Strategic Rest

December 7, 2010

Strategic or purposeful rest is advocated by experts as diverse as Leonardo daVinci and modern day sports psychologists. It is reportedly the key to improved productivity, intensity, focus, and efficiency. And it is very hard to do.

Tonight is the next-to-last night of Hanukkah. During this Jewish holiday, we celebrate a miracle that took place thousands of years ago when order was restored to the temple in Jerusalem and one night's supply of oil lasted for eight. Each night, our family lights the menorah - the candelabra that holds eight candles and a “helper” candle used to light the others. Since we don't get a break from the usual activities during Hanukkah, lighting the candles and opening presents becomes one more “thing to do” during an already hectic weekday evening.

One tradition during Hanukkah is that no work should be done while the candles are burning. We use small candles and this period of time lasts for about 30 minutes or so. I have to say it is quite a challenge to not only add one more item to the heavy duty to-do list my husband and I need to get through in order to feed, bathe, and put to bed four children but also to carve out a half-hour where we stop our frenetic activity of making dinner, serving dinner, cleaning up after dinner, and doing laundry, wiping the fingerprints off the doorknob handles, and all the other little chores that pile up so efficiently each day. I have to actively work against my innate tendency to pop up from the living room couch to do just one thing and instead focus on the season, the candles, my family, and our time together. 

Strategic or purposeful rest is advocated by experts as diverse as Leonardo daVinci and modern day sports psychologists. It is reportedly the key to improved productivity, intensity, focus, and efficiency. And it is very hard to do. Resting while Hanukkah candles burn is a form of strategic rest as is actually eating during your lunch hour (without working on charts, reading a journal, or making phone calls). I believe I work better and with improved clarity after taking a walk around the block or a coffee break. However, it involves the conscious choice to put aside the piles on my desk and the urgent items that feel like they must be done now.

Over the past week, as I have rested while the candles burned, a strange and unusual thing has happened. By opening this time up, my husband and I have had the opportunity to play with our kids, read stories, talk about the day, and actually sit down on the couch. Unfortuanely play and fun are not typical components of our evening routine because we are so focused on what needs to be done. We miss out on so much by doing this but really gain very little. Instead of getting everything done any quicker, we just get burned out more easily. Even with a half-hour of mandated rest, the kids have gotten to bed more or less on time, the kitchen is in its usual state of semi-disarray when we drop into bed, and everyone still has clean underwear and socks. Instead of robbing us of needed time, the strategic rest of Hanukkah adds to our evening. This serves as a reminder to me as I try to be super-efficient and productive - strategic rest is a necessary part of maximizing my efforts.