Doing nothing makes you smarter. It gives you much more raw brainpower. Makes you a better version of yourself, in a way. I’ll provide at least five research results to prove my point; seven topics to discuss; and a couple of opinions from other developers, journalists, and scientists to make my statements sound more convincing.

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Do you need to hurry?

First, let’s imagine that you finished today’s work and have some free time. You’re trying to rest, maybe watch some YouTube or play games. But, somewhere in the head, you feel it — you’re getting dumber. Someone is studying right now; someone is preparing the rocket to send it into space; someone is creating a new startup. And you’re doing nothing. Shame on you. You need to drop everything and work right now! Or do you?

In fact, you don’t really need to hurry. More than that — you need to force yourself to stop, to breathe, and to have some fun. Because that’s how you’re becoming better. I know that it could sound counterproductive, but hear me out.

Your brain needs some time to handle all the information you put there today. Time to process it. So give it this time. If you try to learn something new after a hard day — you’ll forget it easily. But if you don’t — you have a great chance to remember and use a lot of stuff you learned before.

If you went to the gym, at least a couple of times, you know — muscles grow not when you train them, but when you rest. The brain works in the same way. So, let’s try to learn how to find the time to rest.

Not that important

Usually, it’s quite obvious that you’re tired. There’s a moment when you can’t process any more data. The brain needs some downtime.

But you won’t rest because “it’s important”, or “everything will break if I stop now”. But it will not. Most of the “critical deadlines” are moving quite often. Because other people need more time to finish their part. Or the meeting needs to be rescheduled. Life is going on. Not all deadlines are life and death.

Not even all of them are real. Let’s be honest, some of them you just imagined and set without any real reasons.

So, not all evenings or weekends must be about self-developing through self-torture. You already got a lot of info through the working week. Let your brain calm down and process it, so you can use it later. If you think that doing nothing will slow you down, it not exactly true, because…

Rest is not idleness

For example, there’s research on the default mode network by the University of Southern California. It proves: when you’re resting — your brain is far from being unproductive. It works, and works hard.

  • Firstly, it replays your daily conversations. When you were right or when you made mistakes, so it can learn from them. You felt it a lot, when you had a conflict, and later you found the greatest possible answer to your opponent, but it was too late. Still, it’s not really too late — the next time, you’ll have the experience to deal with such situations better.
  • Also, during the “rest”, your brain shuffles through your plans, almost-finished projects, ambitions, and so on. The idea is to find life moments that you don’t like and search for solutions. And your brain will find the solution, for sure. It’s your choice to use it or not, but at least you’ll have some starting point.

So, shortly speaking, when you’re resting, your brain does the hard drive check, searching for errors. Or, if you prefer more sci-fi stuff, it self-monitors your mind to find and fix broken parts so you can do better.

It’s easy to see when you’re well-rested, and mental tension just evaporates. Like, some internal limits are going away. And, you can do something you couldn’t even start a day before. It’s a really great feeling, and resting well will help you get it much more often. But let’s go a bit deeper…

Quality over quantity

Sometimes, it looks like resting steals your time. But it’s not. Technically, you’ll spend a couple of hours on resting, right. But it’s not about the number of hours. It’s about the efficiency of these hours.

If you’re a night owl, like me, you surely felt the difference between 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the evening (or at night). You can spend the same 60 minutes and do 2-3-5-10 times more work. Or read and understand much more info, coding tips, anything.

Just a life example. I had a habit of overworking because I couldn’t sleep calmly if some specific “insanely important” task wasn’t finished. So, I sat there for hours, until the morning, just trying to look through code. To test it “one last time”, to be sure, you know. And sometimes it worked. But also a LOT of times it didn’t. And when I wake up the next morning and fix in 15 minutes all the mess I spent on 5 hours the day before — this feeling helps to understand the whole concept of quality, not quantity.

There’s a guy, Tony Schwartz; he’s a journalist and CEO of The Energy Project. He made a career out of teaching people to be more productive; by changing how they think about downtime. And, taking his quote:

“There’s strong evidence that when people work for too long, they get diminishing returns in terms of health costs and emotional costs”.

For me, it’s better to understand as a videogame analogy — if your gun is overheated, or you spent too much mana, you need much more time to get back in form. Or you’ll just keep yourself tired and less smart permanently, if you don’t stop overspending your energy.

Also, there’s a psychologist Dr. K. Anders Ericsson of The Florida State University. He spent more than 30 years studying how people achieve the highest levels of expertise in sports, art, engineering, et cetera. And, based on his work, limiting the practice is the key. Let me put one more quote:

“Unless the daily levels of practice are restricted, such as subsequent rest and nighttime sleep, individuals often encounter overtraining injuries and, eventually, incapacitating burnout.”

And yeah, speaking about burnout…

Burnout and Creativity

I assume most of us went through it. Or will go through it sooner or later (I’m the optimist, yeah).

The whole point of burnout — is when you overheated yourself so hard and so regularly, so your brain just gave up. Like, “Sorry, I can’t do it anymore”. It could happen because of doing hard work for too long. Or doing work that you don’t like for too long. Or doing hard work that you don’t really like for too freaking long (yeah, I feel you).

And after that goes nothing. You don’t want to do almost anything, and all you can — wait to recover. Or start buying new stuff to get dopamine. But it won’t change anything, for real. Waiting and reading some fiction or playing games will do the same, but much cheaper.

Still, burnout is not the point of this post (maybe, the next one), so let’s finish. The best part of burnout (if I can say it) is the end. When you start feeling again. When your curiosity wakes up, and you become interested in new stuff. You want to do things, learn things, new ideas are bright and shiny in your mind.

I remember one of my burnouts when I was visiting mom on my vacation. She didn’t have Wi-Fi at that time, so I was lying down at night, alone in the room, and trying to sleep. And it helped. Like, I didn’t have a lot of things to think about, nothing new happened for a couple of days at least. And I was just thinking about some of my previous projects, startup ideas, potential new libraries, and so on.

I spent a couple of evenings this way, and new ideas just came. I couldn’t sleep, so I took some pieces of paper and started writing. Taking notes about possible new features for my projects, some new projects, some ways I can become richer, a better programmer, and so on. It really helped me at that time. And, assuming the whole burnout thing is really-really bad, it just confirms how great its ending feels. But only, if we rest better and allow our brains to create these exciting ideas.

Or if we can skip overheating in the first place.

Oh, yeah, and some scientific proof to be sure. There’s research by Ap Dijksterhuis from the University of Amsterdam. He demonstrated how the mind is excellent at solving tough problems while doing some small things instead of working. Like taking a shower, brushing teeth, laying down and daydreaming, and so on. So, doing nothing really helps, especially when your brain needs some rest anyway.

But, to make it work, you must force yourself to rest.

How to force yourself to rest

From my experience, at first, you don’t want to rest. Then, you want to rest, but don’t know how. Aaand, in the end, you’re relaxing and don’t want to stop.

So, play games, watch movies, TV shows, or anime, just know how to limit yourself. Books (like fiction) are great too. But don’t read technical literature and articles, because if it’s useful — you need to think it through. If useless — you’re just wasting your time. The same goes for watching memes, funny youtube videos… Podcasts? Meetings? God, it’s hard…

You need to find your own solution. The idea is not to waste your, let’s say, CPU power and battery charge. The brain is recharging, but the more “thinking energy” you need to use, the slower recharge will be.

For now, let’s continue with four popular types of resting:

  • The first is doing nothing at all. The best one. Just sitting, lying down, walking, meditating, and doing nothing else, not even listening to music. There is also plenty of evidence that walking enhances cognitive performance. But doing nothing at all it’s hard. Like reeeeeally hard. At least, if you try to do it regularly.
  • The second is processing information. The worst one. Especially if scrolling down social networks. Imagine the experience of walking through Times Square in New York. The brain is permanently busy with neon lights, banners, taxies, crowds of tourists. And compare it with… a day hike in some park. When the mind is calm, listening to birds’ songs, looking at trees, the river’s flow, and so on.

Facebook or Instagram, or anything similar, are the first one, Times Square. And they’ll load your CPU as hard as possible, so you’ll be even more tired than before, sooner or later.

Like blood-sucking vampires.

But the second one, the park — it will do. Maybe it’s just a calm fiction book, some fantasy, or an optimistic novel. Let yourself get carried away by the plot and don’t overthink it.

  • The third, my favorite one: playing video games. But not all games will help. Multiplayer PvP games, like League of Legends or Call of Duty, could make you tilted and angry in a couple of minutes, and it doesn’t help.

    Another bad choice — some hardcore logic games. Or deep strategy games, where you need to build an empire, checking through 60 different parameters. Or solve some engineering problems like in Zachtronics games. You already solved a lot of complex issues during your regular work, so don’t overload your “CPU” without need.

    Focus on some single-player games with a good plot or fun gameplay. Without the need to tryhard your brain. Some hardcore shooters or action games are good enough too; you can let off your steam while only using your reflexes. Of course, it’s totally your choice, but if you feel tired after the game — it’s not the right one.

  • The fourth one is hobbies. Like playing the guitar. Or going to the gym. Or making something from wood. Or writing posts, as I’m doing right now.

    The gym is the most underrated, I assume. It helps to switch off your brain for an hour or two and just focus on exercises. But, maybe not now, while coronavirus is still here. So, any other hobby will do. Starting with organizing your collection of old blu-rays, or singing at home karaoke. Choose your poison 🙂

Which moves to the last part…

How to make a habit out of resting

And you need to start it slow. Not “I’ll fix everything today”. Little by little. Don’t block all social networks, start with Facebook. Or, just limit it to 5-10 minutes a day. The same goes for meditation. Or fitness. Or anything else. As I said before, you don’t really need to hurry. The idea is quite the opposite. You need to take pleasure from the process. Not just wait through it as some popular 2-week diet or something.

And, after some time, you’ll get used to it. Like, the power of habit, or name it whatever you want. Shifting focus regularly to a bit more resting will do magic with your life. At least, it works for me, so I’m still good at doing my job, like coding stuff, but I got enough time to make these videos and share some ideas with you. So, let yourself some rest, and let your ideas grow.

. . .

Aaaand yup… That’s all for today, it’s a late night outside, time for me to sleep.

Feel free to like this post or follow my social media accounts, it makes a difference. If you want more — check my other posts. And, if you have questions or something to say — let me know in the comments… Have a good night.

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