Rest, not quit

How being unproductive can help you be more productive.

Rest, not quit
Photo by Sincerely Media / Unsplash

“If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit.” —Banksy

Rest. It’s a concept I struggled with for many years. My life became a daily practice of filling each spare moment—outside of chores and exercise—with continued learning, self development, and working diligently to hone my skills, believing each of these pastimes to be excellent sources of relaxation because hey: they’re fun, so, they must count, right?

Not quite. First of all, I want to be clear: do lots of these things. They’re good for you. They help you grow and they keep you sharp, but remember that the things in life which help you grow and keep you sharp also require loads of energy, and that this energy comes only from true rest.

I believed harnessing all my energy back into my growth would be restorative, but over time, I came to realize this practice only made me feel progressively more tired, stretched thinner and thinner.

I felt guilty about doing anything “non-productive” when I could focus my energy on growth; guilty to a point where I wouldn’t sit and watch a show unless I could work on something in the process (on the rare occasion I did actually try to watch something at all).

It took years of this constant action to realize my lack of true rest was actually doing me a great disservice. Sure, my passions got a lot of extra time invested into them, but the time they got became more about quantity and less about quality.

It took me taking a step back to analyze my process to realize that it takes deliberate, let-your-brain-get-lost repair time to truly recharge and do my best work.

Rest days

Rest days are when I devote myself fully to doing things which allow my brain to let go and operate outside the space of growth and productivity. I take long walks, I get lost in speccing out drawing kits, I sit and just listen to music, I meditate, and I let go of schedules. The result? After a period of intentional downtime, not only do I feel rested, but I emerge more creative and productive.

Rest days are about deliberate downtime. They’re not about learning, doing, or crossing off items on a to-do list. They also can be hard to incorporate sometimes, especially when you might feel behind...or when you might not feel like you need one at all.

The spectrum of creativity has its highs and lows. If you’re currently feeling at the bottom of the creative mountain, you might be overdue for a solid recharge. Conversely (and less intuitively), if you’re at the top, you might need a gentle nudge to remind you to take a breather before you push too hard for too long.

It’s about balance. Rest is essential and helps us do our best work. Be mindful of your own pace and plan dedicated rest days into your process. If you’ve been running at full capacity for a while yet don’t feel a need for rest, that could be an indicator that you might be overdue for a good break. Better to take a planned rest than a forced rest resulting from burnout, which can take far longer from which to recover.

This kitten has mastered rest and the fine art of paw-pad stretches.