Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Summer Holiday

"No more working for a week or two."

As an intellectual, you should avoid soul-destroying labour. I've liked that sentence ever since I came up with it a few years ago. Professional athletes must take care of their bodies. Ballerinas must not risk destroying their legs in stupid accidents. Pianists, after years of training, must keep their fingers in good working order.

This is not just common sense. It's a duty. The body of a specialist contains the state of an art. Your mind, likewise, if you are an intellectual, is a heritage site, a repository of our culture. It is not just unwise, it is irresponsible, to wear out your brain. This summer, then, relax. You owe it to yourself and to your peers and to your culture to enjoy what you do. I'm going all out on this one.

With the stakes identified, let me say something more practical. My theme today is rest, and one obvious version of resting is sleeping. It's perhaps the paradigm case, and for good reason. You should get a good night's sleep, not every once in awhile, not "after it's all over", but every night. Another good example of resting is taking a vacation. Establishing these two kinds of leisure in practice requires the same thing: planning.

I don't mean you have to plan what you will do on your vacation. "Fun and laughter on our summer holiday: no more worries for me and you." Whether it's sleeping or vacationing, the whole point to leisure is freedom from worry, even if that freedom is always temporary. Enjoying your leisure time, and therefore actually getting some recreation, depends on being able to let go of your ongoing projects for a time.

Here's the best known way of letting go: define your last-task-before-the-break and your first-task-after-the-break well in advance. Don't just run out of time and get on the plane (or collapse on the bed). Make a realistic plan and finish something before you leave work. More importantly: have a clear image of what you will be doing when you get back to work. Decide what file you will open at 9.00am Monday morning and what you will be doing to it.

The reason for this is not so much that it will make your return to work more productive. It may or may not. It will, however, very certainly put your mind at ease. We've seen it in the movies; let's see if it's true.

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