More and more Americans are working through their weekends. According to a 2010 Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, more than one-third of U.S. employees log time on the weekends, putting in an average of five and a half hours, and a whopping 81 percent of respondents in a recent GFI Software survey said they check their email on Saturdays and Sundays. But enjoying those precious two days off can actually make you more effective throughout the workweek.
"There are 60 hours between that 6 p.m. Friday beer and that 6 a.m. Monday alarm clock," Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, writes in a Fast Company blog. "That’s plenty of time for fun, relaxation and more importantly, recharging the batteries. In our competitive world, successful people know that great weekends are the secret to workday success. You want weekends that leave you refreshed, not exhausted or disappointed."
From literary icons of the past to present-day CEOs, these successful people make the most of their time off with weekend rituals and habits that don’t involve catching up on email.
I will be on vacation this week, as sort of a decompression from summer and respite before I jump full on into Fall, Winter, and all that ensues.
I intend to spend as much time as possible in nature, listening, smelling, seeing, and overall experiencing the amazing world that is around me. Spotting animals, smelling trees, water, flowers, and moss, feeling the crunch of leaves and rocks beneath my feet, hearing the wind blow through the leaves and listen for animal calls, and taste the heat in the hot afternoon sun and cold at early dawn.
I encourage everyone to take 20 minutes sometime between now and when I get back to just go outside, find a comfortable, quiet place to sit – under a tree, near some water, on the street corner near your house – and just listen, smell, taste, and watch. Listen to all the noises. What’s the closest noise, what’s the farthest noise? How many animals can you spot? How many different smells can you pick up? Breathe fully into your lungs and slowly let the air out, feeling it work its way through your nose, throat, and lungs.
Give yourself this 20 minute vacation, even just once this week, and I guarantee your environment will feel fuller, richer, and you’ll feel more in tune with your surroundings.
As I sit here stressing out about working on my master’s thesis, a knot in my stomach about the training manual due by the end of day tomorrow, worried about my dog’s injured knee, and wondering why my mom hasn’t called me back yet, I was reminded of an article I read recently in Scientific American about the really, really damaging effects of stress, particularly over the long term.
A recent wave of research has unveiled an important environmental player in the genesis of neurodegenerative disease: stress.Pairs of identical twins developed Alzheimer’s disease in concert only 40 percent of the time, showing that factors other than genetics must contribute to the disorder.Stress seems to impede the ability of certain brain cells to recover from insults, triggering or aggravating the symptoms of disorders such as Parkinson’s.
We’ve been aware for awhile that long-term, ongoing stress is bad for us, even before Robert Zapolsky’s Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers came out, but it’s still a nice reminder how important it is for all of us to take a break every once in awhile.
The brain is an amazing thing. It allows us to problem solve, combine ideas, and create out of seemingly thin air. But only if we let it.
As a play advocate, I run into a lot of people grumbling that play takes away from learning; but the fact of the matter is, play is ESSENTIAL to the learning process. More and more science is showing that the brain needs that down time to process what it’s learned, digest it a little bit, in order for us to use it for any useful purpose.
People who study creativity and innovation are aware of this all too well:
Current neuroscience research confirms what creatives intuitively know about being innovative: that it usually happens in the shower. After focusing intently on a project or problem, the brain needs to fully disengage and relax in order for a “Eureka!” moment to arise. It’s often the mundane activities like taking a shower, driving, or taking a walk that lure great ideas to the surface. Composer Steve Reich, for instance, would ride the subway around New York when he was stuck.Science journalist Jonah Lehrer, referencing a landmark neuroscience study on brain activity during innovation, writes:
“The relaxation phase is crucial. That’s why so many insights happen during warm showers. … One of the surprising lessons of this research is that trying to force an insight can actually prevent the insight.”
It’s nice to see that science is finally taking relaxation and play seriously. I just wish the rest of the world, or at least our education system, would too. I know my work would benefit greatly if I took time to just relax and contemplate things more, to relax and let my brain explore a little bit. Hmmm, another exercise to try…