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Getting things done, part 4: downtime

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If you're having trouble getting things done, one of the most natural things to do is to work longer and harder. I've seen many people do this: people who work day and night on things (papers, lectures, grading, etc.), seven days a week, and still say, "There's just not enough time in the day for me to get everything done." Maybe this statement is true in some cases (for instance, if you are parent, or working multiple jobs, etc.). However, in my experience another possibility is that it may not seem like there are enough hours to get everything done because you are working too hard. Allow me to explain. A number of years ago, I used to work all the time: during the day, at night, on weekends, and so on. Then, at some point (while I was still in a non-TT job), it all felt like too much. I was burnt out, not enjoying life at all. So I tried something different. I gave myself hard limits on when I could work: from 9am-5pm on weekdays, and no work at all on weekends. Surprisingly, something remarkable happened. I became much more productive than I ever had been. I started writing and publishing more papers, got all my lectures and grading done, and so on--all of the things "I didn't have enough time in the day" for before. Further, I've heard more than a few other people say the very same thing: that once they set clear "work hours" for themselves, they became far more productive. The question is why. As I've mentioned before, my spouse is an academic researcher in another field: Industrial-Organizational (IO) Psychology. I learned from her that the theory I just mentioned--that people need downtime to function more efficiently on the job--is not just a theory: apparently, there's good empirical evidence for it. In brief, the brain is much like a muscle. If you worked out all day everyday, you would be physically exhausted--and you would not function well in tasks of physical performance. Muscles need. . .

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News source: The Philosophers' Cocoon

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