Time Away: One Key to Productivity
Brit Mandelo, Consultant
Though a variety of factors can contribute to low productivity, burn-out—minor or major—is the source of woe for many, many writers who are juggling high stress levels, large required outputs of work, and tight deadlines. I’m not talking procrastination; that’s a whole different animal. What I mean, here, is the sensation of doom and desperation, accompanied by a deep exhaustion, that can follow on the heels of a hard run of productivity. You just feel wrung out, but there’s still more to be done. Ignore the deadline for a bit, though. While it may sound counterintuitive, one of the solutions that can help is taking time away from the project in question: for ten minutes or for a day, a break offers a chance to recuperate.
Giving the brain a chance to rest is no different than giving the body a chance to rest. If you were doing a strenuous physical activity, you’d likely take a breather before moving on to the next challenge. The same principal can work to stave off burn-out, at least temporarily—long enough to rally and finish that research paper, possibly. The idea is to count in that break time as part of the process; don’t worry about the deadline while taking a break, or your stress level isn’t likely to decrease much at all.
Instead, if the half-finished sentence staring you down is giving you a headache, step away. Take a short walk, do the dishes, listen to music, go outside—whatever fits your fancy. An activity that isn’t mentally challenging offers extra breathing room, though sometimes a pleasant brain-stimulation, like a favorite movie or album, can be refreshing as well. Washing dishes or picking up around the house are a few of my preferred necessary distractions. (That way, the break also feels a little productive, too.) Don’t think about the project that’s driving you up a wall. If an idea happens, delightful. If not, don’t worry about it. Take the time to breathe, to loosen up, to let go of some of that doom.
When you return to the page after the break, it might not be easy, but it also might not be harrowing and awful.