Bad Advice: Slack Off More

Submit your questions to [email protected] or leave a question in the comments section, and I’ll answer it in Bad Advice!


Today I answer a question from myself. It might also explain, in part, why my column is late this week.

Dear Bad Advice,

I’m addicted to foodgawker. I can’t get any work done. Now that it has infinite scrolling I can’t even pretend I’ll stop after the first page. How will I ever finish another column ever again?

– Me.

This is going to sound like bad advice, but I should probably spend a little less time working.

I figured I’d use this example from my own life to write about procrastination and its many joys. I find I fall behind most often and accomplish less when I pare away everything from my life except work. I might accomplish a lot during the first phase of such a cycle, when I’m doing nothing but going to work, coming home and writing until midnight, and hitting repeat. I manage to keep it up in phase two, when I’m slacking off on some nights and then desperately squeezing all my writing and editing into a few nights before deadline. Then I hit the wall and can’t do anything but stare at foodgawker for hours, and sitting down to write seems about as difficult and painful as trying to perform brain surgery on myself.

Instead, now that I’m back from a short vacation, I’m going to try to establish some balance in my work/life schedule. And that includes not only working hard, but making sure I schedule in leisure time and hold myself to it. That way, I won’t burn out spectacularly and wind up setting myself back instead of moving forward.

Here are some techniques I’ve tried, will try, or have read about for establishing a healthy balance between work and leisure. I hope they help you too, if you’ve experienced burnout or feel overwhelmed with your work responsibilities!

1) Make an honest assessment of which tasks really need to get done now. 

As my editor can attest, there have been plenty of times I’ve squeaked in a column the night before, or the morning of, my deadline. Writing here is something I take very seriously, and I try my hardest to honor the agreement I made to deliver my columns each week. But as my editor can also attest, I’ve asked for small extensions here and there, or let him know when something simply won’t come through on time. Because at the end of the day, when I feel like all my life’s responsibilities are crowding in on me until my head is about to explode, I realize that no one’s going to die if Bad Advice appears a few hours late.

When responsibilities crowd in on you, the answer is not to take on everything at once and kill yourself trying to do it all. The answer is to prioritize, then get through things to the best of your ability while keeping a clear eye on what’s extremely urgent, and what can wait. Then don’t waste your time beating yourself up over what is essentially the reality of the situation: you can’t do everything.

2) Take leisure time seriously.

I wrote about this in my advice column to recent grads: vacations are important. So are the mini-vacations that are the moments throughout the day, or the several hours in the evening or morning, that you take to yourself, simply to relax. This time is important because it keeps you from burning out, which ultimately helps you be more consistently productive, instead of stuck in the spin cycle of furiously working, then being completely useless. So if you can, take your lunch break away from your computer. Cook yourself dinner and enjoy it while watching TV or reading a book. Even on busy nights, try to find a few moments of rest. Not only does it help recharge your batteries, it helps you digest the events of the day. I find that I burn out the worst when I’ve gone through several days or weeks of such hectic activity that I don’t have time to reflect on what I’ve seen and experienced in that time.

3) Make peace with the fact that some days will be less productive than others.

Everyone has slow days, even when we’re trying to work hard. Days full of constant interruptions, or days when we just woke up on the wrong side of the bed and can’t seem to drink enough coffee to make things better. Don’t punish yourself. Instead of focusing on what  you didn’t accomplish in that time, focus on what you did manage to do. Don’t waste time and energy beating yourself up; instead, focus on the things you can accomplish with a fuzzy head or a limited amount of uninterrupted time.

4) Take a moment to admire what you’ve crossed off your to-do list.

To-do lists don’t just help me remember what I have to do. They encourage me, because I can see the progress I’ve made. They help me organize, because I can focus on pairing easy, small tasks with bigger ones so I can get several things done in a single day. And even when they’re very long, they always wind up shorter, and less intimidating, than I imagined them to be before I sat down and made a plan.

5) If life gets overwhelming, change your life.

If it seems like there’s never any air for you to breathe, take a hard look at your life and think about the things you can change to make it less stressful: whether that’s a change of job, fewer social engagements, more social engagements and less time sitting around the house alone, whatever it is that you have control over that you can reassess and change. Stop trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole by forcing yourself into a lifestyle that only causes you great anxiety. Life throws plenty of causes for anxiety at us, so try not to create your own if you can help it. I’m admittedly still figuring out a lot of these things, with some help, so I may not be the best at giving (or following) my own advice on it right now, but then again, that’s why you come here for Bad Advice. So the last piece of bad advice I’ll give today is:

This is going to sound like bad advice, but you’re going to die one day whether you finish that big report on time or not, so stop making your life miserable about it.

Submit your questions to [email protected] or leave a question in the comments section, and I’ll answer it in Bad Advice!

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