Rejecting Worship of the Endless Grind
So, I’m still behind on my 365-day blogging challenge.
I mean, it’s not exactly a huge gap. I’m, what, 5 blogs behind? I’ll probably blog twice a day for the next few days to catch up. But admitting I’m behind—that’s the hard part. See, I was just going to write a bunch of blogs, backdate them, and hope no one noticed.
But, truth be told, that defeats the purpose of the challenge, no? To be honest, to put myself out there. Besides, this is a 365-day blog challenge, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be 1 blog per day.
(I mean, I’ll be honest, that’s what it meant at first, but it’s my challenge, so).
Why is it hard to admit that I’m behind? Because that admission means, ultimately, that I needed a break from blogging. Writing every day is a hard gig—especially since I write every day for my bread-and-butter job. It’s also hard to admit because writers are taught to think that breaks are bad.
This past Thursday, I drove to San Diego to be with my mom’s side of the family: a rambunctious crowd of Filipinos from all over the world. Twenty of us descended on a huge house that we rented for three nights. It was great, and I got back on Sunday night—and then took Monday off to recoup. I felt mentally, physically, and emotionally refreshed like I haven’t felt in a long time.
On Friday, I made a conscious decision to end my blogging streak and allow myself to just…spend time with family. No work. No planning. No drafting. I made the same decision on Saturday. I made it again on Sunday. And on Monday, I took the day off because I knew I could use it.
That sort of conscious decision to not work is as vital to my practice as a writer and as a human being as any amount of hard work or long nights. Today, I’m going to explain why.
Hard-Driving Trades Long-Term Stamina for Short-Term Gains
Working longer and longer hours—more common now in the workplace than in previous decades—shortchanges our bodies and our longevity.
A meta-analysis of 25 long-term health studies found that working for 55 hours a week or more was associated with an increased risk of stroke compared to those who worked 34-40 hours a week. If you’re a “burn brightly but quickly” sort of person and that’s not enough to deter you, that extra 15 hours a week may not even matter. Researchers at Stanford found that working long hours every week didn’t allow people to be more productive. Instead, most people hit a cap where their maximum productivity leveled off—no matter how long they stayed at their desk.
So, the central promise of working long hours—increased productivity—isn’t achievable through burning your engine through the night. More importantly, doing so could endanger your health.
What’s the point of getting ‘more’ done during your week when you’re more likely to lose 20 years in the process?
Rest Creates Rhythm Creates Momentum
I’ve discussed why working long hours isn’t beneficial to anyone. So why is resting regularly (and intentionally) good for us?
Because regular rest creates rhythm.
Cycling through periods of rest, work, and rest again creates a rhythm that we were made for. This rhythm works in the micro sense (the Pomodoro technique, for instance) and in the macro (week-long vacations once or twice a year). Even in the Bible, the first chapter is devoted to showing why rest is vital for everyone—even God does it.
Multiple studies have found that vacations reduce stress, anxiety, and the risk of heart disease—and not just for the length of the vacation. Researchers at the University of Vienna found that people who took vacations from work exhibited fewer chronic pains and had measurable benefits more than 5 weeks later.
There’s no research suggesting the long-term benefits of the Pomodoro technique—wherein you work in 25-minute blocks, taking 5-minute breaks between—but personally, I can say that with Pomodoro I ended my day having done more while feeling less drained. Putting myself in a consistent rhythm meant I began each work period with a sense of purpose, with a momentum that carried me further than slogging through my fifth hour of work ever could.
The fact is, you’re not an engine—you’re a constantly recharging battery. Pushing yourself to the edge of burnout on a weekly basis keeps you from recharging yourself, making it more likely for the battery to fail the following week.
Studies on European productivity (where many countries have mandatory vacation periods for employees) and American productivity found that American businesses weren’t much more productive than their European counterparts, despite Americans taking far fewervacation days.
We work longer hours for more days out of the year, and we’re not even in the top 5 most productive countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That should bother us.
Regular periods of rest—both short and extended—doesn’t require much in terms of productivity. It’s a low price to pay for a better quality of life.
We Are Not What We Make
Why do I write outside of work?
This blog isn’t providing an income. These extra hours at my keyboard aren’t helping me relax. I’m not exactly building a future—at least not a future I can predict.
To tell you the truth, I’m not sure why I write outside of work, but I cantell you that I’m compelled to do it. I’m compelled to put out pieces for people to read and respond, to publish my work in a public space (however sparsely populated). As more people expect me to put out a blog every evening, the compulsion to write gets stronger.
But in the end, I’m not what I write, and sacrificing my sleep and long-term health for the sake of my craft is not only unwise—it defeats what I’m trying to do. My craft is an extension of myself. Sacrificing my health to further my craft is like trying to saw off the branch I’m sitting on in order to climb higher.
I am not a slave to my work. I’m not even an employee of my work. I’m just a guy who likes to write, and losing sight of that is to lose sight of the point: to live a full life.
I needed 5 days with family, so I took a break from writing for 5 days. Today, I’m writing from a position of refreshed strength. Could I have written this blog three days ago amid my cousins and aunts and uncles? Sure. Would I have gained anything? Not really. Would I have lost anything? Of course.
Wise People Play a Long Game
I reject the idolization of the ‘live fast, die young’ sort of artist. I reject the idea that you have to burn out to burn brightly.
Wise people live in the moment—but they plan for the century. They live well and aim to live well for decades to come. That’s what I want: I want to be writing in 60 years, and I’ll know that the only reason I can is because I rested.
Because I had faith that while I took a break, the keyboard waited for me.