Deliberate Non-Work

I spend a lot of time thinking about how to work better each day. What gets omitted when you try and answer the question: "what am I going to work on today?" is "how am I going to rest and manage my energy throughout this day?"

Carving out time during the workday to rest and rejuvenate is a hard. First off, the concept of the 'work day' almost precludes the possibility of rest as an option. So naturally, there's this persistent compulsion of needing to do work (or be present at the working location) during the workday that prevents you from resting. And if you do manage to rest, you'll likely feel guilty about doing 'non-work'. 

There are two types of non-work. One is beneficial and the other is not. I call one 'deliberate non-work' and the other 'accidental non-work'.

Accidental non-work are the sirens of our digital life that try and lure us in with every new tab we open. In it's most base form accidental non-work looks like checking social media or browsing the news. In a slightly more advanced form you've experienced it as perusing e-mail or the work chat room. In it's most sinister form, its types of work that yield no result but feel good to do e.g. "I read what everyone in our industry is talking about on Twitter" or "catching up over coffee". Most of these are activities you either passively agree (like getting coffee) or don't even realize you're doing until you've wasted several minutes. Accidental non-work is sneaky, it creeps into the gaps between tasks or gaps in your attention. And somehow it's more palatable than deliberate non-work because it keeps you on on the clock even when you're not really working for a few minutes at a time. 

Deliberate non-work is different. You don't accidentally start doing it or passively agree to it and it doesn't pad your status for hours worked. The examples are obvious: taking a walk, eating lunch, meditating or reading a book. And this is why deliberate non-work is so unpalatable. The idea of taking a 45 minute walk at 2 PM crushes you with guilt because it's such an obvious chunk of non-work during 'work hours'. 

But deliberate non-work is good for you. It actually rejuvenates your focus. Accidental non-work is like keeping your attention on life-support. You've got some attention that kind of works but it certainly isn't improving. Deliberate non-work is how your attention actually recovers from it's fatigued state. 

Deliberatively setting aside time to rest during the work day is not slacking off. In fact, I've made an effort to schedule in deliberate non-work during very 'work-like' hours to remind myself of how important it is and to ensure I don't drain my attention to the point where it can't recover. 

Currently, my deliberate non-work schedule looks like this. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday I go to the gym at 3:30 PM. On Tuesday and Thursday I take a 30 minute snack break at 3:30 PM. And on Friday mornings, I go for a walk in the forest and start my day later than usual. 

One of the reasons I chose 3:30 PM for my snack and workout break is because it's where I start feeling tired but still able to push through. Instead of pushing through everyday, I pull the plug and try and reboot my focus. When I get back from this break it means I can put in two to three more hours of good work instead of a labored one and a half after which I'm toast.