Dark circles under the eyes, disheveled hair, wrinkled clothing, dragging feet, quadruple shot ultra venti redeye in hand…
The image of the hard-working grad student or postdoc… Or the one about to collapse from exhaustion?
We sometimes portray this image as being typical, and while I might not say desirable, I would say some wear it as a badge of honor. I am no doubt guilty of this at times.
But more and more, I realise that is not a healthy place for me to be for any extended time. Not only is it unhealthy for me, but it’s a very inefficient way for me to work. When I get tired, stressed, run down, I take longer to do simple tasks, and I make mistakes. I have learned to take a hint from body and mind and know when it’s time to call it quits for the day.
Admittedly there are times when we have little flexibility in our research timetable. Sometimes samples really cannot wait or we have small window of instrument time or that grant deadline is very soon.
But sometimes, even in the midst of all that, we need to take a break. Prioritize. Decide what can wait another 12 hours or 2 days or 2 weeks. Then get out and start fresh the next day or week.
That’s why I’m on a train right now. I could have worked several more hours, pushed through the exhaustion. But then I’d be wrecked tomorrow and likely find that I’d screwed something up. So instead, I’m heading home to enjoy a meal with my husband. There might be TiVo in my future. And I will attempt to silence the guilt over leaving before ALL TEH SCIENCE was done by reminding myself that I – and the science – will be much better off tomorrow.
I’ve found that I need to do the same. I’m much more productive when I’m well-rested and had time to do something other than science. The problem is convincing myself of that. I have the guilt associated with not doing ALL TEH SCIENCE!, too. All too often, I decide that after Kiddo is asleep that I’ll just watch some TV, but wind up reading papers.
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes x a million. I find myself in the exact same position and it’s only when I reach my breaking point that I finally realize I needed to take a break 2 days ago. Being tired is expected but really, it shouldn’t ever get to the point of unstoppable exhaustion.
I am really learning this lesson this year, but I had to work to force myself to stop working evenings. But now that I have “slowed down” I have actually been much, much more productive. If I push through and work when I am too tired and can’t focus, my work is useless.
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