The sun is shining and the birds are chirping as I enter the hospital. I’m leaving a beautiful day behind as I start another late workday. Still, I’m quite happy with what I’ve achieved today so far, considering it’s just 11:45 AM. I still have a whole workday ahead of me to make this a really worthwhile day.
In the Radiology department I bump into a grumpy colleague who starts complaining loudly:
We’re not being paid enough for this shit!
Whenever you hear a doctor saying this, there’s always another reason behind it. So I ask him what the real problem is. “We’re doing at least five late shifts and five night shifts a month. If you add the day after, when you’re totalled, that’s more than half of every month when you can’t do anything worthwhile. This job is robbing us of our lives!”
I’m looking at him and smiling because today I’m actually working one of these late shifts he’s mentioning. And before coming to work I’ve already done a heavy workout, read some of Seneca’s letters and had brunch with my wife and parents.
Still, about a year ago I would have agreed with him. So what changed between then and now? Not much — I just started using a few simple tricks to double my output. I also discovered a way to become a better writer, a more well-rounded person and be more resilient. Sounds like something you would like? Then keep on reading.
The wife effect
Rewind 1.5 years — we’re in the spring of 2016. It’s a beautiful sunny day. The cherry trees are blooming outside as my wife comes home after a night shift and lifts the blinds in our bedroom.
Aaargh! The pain, the blinding light — make it stop!
This was what a typical Sunday morning would look like when she wasn’t home. Over a big cup of coffee I would then try to figure out what went wrong. Why, after a free Saturday, did I look about as tired as someone coming home from night shift? Oddly enough, this only happened when she was away. So at least I knew where to start.
I started comparing the days off I spent alone with the ones spent with her. And I found one major difference: my wife had an organizing effect.
Whenever I was alone after a hard week, when I felt my brain was drained and in urgent need of decoupling, I would plunge in a day of “complete relaxation” to reboot my brain. And what better way to do this than indulging in hours of laying on the couch, playing video games and drinking beer. These are all things I enjoy and doing them for a whole day should provide enough rest for my brain, right? Well, if you’ve ever tried this you already know the answer. And if not, then you’re probably the wife in your relationship and I congratulate you for it.
So my binge-playing-and-drinking combo wasn’t working. But what was different on the weekends I spent with her? They were a lot more structured, active and demanding (both intellectually and physically). All things that don’t sound relaxing at all. Still, after such a weekend I would start the week feeling refreshed, recharged and feeling good about myself.
How can this be? There must be some weird wifey-voodoo stuff going on. But I will get to the bottom of it!
From hobbit to Jedi
After months of researching and experimenting with different methods, I finally developed a system. I evolved from my old way of hobbit relaxation (sitting in a comfy chair smoking a pipe and drinking tea) to the way of the Jedi. Well, it’s not quite sharpening my lightsaber skills and floating in the living room, but it’s close enough. It’s something I call active relaxation.
The 5 principles for relaxing like a Jedi
- The opposite of work is not idleness — it’s fun. Whenever you’re tired after work, resist the impulse to vegetate on the couch and drown your problems in alcohol. Instead, do something fun! Go for a run, a swim, or just a walk through the neighborhood. This will get your blood pumping again after a week spent at the desk. Plus, the harder the physical activity, the higher the release of feel-good hormones. How’s that for a voodoo-effect?
- Socialize with real people, not online friends or videogame characters. I know the latter is tempting. And I know you’re this close to leveling up and finally getting that awesome gear upgrade. But guess what? You can also play games with real-life friends. Board games are my weapon of choice — they’re inexpensive and you have hundreds of options to choose from. You also get to have a drink and tell them about your annoying boss, which is my favorite kind of group therapy. Plus, it’s about the only time when you can bankrupt your wife and feel good about it.
- The brain is like a muscle — use it or lose it. And while most of us use some part of our brain at work, let’s be honest: your brain can do a lot more than that! So stimulate it in your free time. Reading is my first choice because I get to engage in completely different thoughts, different millennia and even different worlds. Other great options are learning a new language and writing. Or find yourself a new hobby and get to it.
- Boredom is failure. This has become a sort of mantra for me and I have to thank the author and fellow blogger Tim Ferriss for it. Whenever you feel bored remember that your time, especially your free time, is limited and precious. Think of all the occasions when you wished you only had a bit more time. Well, now you have some. And it’s not coming back. So are you going to use it or lose it?
- Get your daily dose of self-satisfaction. And I don’t mean the kind you usually get under the blankets. I mean getting stuff done — real stuff. Ticking off items from a to-do list may not sound relaxing, but it will free up slots in your brain and it will make you feel good afterward. Remember how happy I went into my late shift? No matter how shitty the day was going to be, I had already completed 3 tasks for the day and nothing could take that proud feeling away. Use your free time to get those chores off your mind and feel good about yourself once again.
Using these 5 simple tricks I’m now getting more stuff done than ever before. I’ve also gotten into better shape and found a way to live a happier life. And, best of all, I’m handling my time like a Jedi master — even when princess Leia isn’t around.
Always pass on what you have learned – Master Yoda
As always, I would love to know your thoughts on this. So drop me an email. I promise to read them all.