Last week, I joined a few other local church leaders for a retreat.
At the retreat, we talked about patterns of rest. The pastor leading the retreat had a few regular things outlined: one day a week should be set aside as a Sabbath day off. One week every year, you should take a week off to refocus. Every seven years, you should take a six-week sabbatical.
No one in the room was keeping to that schedule. Most of them didn't take a yearly week off. Several didn't have a weekly day off that they protected.
But in the midst of that room, I felt especially ragged. The previous Wednesday, I had run to Chicago to pick my sister up from the airport in the middle of the night. I got home at 4am. On Friday, I drove back to Chicago to see one of my favorite bands. I got home at 3:30. Then Saturday morning, I packed up to drive to Fort Wayne, where both of my bands were playing at an all-day music festival.
Mind you, I still had to work in the middle of all this. I woke up sleep-deprived and hazy-brained, frantically trying to keep on top of my to-do lists.
And here we are talking about rest. I didn't even feel that I could rest.
But then on Tuesday, after weeks of running myself into the ground like this, I crashed. I woke up too sick to think, called in sick, and forced myself to lay down—trying not to think about the bills coming due.
It was a wake up call.
I realized that I needed to get some margin in my life. I had been overextending myself for too long, and if I wasn't careful, I was on my way to a way more severe breakdown than just getting a nasty cold.
I sat down with my wife, and we looked at how we could organize our schedule to make sure that we had a weekly day off. And as counterintuitive as it might seem, we discovered that taking a week off actually requires more diligence with how we manage our time.
In order to protect that one day off a week, we have to make sure that we are more productive every other day. As much as it might seem like we're getting more done by working every day, I've realized that in my own life, it's a sign that I'm not being as productive as I need to be every other day.
Since I set my own schedule, I've always had a bit of freedom to lapse into less-than-ideal productivity. I can take a few hours out from my normal work time to have lunch with a friend or do band practice. I can just borrow that time from somewhere else.
But what's actually ended up happening is that I say yes to all of the things I want, then spend all the rest of my time frantically catching up on the time I lost.
I realized that I needed a more rigid schedule.
I couldn't just work according to my whims anymore. I needed to set some restrictions around myself.
Instead of allowing myself to stay in bed for hours scrolling through Reddit, I needed a more regular routine. I'll get out of bed by eight. We'll eat our breakfast, walk our dog—every work day, not just when I feel like it—and then start working by ten o'clock. I work until I make my daily goals—which I've also set for myself. Then on my day off, I turn off the alarm, stay in bed as long as I want, and keep myself from all work.
I started this schedule last Wednesday. And it did not take me very long to get tired of it. Even this morning, when my alarm went off, I instinctually hit the snooze button—four times. I finally started breakfast at 8:45, begrudgingly took the dog on a short work, and sat down at my laptop at 10:20.
Already, I'm starting to feel discouraged.
I know, in the abstract, that if I'm more productive with my work time that it will lead to me being more relaxed in the long term. Using that time more effectively will ease the stress on my non-work time, allowing me to enjoy it more.
But in the short-term, I hate it. I know that I'm more productive when I work in dedicated chunks, but part of me would rather spend all day wavering between working and slacking off on social media than spending a few hours in go-mode.
It causes more problems, but it feels easier. Instead of going a hundred miles an hour for a few hours, I can just go fifty miles an hour all day. And it barely feels like I'm working!
But I know that doesn't work.
That's how I've been living for the last several months, and I've seen just how dangerous it can be.
But the chemical reactions inside my brain don't care. My pleasure centers like it when I goof off. They like it when I try to write while I watch Netflix—even though I've proven time and time and time and time again that I can't stay focused when I try.
But I think I can use this to my advantage. If I can implement a system of small rewards that I earn by sticking to my schedule, I might be able to trick my monkey brain into wanting to work. For example, if I start my work on time, I can give myself a piece of candy. If I pass my daily goal, then I get a nice dessert. If I manage to keep to my goals all week, then I can order myself a custom challenge coin (read more now).
After bribing my pleasure centers after a few weeks, I might be able to trick my brain into believing that sticking to a rigid routine is actually fun.
And once I can get my stupid monkey brain on board, keeping to my routine won't be as much of a fight. I'll be able to be productive without needing to beat myself up.
And when productivity becomes the norm rather than an outlier, then I can take my weekly day off without feeling like I should be doing something else. And maybe then, I'll finally be able to relax.