Work When You Work

Nobody can work all the time. But how does the productive go-getter balance the need to rest with the need to get stuff done? One of the biggest problems that hits both chronic procrastinators and workaholics is not knowing what cycle you’re in. By organizing a plan and making a few simple decisions you can get more done in less time.

What is a cycle? The kind of cycles I’m referring to here are work cycles. That is, a cycle that goes between working hard and having fun. The problem chronic procrastinators face is that they end up stuck in “rest” without being able to push through to work. Workaholics get stuck in “work” without being able to get some rest.

Work or Play? Make a Decision.

Staying stuck in the cycle is probably the worst thing you can do both from a productivity standpoint and being able to enjoy life. When you’re stuck, you can’t really get much done because you’re low on energy. You also can’t have much fun because you feel the pangs of guilt telling you to get to work.

Getting unstuck requires a bit more planning. Instead of just following your intuition about when to work, make a decision. If your intuition leads you down a middle path of no-work and no-play then planning out your schedule can help speed you up during work hours to give you more guilt-free time off.

What are a few cycles to pay attention to?

1) Daily Cycles

Do you work a bit all day, or do you have clear on and off times? If you find yourself working all-day every day until you burn out, try making a daily to-do list. Setting a specific chunk of activities for work in one day can make it easier to shift all that work into one time slot. That way you’ll get your work done earlier and can get the rest of the day off.

2) Weekly Cycles

Try to mark off one day on the calendar where you won’t spend time on major projects or work. It may initially seem easier to spread things over seven days, but this inevitably leads up to the middle path of no-work/no-play. Squeezing your week into six gives you a day to have fun, sleep in, relax or plan.

3) Lifetime Cycles

On an even bigger scale, months and years can begin to form cycles. After spending a few months or years working towards a big goal you might spend a similar amount of time exploring or trying new things. Applying the concept of cycles to each section of your life can help resolve the slave-until-sixty-five trap many careerists find themselves in.

How to Use Cycles to Nuke Procrastination

Planning out cycles can help both with getting more done directly by getting you to work harder or indirectly by giving you more energy. If you want to speed up your achievement efforts then you can use cycles to help combat laziness. Here are a few steps:

Carve out your weekly/daily goals. Decide what you want to accomplish in the next week. If you’re trying to get more done, then you’ll probably want to aim higher than what you accomplished the week before.

Set aside a guaranteed rest day. Give yourself at least one day per week where you won’t work on this list. Don’t sacrifice your rest day to spread out the work or you’re focus will take a nosedive after a week or two.

Set aside a guaranteed rest hour each day. Give yourself at least one hour per day that you won’t touch with projects (best to place it at the end of the day as a reward).

Any leftover time each week or day is yours. If you finish all your tasks for the day by noon, give yourself a pat on the back and take the rest of the day off. If you get done everything you needed to by Thursday, you now have an extra two days off. (I’m assuming that your work is the only criteria you follow, if you have regular office hours you might need to form a slightly different plan).

The same steps are necessary if you are trying to get more rest time. The only difference is that you need to focus more on saving those rest days/hours. The workaholic who slashes all time off is like the car that avoids refueling. You can run on empty for a few miles, but eventually you’ll be stalled in the middle of nowhere.

“What if I can’t take a day off?”

What if your to-do list is so big that you can’t take a day off? The problem is that this viewpoint defeats itself. The reason you’re so overloaded with work that you can’t set aside rest time is because you’re moving slowly through work.

If you’ve been going on 4-5 hours of sleep for weeks, it often takes more than one full night to recover. Similarly, if you’ve been drained from a project for a month, taking one day off might not be enough. But by introducing a weekly rest day you can slowly shift yourself back into balance.

I talk to a lot of students and workers who complain about having to work all the time, yet when I see them working they are dragging their feet. If they had taken more time to rest, rebuild their motivation and enjoy themselves then they could approach work with a greater focus. Greater focus means you play when you play and work when you work.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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