down, and then my brain said “No, you need to open the video editor; Chrome feels weird”
This was a big breakthrough for me; It meant that my brain was adjusting to the new routine. This is when my productivity started to improve as well. Within a few days, I more or less gained full recall of whatever it was that I was doing before the break so I could now start, stop and resume tasks pretty quickly, meaning, these breaks would not cost me productivity.
When I was a high school student I remembered being told about a study where people tended to remember the beginning and the end of whatever it was that they were studying and that taking 5 minute breaks helped memory by creating more start and stop points. I figured that this is what was going on, if this theory was in fact, true.
I started to pepper in breaks for OpenArena (a quake 3 clone that I’ve written about before) because it allowed me to get in a quick, high-action, adrenaline-boosting distraction, and then get right back to the work when I am done.
After I got adjusted to this routine, I realized that I was getting to sleep easier at night; I wasn’t laying in bed with my mind racing to piece together the play-by-play debriefing of the day’s events. I remembered each block, and if a task was completed or if it still needed to be completed.
I also adopted a little green notebook where initially I would write a rough schedule of the events for the next day’s work. Now I just write down ideas and tasks, but with no time component. There is no more, “Do this at 10AM and be done by 11AM” type of mentality about it. I just have a page that says Wednesday, and then three or four major tasks to complete. Whatever I get done in addition to this is just icing on the cake, but those three tasks will get done before I sleep.
Not being bound to a schedule helped ease a lot of the mental stress I was having. I would psyche myself out with so many routines and schedules that I knew I wouldn’t be able to remember, that I was just hurting myself in the end. I would assign gargantuan projects and tasks and then beat myself up when I didn’t complete them. I kept thinking to myself, “How the hell do people get shit done every day?”.
As I have adopted the task-oriented philosophy, I find more gaps in my day to enjoy the finer things. I find myself able to complete my tasks, and then do domestic duties too, like cooking great dinners for my family, scooping litter and even rearranging my dungeon/office.
I guess what I am trying to say is, I learned to relax, and in learning to relax, I learned how to work more efficiently. My goal in the beginning of this was to get rid of the stress, but not at the expense of task completion. I believe that I have achieved that goal, and writing this article is me acknowledging it to myself and validating my hypothesis.
I hope this means something to you guys, and maybe it will help one of you out Do not forget to go outside, and shout just to hear your own voice sometimes; you’ll understand when you try it.
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