You are in trouble. Your back is aching; so are your shoulders and wrists. Your mouth is filled with painful ulcers. You feel mentally drained and emotionally numb and you can’t remember the last time you didn’t feel stressed. But you can’t take a vacation just yet because you are working on a tight deadline. You wonder whether you will burn out before finishing your book project.
Does this scenario seem familiar? It’s time to take a break.
Here are five suggestions to minimise the chances of a physical or mental breakdown caused by prolonged working hours:
1. Work in 30-minute slots
Think about it – when you were at school, each lesson lasted no more than 40 minutes: 5 minutes to settle down, 30 minutes for the actual lesson, and the last 5 minutes on winding up. Later, college lectures lasted longer but never for more than an hour at a time. Any longer and you hit the downward spiral of diminishing returns.
Therefore, work for 30-minutes and then take a break. One way to remind yourself to take a break is to set a timer or alarm every 30 minutes. You can choose to record your progress every 30 minutes, which is an effective way to boost your productivity.
2. Take a real break
According to the new PGi infographic, Screen Fiends, the average American spends over 12 hours every day in front of a screen—laptop, desktop, TV, tablet or smartphone.
The 30-minute-break we talk about above must be a real break. Don’t spend this time checking your email. Give yourself the gift of “screen freedom.” This means give your eyes a complete rest. For additional bonus points, do stretching exercises or take a micro-nap.
3. Exercise daily
The novelist Haruki Murakami has run a marathon a year for over 20 years. In an interview, he says, “I try not to think about anything special while running. As a matter of fact, I usually run with my mind empty. However, when I run empty-minded, something naturally and abruptly crawls in sometime. That might become an idea that can help me with my writing.”
Some form of physical exercise is absolutely essential for writers, since they spend hours at their desks. Exercise not only helps them to keep physically fit, but it’s also a great way to bust stress. Several recent studies have found that even mild exercise such as taking a ten-minute walk substantially boosts creativity. That’s probably why Nietzsche said, “Only thoughts reached by walking have value.”
4. Write standing
Ernest Hemingway wrote standing by placing his typewriter on a chest-high shelf. Other writers who did the same include Thomas Wolfe, Virginia Woolf, Lewis Carroll, and Fernando Pessoa. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. wrote his legal opinions while standing at a lectern and remarked “Nothing conduces to brevity like a caving in of the knees.”
If you choose to stand while writing, at least part of the time, it will help you to correct postural imbalance caused by prolonged sitting. In fact, a school in Britain is conducting a study where children are required to stand while taking their lessons. The aim of the study is to assess the impact on concentration of sitting for long periods of time – and what effects it can have on children’s health.
5. Gift yourself a holiday every week
According to the Bible, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…. By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work.” Then He created Chuck Norris. 🙂
Jokes aside, you need to take a weekly holiday and recharge your batteries if you want to avoid burnout.
What is your favourite way to overcome stress and fatigue? Let us know in the comments below.
Aneeta Sundararaj is a published author and established writer for magazines, newspapers and journals. She undergoes a ‘technology detox’ on a regular basis as part of her rejuvenation exercises.
Rohi Shetty is a freelance writer who riffs about the importance of humor, mindful mojo, and creative entrepreneurship at http://rohishetty.com. He is also a star student of Danny Iny’s Audience Business Masterclass. And he has now taken to working while standing up.