About a year and a half ago I drastically changed how I work.
For the two decades before then, you could call me a workaholic and be absolutely right. I worked a lot, believed in working a lot, and prided myself on having crazy strong stamina to work a lot of hours in a row, many hours in a day, and many days without breaks.
But then my life went up in a storm in all sorts of ways (some of which I've shared here). And I made myself a promise to learn how to be kinder to myself.
One part of being kinder to myself involved working less and resting more.
Believe me when I tell you that this was a crazy idea for me. And I had to fight tooth and nail with that voice in my head telling me that only lazy people work less and I was surely heading into obscurity and never accomplishing anything if I started to rest more.
But I knew the way I was handling life before wasn't sustainable so I had to give this a try.
I stopped getting up at 5:30am to take my morning walk and started sleeping in til the luxurious 6:30am. I took breaks during the day to have some tea, go for a short walk, read a few pages from a book or a magazine, chat with a friend. When I felt tired, I stopped working for the night, even if there were some things left undone. (If this doesn't sound revolutionary, it was for me.)
I did something else as well, as part of my being kind to myself commitment: I allowed myself to start painting for the first time in my life.
Besides overcoming all sorts of fears to be able to do it, I had another huge obstacle I had to tackle was finding time to paint -- and often, trading some work time for painting time.
So, you'd think since I work less hours now and don't (usually, with some exceptions) work myself to the bone, I get a lot less accomplished.
That's what I feared. And I couldn't have been more wrong.
I get more done now than I ever have. I've had the most creative year of my life -- and I'm generally a creative person -- and this creativity has benefited my work, my writing, my family, my friends, and my soul. My daughter has told me on numerous occasions that I seem a lot more relaxed and less stressed out.
And perhaps most importantly, for the first time I feel like a lot of my work feeds me rather than drains me. I don't do any less of it -- in some ways, more -- but I do it differently.
It turns out, there is science to explain what I've experienced.
When we focus on solving a problem and then take a break from it, our subconscious brain keeps working on it. That's why often we literally come up with great ideas in the shower: It's a place where our conscious brain is resting (or rather, focusing on the shower-taking stuff, which is pretty simple), so our subconscious brain has some room to explore and come up with creative ideas.
So when we rest our mind by doing something that fuels us, we don't actually stop working. A different part of us takes on the task, and often, this part has a greater capacity and creativity than our conscious brains are capable of.
The other day I heard an interview with the author of Rest: Why You Get More Done If You Work Less and he talked about our ability to teach our subconscious brain to engage. In short, it's a matter of switching between cycles of focused, hard work and constructive rest.
Many famous writers, painters, and scientists did this by working for a chunk of their day and then spending considerable amounts of time walking, reading, swimming, or doing other activities, which they found restorative. And while it runs counter to our culture of "Work more! Harder!" there's growing evidence that resting more may actually make us a whole lot more creative and productive.
I'm still learning to say "I'm going to take a break from working and do a little painting" without feeling guilt or fear that I won't stuff done.
But every time I find myself running up the stairs from my little art studio to write down some big idea I just got for Happier, or my book, or a whole lot of other work-stuff, I get a huge, loud reminder that I'm doing the right thing.
Give this whole rest thing a shot. I think it might surprise you.