working on not-working

So, I have been intending to clean out and re-organize our pantry for months. 

MONTHS. Like, since summertime.

And finally, finally, finally, I did what it took to get that done, which was . . .



Okay, not exactly nothing. I watched a lot of Mr. Robot with the husband. Snuggled with the dogs and kids on the couch. Read a novel. Played some Words With Friends. Cooked a little, but only for fun. Otherwise ordered take-out.

I lived like this for 2 whole days. And then on the third day, I happily - really, honestly, happily! - put on a podcast and dove into that mess of a pantry until it looked like this:

i also discovered we have PLENTY of cocoa powder, canned pumpkin, and cream of mushroom soup.

i also discovered we have PLENTY of cocoa powder, canned pumpkin, and cream of mushroom soup.

Listen, this pic does not do my pantry justice. Like sunsets, grand vistas, and starry skies, the actual experience of this pantry it is so much more breathtaking than my amateur photography can render.

But I digress. Main point: by taking a couple days off, I was able to charge up enough not only to tackle a rather unsavory project, but also to accomplish it efficiently and effectively and (even!) with zero bitching. After I finished sorting the pantry, I organized a cluttered bookshelf and streamlined a forgotten filing cabinet. And then the next morning, I woke up super early to go to Jazzercise. 

So this is the lesson I slowly slowly slowly but surely learned in 2015: how much better EVERYTHING goes when I give myself a break.

Or, to be more precise, a lot of breaks.

Last year, I started practicing a technique called Pulsing, which I learned about in Brigid Schulte's kickass book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time. 

Pulsing means moving in and out, in and out, in and out of Work Mode - taking a break of around 30 minutes after every 90 minutes of focused (read: not multitasky) work.

Yes: that's more than an hour of focus. And then a nice long break, about every two hours. 

Pulsing means honoring that we humans are organisms, and that it's not just our hearts, lungs, cells, and digestive tracts that pulsate. So, too, do our brain waves, in an ultradian rhythm that shifts about every 90 minutes.

After about 90 minutes of brain work - writing, teaching, problem solving, studying - our brainwaves shift, and it becomes much more difficult to concentrate. It also becomes a lot easier to get stuck/frustrated/dismayed/overwhelmed. I know this is happening when I notice I've been browsing the thesaurus for a good 10 minutes, or when I keep straying out of Word and into Facebook.

Pulsing calls for loooooooong-ass breaks, and at first, it was really hard to give myself a whole 20 or 30 minutes off. At first, I'd just go from the documents on the computer over to the dishes in the kitchen sink - so, I'd stay in work mode, but work differently. Remaining productive seemed important.

Slowly, I learned I would need to give myself a break in self-consideration, too. To ease up on the self-criticism and practice doing self-care.

I realized I'd been considering rest/relaxation/leisure as a treat: something I might earn or deserve only after hard work that had yielded results. I'm getting better, now, at seeing my breaks as that which enables all my work. Breaks are an essential, energy-gathering part of my everyday that allow me to work as hard and give as much as I do. I need sips of them like I need sips of water.

So, as I shifted my thinking, and especially as I began to experience the effects of the breaks - how I'd return to my work fresh and sharp, and how much more efficient I could be, and how very much improved was my general mood - taking it easy got easier. Now that I've bolstered my break-taking abilities, I won't just shift into housework or email work - I'll go for a little walk or wander around the garden. Or knit a few rows of something. Or stretch. Or telephone a friend. Or just sit in the sun for a while.

I see the pantry experience as me trying out - albeit unintentionally - this Pulsing technique on a larger scale. My little break enabled a BIG difference. I had two days of delicious sloth and then two days of electric productivity. Those are both such lovely states of being - so much more enjoyable than churning through task after task day after day, with just enough energy to keep going.

I have all manner of big intentions for the new year - projects to mobilize, essays to write, topics to study, classes to create, habits to cultivate, people and organizations to serve - and so my resolution for 2016 is this:

Get even better at taking breaks.

Maybe you could use one about now?