Science Says Sunday – R & R


New unicorn floating to make R&R a little less boring!

Whether you’re zooming all day, back to working your regular job, and/or doubling as a butler/playmate/chef for your kids/family, there’s no doubt 1) you’re likely getting very little down time and 2) getting very little time to yourself. The latter is less important for some than it is for others, but the former is likely important for most. Prioritizing rest and relaxation, even in the busiest or stressful of times, is important to maintain sustained levels of productivity.

I personally fall in the zooming all day and catering to my kids’ needs simultaneously. As such, the lines between work and play are often blurred, especially during this pandemic, where I find myself working all hours of the day, whenever I can fit in some time to work, zoom, or check items off my to-do list.

As I struggled with what topic to address in today’s Science Says Sunday post, my good friend and colleague Dr. Amanda Willig reminded me that talking about the “science of the importance of rest for productivity” would be a great topic to cover. In fact, two articles were primed for sharing on this very topic. The first, published March 20, 2019 titled “Stanford professor: Working this many hours a week is basically pointless. Here’s how to get more done—by doing less” based on a discussion paper series article titled “The Productivity of Working Hours” suggests that:

“…productivity per hour declines sharply when a person works more than 50 hours a week. After 55 hours, productivity drops so much that putting in any more hours would be pointless. And, those who work up to 70 hours a week are only getting the same amount of work done as those who put in the 55 hours.”

Bottom line: working longer does not necessarily mean you’re working longer or better. Working smarter is the key to checking those things off your list. So how do we do that? Keep reading.

If you are back to working on campus, in the office, or your regular worksite away from home, keeping track of hours may not be difficult because being away from home enables a clear separation of work from home in most cases. However, if you’re working from home, keeping track of hours spent working might be a bit more difficult. More and more I hear from friends and colleagues that zooming is exhausting and there are more and more meetings scheduled than ever before. Some call it the “after COVID-19 email and zoom meeting avalanche”. To some extent, that’s because of the ease of communication enabled by Zoom, but also, of course, because figuring out how to move on with work-life required a lot of meetings about how best to work remotely while accomplishing everything that once required in person interactions.

I’ve always known that resting allows me to re-group, to re-energize, and provides a recharging period that pre-kids, was easy to carve out. With kids, and especially with them at home now with me, getting that time is harder, and carving it out is guilt-inducing. So what do we do? We prioritize.

Rest and relaxation should be something you prioritize in your day or week. This is easier said than done, trust me. Advice I need to remind myself to follow quite often. Also recognize though, that rest and relaxation does not look the same for all people. For some, relaxing means going for a long run; while for others, like me, it may mean alone time including some hours to binge watch some shows on Netflix. Nevertheless, carving out that time, per day or week, is essential, and will ensure that you’re able to take on the next day, the next week, or that next big project that awaits in the wings.

Here are some things I have done to ensure I get some R&R when needed:

  1. Come up with a plan. Everything I do, goes on the calendar. If it’s not on the calendar, it’s not happening. Lately, that means that I add in the time the kids will need to eat, do homework, play, etc. I have been breaking up my day such that I concentrate on work in the morning. Take a “break” around 1-2pm, and dedicate the afternoon to the kids and all their needs. On occasion I do have meetings or work that overlaps with this afternoon kid time, but for the past two months, this schedule has worked well. After dinner, the kids get to do their own thing (eg play xbox, watch tv, play catch outside, ride bikes) while I catch up on a bit more work. We all do bedtime together, and I carve out some me-time after they go to bed.
  2. Communicate. Sharing my need to have “quiet time”, to “sleep in”, or to do whatever I need to do, requires communication with both my kids and husband. I can’t expect them to read my mind and have them know exactly when I am in need of time to recharge, especially since we all need such different amounts of recharge time and/or “me time”. My kids are older now, so they can be left alone for an hour or so in another room in the house, long enough for me to shut the door and take a cat nap or have a moment of much needed quiet. When they were younger, my hubs and I would take turns sleeping in on the weekends, or alternate who would put the kids to bed. Lately, we also do this when we want to get a workout in early or late in the day. Communication is key to ensuring you are able to get what you need.
  3. Figure out your zen. Identify what recharges you and what rest and relaxation means TO YOU. For me, sleep is a big part of it. I need at least 8 hours of sleep to feel normal. Cleaning, organizing, keeping busy also sometimes re-energizes me. It depends on the day. Other days, it means absolute quiet, no phone, and Netflix binging or a good book.
  4. Figure out what distracts you. Part of the reason I sometimes work long hours is because I entertain distractions. Social media, staring off into space, you name it. Sometimes, if the task I need to accomplish doesn’t align with my current state of mind, it will not happen efficiently. Working efficiently means you identify when you work best for what tasks. For example, I write best in the afternoon and evenings. Mornings are great too, but they are best for me to execute small tasks like email and checking small things off my list. The feeling of accomplishment propels me into a more focused state later in the day/evening. Combined with the right setting, efficient work can happen if you identify your work style and plan for that according to what you have on your to-do list.
  5. Set limits. I’ve had to learn this the hard way over the years, but there are a few things that have helped me find some balance. A clear separation between the work week and weekends has been crucial. I do still work weekends on occasion, but they are less frequent than they used to be. This provides me a true opportunity to get some rest and relaxation in on the weekends. Evenings are similar. With kids and their extracurricular activities or other needs, working evenings becomes nearly impossible anyway, but it has taught me that working efficiently during the day is essential and that I’m able to get just as much done during the day and just as quickly, as I used to before I had kids and had hard stops. This can be tough when you have littles, especially now that many of us are working at home. Finding a way to balance the unpredictability of life with babies/toddlers and work is key to being able to set limits when able. Sometimes, though, this means that you simply acknowledge that during this time, you simply will have to accomplish less than you are used to. Being realistic about what can be accomplished, under promising and over delivering at work is likely the way to go, all to ensure that you don’t burn out and that you’re able to be physically and mentally present for those babies.

The National Institutes of Health recommends sleep and rest for your overall well-being. In fact studies show that sleep/rest may be important for:

While additional research is needed on the the effects of rest alone on health, much research (linked above) suggests that sleep is super restorative and that lack of sleep has been associated with poor health outcomes. Nevertheless, rest is necessary above and beyond sleeping (says the PhD, anecdotally, but trust me nonethless?? :D), so make sure to get it in as best as possible.

On this Memorial Day weekend, you may have to do things that don’t enable you to rest and relax. Perhaps because you have to work, or because you have littles to take care of, or an elderly parent to watch after…whatever the reason, if not this weekend, make sure to figure out a way to carve out time for some R&R. Your body and brain will thank you for it. Personally, if you’re looking for me this weekend, you’ll find me floating around in our pool or sitting in front of a TV ingesting brain candy. 😉


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