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The beauty of slacking off

So last week I had a completely useless week work-wise. I got lots of little things done and had some big life events (I’m an Australian citizen now!!) but I really didn’t complete what I thought I would. The ironic thing is that last week I had finally felt like I had caught up on things and so I had a week where I could give focussed effort to 1 or 2 projects. I was so excited!! And yet, I literally got nothing done. So either I require the constant stress of imminent deadlines to get work done (which is entirely feasible) or the amount of work I did the week prior to ‘catch up’ burned me out and I needed the break.

I’m tempted to say the latter actually…not only to excuse my lack of productivity but also because I think it is an important point. I think that as researchers and students in research, we often beat ourselves up for not getting things done in a specific period of time. Some of this self-pressure is reasonable, because research can be this vague universe with a lack of specified deadlines. However, some of this self-pressure and guilt can be really detrimental to our future productivity. In the research on pain, it is commonly shown that your past memory of a painful experience can influence how you perceive (and respond to) future events. Specifically, you may perceive a painful event as even more painful or you might perceive a normally non-painful event as actually being painful.

What if this same thing happens to our productivity? What if, when we beat ourselves up for not getting things done, we actually cause ourselves to perceive our work the following week as insurmountable?? Or does it cause us to perceive what we normally would consider an easy task to now be incredibly difficult? Or perhaps our affective response of guilt over a slack week undermines our confidence in our own ability to get any job done?The reason I say this, is that after a really slack week, I find I get a ridiculous amount of work done the following week. And it’s not a result of stress/pressure/guilt/pulling all-nighters (unless of course the deadline is that week!). Rather, I find I feel motivated and rejuvenated and ready to tackle a problem.

So my message today is to give yourself a break and don’t just think that a slack week is always a lack of motivation or discipline on your part…you may just be re-charging. Perhaps a good reason to make sure we take our holidays every year!!


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