Recovery as a Habit

That’s what it needs to be. Regular. Consistent. Just like the other half of the equation.

We know we have to keep working. Delivering. Creating output. We don’t afford recovery the same status. Recovery is to be minimized. Only as much as you need to keep working! Well, you’ve probably experienced where that gets you: Right into the next McBurnout along the highway.

“Do not do more today than you can completely recover from by tomorrow.” That’s Greg McKeown’s idea of rest in Effortless. It is akin to Hemingway’s trick of “leaving something in the well.” Hemingway would end his writing sessions wherever he knew how he wanted to continue, sometimes mid-sentence. That way, he’d know what to write next and be excited to start again the following day.

I can sit down to send out 30 pitch emails at 8 PM after a long workday, and sometimes, I do – but it almost inevitably means the next day’s a goner. I spent all my energy in one day, so I’ll have to spend another full one to recover it. The pendulum of productivity always gets its due.

Since we know the feeling of the pendulum being stuck on the procrastination side all too well, we tend to keep pushing it all the way to “productive” whenever we can. It is much harder – but usually more sustainable – to let the pendulum come back a little when you’re going strong. “Okay. Enough for today. Let’s go into recovery.” It’ll often be a tough choice to make, but likely the one you’ll thank yourself more for the following morning.

You can extend Greg’s recipe for balance, by the way, to weeks, months, years, and even decades. It is okay to feel spent after twenty years of raising two children. A month-long sprint to ship a project last-minute should probably be followed by two weeks of vacation. And a week of too little sleep will probably end in excessive napping on the weekend. All of this is balance.

If work is your right hand, recovery is your left. You’ll need to use both as habitually as you use your real ones. Treat them like the pair of efficient, nature-given tools that they are. Work continuously, and recover consistently. As long as you’re in balance, there won’t be a wave you can’t surf.