Sunday Sound Thought #101: Unplug

Photo by Andres Atehortua, click to view source

I appreciate the irony of writing this for my volunteer gig, on the weekend, after months of working overtime. I need a break. We all do.

It’s a privilege to do creative work for a living. Most of us would be doing what we do in our free time if we weren’t getting paid for it. Some of us still do it in our free time anyway–for passion projects, volunteer work, or just to explore something interesting that’s not appropriate for the day job. Because the job’s a lot of fun, it’s easy to forget to stop working. But we all need to put it down and do something else. Not just occasionally, but regularly. To me, there’s a lot of reasons for this.

Context switching for your mental health

Doing the same thing repeatedly for too long wears a rut in my brain, like how you’d wear out your living room rug if you paced in a circle all day. Repetition can be good for learning, but in my experience, it’s very bad for my emotional state. You might have experienced the light-headed confusion of being interrupted in the middle of an hours-long work session by a coworker with a question for you. That’s a sign you need a break. Go for a walk, grab a coffee, talk to someone face-to-face. You’ll feel lighter, more energetic, and I bet the work you do right after will flow easier and end up better. Another effect is that you’ll most likely feel less tired when you’re done with work, freeing you up to do other healthy things.

Having experiences for source material

A game designer asked me a while back, “how can you design experiences for people if you don’t have them yourself?” It seems so obvious, but if you’re spending all your time and brain power on work, you’re probably not experiencing anything new. How do you expect to be able to come up with anything new without input from the rest of the world? For me, that’s getting out in nature, reading (non-work-related) books, and seeing live music. If I remember to do all that, the work I do is better, and I’m more excited to work.

Expending physical energy to sleep well

As someone who struggles with workaholism and a bit of anxiety, I often forget to keep up a regular exercise routine in favor of tying up one last loose end, then another, then another. Predictably, when the workouts become less frequent, not only does the noisy brain turn up the volume, but I also start having trouble sleeping through the night. This keeps the cycle spinning, and then I’m tired and grumpy for work, which creates more loose ends to tie up, which pushes the exercise further out of the picture. The nice thing is doing a hard workout, breathing heavy, and sweating pretty quickly gets you back on track. It’s like a reset button for anxiety and sleep. So, you know, “just do it.” (Ok, ok, I’m sorry. I had to.)

A lot of this may be obvious, and there is certainly real research that points to more precise causality in the above. But honestly, I need to unplug now. Please talk amongst yourselves, and take care of yourselves while you’re at it.

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