Once again, science tells us what we long suspected was true: Never-ending work days, weeks and years are not ideal for human productivity.
According to a recent story in the New York Times, a “new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.”
In short, doing as much as you can for as long as you can is not the most effective way to get stuff done well. Such bittersweet advice for those of us who parent and work.
For me, and I imagine most others, the biggest shock about becoming a parent are the new, and extreme, limitations on your time. It’s like you have been cruising around in a sedan for all these years; the ride’s been smooth, traffic is minimal, and you can get in and out of the car as you please. And then baby comes along and suddenly your commute of life becomes as efficient and smooth as a horse-drawn buggy ride during rush hour on the F.D.R.
Nevertheless, you try to make do the best you can, which mostly means never, ever wasting a single minute. There is the time to cuddle, nurture and inspire your kin, the time for earning income and chipping away at your professional goals, and then, if there is ANYTHING left over, maybe time to run a mile or two or call your childless best friend to whom you haven’t spoken in months. And now, somewhere during all of this, I am supposed to fit in time to relax to do this all even better. Ha.
Of course working parents aren’t the only ones for whom the recommendation to relax is a little laughable. There are many who need to work more than one job just to stay afloat, and others who get maybe a nice five to 10 year window of R&R between taking care of their kids and taking care of their parents. But still, even if this recommendation to relax is implausible for many — and reeks of privilege — it is always good to be reminded that once in awhile, on an individual level and a societal one, less sometimes really is more.
On an individual, multitasking, working new mom level, it is good to remember that when something can wait, it probably should. (Figuring out what can wait is a whole other story. But for now I will take solace in the fact that there are things that can wait, and when I stumble upon them I will make sure to put them off.) On a societal level, this is a good wake-up call to companies across America telling them that cutting back on vacation days and stretching out the work day may not, in fact, make you produce a better product or increase your profitability.
Of course Judaism figured out this whole need to stop and renew thing from the beginning. It is, as you know, Shabbat. And perhaps as new parents now is the time to get those candlesticks out from the cupboard above our fridge and start making a habit of lighting them together on a weekly basis. I think we can manage that.
Elissa Strauss has written for the Forward over a number of years. She is a regular contributor to CNN, whose work has been published in a number of publications including The New York Times, Glamour, ELLE, and Longreads.
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