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Take Care of Yourself
A Bonus Principle
This is the last part of The Principles of Productivity series. If you missed any of the previous entries or you want to revisit a particular one, here’s a list of everything so far:
There’s a good chance that if you’ve read this far into this series, your personality is something like mine. Maybe you wouldn’t quite describe yourself as “Type A,” but there’s definitely something deep within you that drives you forward. Unfortunately, that drive can be a double-edged sword. While it can drive you towards great things, it can also drive you straight into the ground.
So, call this principle 10a, or call it a bonus principle. Either way, I couldn’t wrap up this series without mentioning something that doesn’t get talked about nearly enough when we talk about personal productivity, and that’s rest.
In fact, I think it’s borderline irresponsible to talk about personal productivity without talking about rest.
There’s short term and long term consequences to not getting enough rest. In the short term, you’ll start to see diminishing returns on the time you put in. That is to say that our bodies are only designed for so much work. If I told you it was a good idea to dig ditches for 15 hours a day, 7 days a week, you’d tell me I was nuts. The body can’t handle that much work. At some point, you’ll get so tired that you’ll be digging out a single shovel full every hour.
Focused attention is work for your brain. Just like the body can only do so much physical work, the brain can only do so much mental work. After a certain point, you lose your ability to focus and be effective.
In the long term, you risk burnout. I used to think burnout was no big deal. You get tired. You take a vacation. You come back, and you get back to it. Then, I saw people close to me suffer from burnout, and came dangerously close to it myself, and I realized that I couldn’t have been more wrong. Burnout has long term, lasting consequences. It can lead to debilitating psychological issues, including severe depression. Burnout can then manifest itself in physical health symptoms, literally putting people’s lives at risk.
And allow me to point out that this didn’t start with Gary Vaynerchuk and “Hustle culture.” When I was in law school (way before Gary Vee started Wine Library TV), colleagues would (almost proudly) talk about the 100-hour weeks that were expected of them at the top tier law firms where they were interning. Decades before that, corporations that were trying to maximize output, put ever more pressure on employees leading to burnout.
So, burnout is real, it’s not new, and it often comes as a result of trying to do more.
And the only way to avoid it is to take care of yourself. That’s why Stephen Covey’s seventh habit of highly effective people is “sharpening the saw” — you being the saw. Covey understood that all of the excellent calendar hygiene and good habits in the world were useless if you were allowing yourself to wear down. So, just as a lumberjack maintains his tools, you need to maintain yours — namely, your body and your mind.
Sharpening the saw includes resting, exercising, eating right, and making time for life outside of work. And to hearken back to our previous principle, Covey did indeed count these activities as “big rocks.” This means, that yes, these things are important enough to schedule time for before you start tackling everything else.
The other thing that falls in this bucket is something that I, personally, have struggled with: play. Play is rejuvenating in a way that sleep, exercise and diet are not. But for those of us who have made extensive lists of our goals and our various responsibilities, it’s hard to justify, and what’s worse, even once we recognize the importance of it, we come to the shocking realization that we’ve forgotten how to play.
In this context, play is something that you enjoy doing that is completely dissociated from broader goals. If your version of play involves painting, don’t start dreaming up ways you can sell your paintings and launch an art career. If it’s collecting hockey cards, don’t look for how you can make a ton of money reselling them. Playing is about finding something that you can enjoy doing just for its own sake.
Some authors have suggested that your play time should also involve social connection and creation. By that definition, playing video games and reading for pleasure are bad, but taking a woodworking class is good. If your problem is that you’re too focused on leisure, maybe that’s good guidance. But, if you’re on the opposite end of the spectrum, that version of play feels a little too close to work, and so my advice would be: just do something fun. If that means you’re building model trains in your basement by yourself for a couple of hours a week, you do you!
But the point in all this is to remember that you are not a machine, nor should you want to be. Rest isn’t for lazy people, and yes, it’s possible to achieve your goals, even while taking caring of yourself.
Remember the goal of personal productivity. It’s not meant to give you the tools to work 100 hour weeks, and pick up three side hustles. The goal is to allow you to regain control of your life, so that you can enjoy it again.
So, schedule time for rest, exercise and make time to eat right. Take time off. Pick up that guitar that’s gathering dust in the corner. Go for a walk outside. Read some fiction. HAVE FUN! Because at the end of the day, none of this matters if you’re miserable through it all.
What Comes Next
Go out and apply these principles as you see fit, and develop a system that works for you. It will be unique and idiosyncratic and that’s okay. But as long as it follows the principles I’ve laid out in this series, it will help you regain a sense of control in your life, and give you some mental clarity. And that’s the goal. Removing the stress, anxiety and overwhelm and replacing it with calm, healthy, peace of mind. Will you suddenly get everything done? Absolutely not. Will you learn how to be okay with that? Eventually.
I’d love to hear from you if this series helped, or if it didn’t. Are you struggling with some of the principles? Do you disagree with something I wrote? Do you feel like I missed an important element? Drop me a line and let me know.