Monday, January 23, 2012

Sleep, Rest and Repetition

The key to keeping in shape, whether mentally or physically, is to maintain a regular pattern of work and rest. Too much work, too often, wears you down. Too much rest, too often, drains your strength.

Sleeping is a normal, nightly way of getting some rest, and if you feel as though you're not performing at your best in your work, you may want to look at your pattern of sleep. Spend a few days prioritizing sleep, which means getting to bed at a suitable time, i.e., mindful of when you're getting up. For me, this actually means getting up at a suitable hour and then avoiding any extended napping during the day (which makes it hard to fall asleep when I need to). Given a good alarm clock, it is easier to control when you are awake than when you fall asleep.

By a similar token, if your periods of inactivity and activity are too long (say three eight- or ten-hour days working on a project followed by a week of vaguely worrying about it, you can begin to discipline the process at both ends. On the working days, stop earlier (you should be cutting this down to three or, at most, four hours a day). On the non-working days, force yourself to work on the project, no matter how ineffectually, for thirty minutes (it's much easier to begin work on a project knowing that you'll stop half an hour later).

You should not rest only when you sleep.

I don't know whether there's a non-arbitrary reason for the length of the week. But the idea of having a day of rest every seven days, in any case, is firmly entrenched in our culture (and pretty much all cultures). It is worth observing. Knowing that you will rest a little every day and that you will spend a whole day largely resting and enjoying the company of your friends and family is a good way to keep your workday focused. The whole idea is to have regular routine that you can count on: know when you will be doing what. Let your mind and body count on when it will be exerting itself and when it will be recovering.

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