Step Away from the Desk
I’ve been sitting at my desk typing for three hours. Okay, well not for a straight three hours, because I’ve also done my Facebook check-in as well as my self-promotion tweets. Still, I have been in the same position for those three hours. Too long. I know it’s too long because my back is screaming at me and my left elbow doesn’t want to straighten out. When I go to stand, my knees seem to have forgotten they’re part of the process. It’s not that I’m old; I’m just extremely inactive. I will admit to the latter, but never the former, even when I reach 107.
I stand up and move around, stretching cramped muscles and aching body parts. I know I have to sit back down and peck away at that keyboard, but every time I glance at that chair my insides groan in protest. It’s not going to happen. I start looking around for something else to do and decide to organize some old files or rewrite my notes for another manuscript. Perhaps I’ll read in the name of research or play a game of Angry Birds or twenty. Whatever it is I find to do, it’s not putting words on the screen, which is what I need to be doing. My productivity for the day is shot.
I knew it was going to happen, so I have no one but myself to blame. As I sat there, I felt my body stiffen, felt the pain in my lower back growing more intense. I know I needed to stop for awhile or I was going to pay for it later. However, I was stubborn. I forced myself to push through. After all, no pain no gain, right? Wrong. Very wrong.
I learned my lesson. Every time I push through things, enduring the pain, I actually get very little gain. If you wish to have greater productivity you need to take small breaks throughout the day. This is another instance where slowing down a bit will strengthen you and produce greater rewards, especially if your job is more mental than physical. Your brain can only stay focused for roughly ninety minutes at a time before it needs a break. Pay attention to your body and it will show you signs that it’s reached its limit, just as mine did.
You’ll feel restless, perhaps irritable, easily snapping at the most trivial thing or maybe your ability to concentrate will start to diminish. I know that if I push myself to write beyond when my mind is telling me to quit, it’s almost always wasted ink. These are signs your body is sharing with you that it needs a change of pace.
I’ve learned to listen to my body and make the necessary adjustments to my work day. I will write for an hour, focusing on one manuscript, and when the hour is up I will step away from my desk and work on a couple of other housekeeping issues. I’ll work on some record keeping or research, something that doesn’t require as much of my mental energy as the process of putting the story together. Other times, I’ll just enjoy a walk around the backyard or sit out by the pool watching the squirrels jump from tree to tree in a merry game of chase. Every three hours I’ll pop onto my social media sites and catch up with friends and fellow authors, shamelessly plugging my blog or other writings. Occasionally, I’ll even take a thirty minute nap.
After about a half hour break, I pick up my pen and paper and the words flow easier and seem crisper. I’ll work for another hour, and then take another break. Since doing my schedule this way, I’ve been able to double my productivity from when I suffered through the pain of a screaming back. My mind is sharper and my work better because of it. By slowing down, I’ve been able to go further, and ultimately, that’s the goal.
Sometimes in order to discover the solution you’re searching for, you need to silence your mind. All week this week we’ve discussed how important it is not only for you, but for those you care about, as well, that you slow down and catch your breath. A sponge can only hold so much liquid before it becomes useless until it’s wrung out again. Your mind works the opposite way. It can only be wrung out so much before it needs to soak up the solitude in order to be useful once more.
Step away from your desk for brief periods throughout the day. Take a walk, read a book, or even take a nap. Once you sit back down, you’ll be amazed at how much stronger your work is. Give it a chance and take a break today.
* * * * *