I have written about this topic before, but it is something that, unless we actively remember it, is easily pushed aside and forgotten. In our minds, we know that we need to do it for self-preservation, but it is the easiest thing to procrastinate on. That is, of course, time off. I don’t mean taking a couple hours to recharge and refocus, but to take a day or two and let your mind turn off and really recharge.
It is important to let your mind “unwind” and not think about what needs to be done or what you should be doing instead. Be determined, work hard for your goal, but don’t forget to live a little too. The quickest road to burn-out is staying super focused on your goals and forgetting that there is a life beyond them. When you allow yourself to be swallowed by these goals, (be them finishing your course, degree, or other professional milestones) every set-back, lower-than-expected mark, rejection, or lack of recognition will feel that much more devastating. Because, when you make it your life, it feels like you are failing at living. When you don’t, you are merely facing a set back in a professional/educational aspect of your life.
I find myself in a loop. It starts as I remind myself that it is important to not lose sight of things I enjoy doing. I make time to get away from the office and turn my mind off. This always allows me to come back reenergized and focused. In this part of the loop I am motivated and productive. The time I sit at the computer is well spent and I get lots accomplished. I feel good. But I always seem to find myself on the other side of the loop, even though I know better. On that side of the loop I am ultra-focused; my life revolves around my office, my computer, and my books. It starts by having something that “needs to get done” and so, I take my day off and get it done; I assure myself I will only bump the day off to another but that I will take it. It is sometimes a slow progression but eventually that day off is forgotten. I am focused, and for a while, I get a fair amount of work done.
But that side of the loop ultimately leads to burn out. I spend the days in my office, staring at my computer, I get a bit of work done, but most of it is spent in a frustrated haze. It is not productive, and it is not healthy. It takes some time to realize what I have done, to see that I have circled back to the other side. Sometimes I don’t see it at all until it’s pointed out to me. Generally, then I fight it. I tell myself I need to do this, I need to focus on only this, that when I accomplish X goal, then (and only then) I will give myself a day off again.
After a bit of stubbornness wears off I remember that to produce the best work possible there needs to be time to recharge. A tired mind may be able to muddle through and get work done, but it is not the best work. And it often causes conflict, as the frustration needs an outlet: any outlet. Burn out is a dangerous thing, it sneaks up on us as productivity, and it will wear us down until we cannot function. The only remedy for this is to make time for yourself, to get away, and to recharge. After that you will notice a great improvement in both production and mental well-being. This goes not only for academic work, creative work, but all work. Everyone needs time to just be, to breathe.
Deanna Roney is an AU graduate who loves adventure in life and literature.