Tips on re-energizing for mental work in the evening after a taxing day?
July 23, 2021 4:20 AM   Subscribe

I'm pursuing a graduate degree part-time, and it's down to the major paper. I'm having a really hard time, after a full day of a challenging job that combines managing people, creative work, and strategic/tactical problem-solving, to find it in me to work on the degree. Ideas for re-energizing?

I'm not facing a notional/motivation barrier where I don't like the subject or the work. I actually enjoy it when I'm doing it. I'm clear on my goals, the the benefits of doing this -- there's no question about seeing the value. But after 8-9 hour work days, I have dinner and then I just want to read, or play games, or watch something instead of re-activating for more time doing brain stuff.

Coffee and naps are out -- they completely shred my night sleep. Morning is cats/exercise/chore time. I really am looking for ways to re-fortify my brain for mental work in the evening.

What has worked for you to give yourself renewed focus and energy for mental work in the evening when you feel like you've tapped that out during the day?
posted by Shepherd to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Accept that you have limits. Is there anyway you could take PTO for your regular job? Even a long weekend away?
posted by raccoon409 at 4:40 AM on July 23, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Set up the area where you work for an immediate start, with all your materials at the ready.

Set a timer for 10 minutes. Sit upright in a comfortable position. For the first few minutes, let your mind run wild with every worry, protest, complaint, and gripe from the day. Really run it out. Then, for a few minutes turn your attention to your body. Take 3-4 deep breaths. Do a progressive relaxation from head to toe (or toe to head). Now, spend the last few minutes visualizing making progress on the paper. Be as specific as possible. See yourself writing 4 pages (or whatever an ambitious number is). See the well formed sentences pouring out of your fingertips like so much Spiderman webbing. See yourself citing like a badass. See yourself supported by a golden thread through your midline that holds you erect and energized in your chair, your progress building. See yourself stopping at a proscribed time with a feeling a great accomplishment.

Then open your eyes and start.
posted by cocoagirl at 4:53 AM on July 23, 2021 [8 favorites]

Doing additional self-directed work, after 8-9 hours of a mentally taxing work day, is a lot! I’ve accepted that that’s beyond my limits personally. So the first step is to be compassionate with yourself — almost anyone would have a hard time with this.

Is there any way you could wake up an hour earlier and work on the paper before cats/excercise/chores? I’ve learned that I simply cannot do difficult self-directed work in the evening — my brain doesn’t work like that. But I’ve had some success with getting up earlier, going out for a walk, and then tackling the thing.

Do you have any nearby friends doing evening work who you could set up co-working sessions with? That’s the other thing that works for me when I’m really struggling to get work done. Having someone in the room who’s also working hard really helps.
posted by mekily at 5:08 AM on July 23, 2021 [5 favorites]

Like mekily, I cannot do active cognitive work in the evenings, even things I really love. I am ok with evening webinars and classes, where it's more passive content delivery, but if I'm asked to do something generative I can manage maybe 10-15 minutes before my brain just stops.

I do my "outside" work on weekends instead. Saturday mornings are best for me -- pre-pandemic I'd go to a local coffee shop, now I just set up shop in a different part of my house that is the creative zone. I use the pomodoro technique to divide up longer work sessions, but I can generally get 3-4 hours in before I have to stop.
posted by basalganglia at 5:16 AM on July 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I wrote my dissertation proposal while doing full time work. Honestly, I wrote a lot during my lunch break and work breaks. I wrote on my train ride commute. I found myself more productive when I broke up my writing time into chunks of 15 minutes of work breaks or 30 minutes of train or 45 minutes of lunch. It forced me to just get something on paper, or just focus on editing a section. And at the end of the day, I did like 1.5-2 hours of dissertation work (which was an OK pace at that time for weekdays).

That said, when I did need to work in the evenings, I usually took a long, hot shower (which I usually do in the mornings to wake me up). Then sat down with a cold beer and wrote. I usually listed 1-3 goals I was going to accomplish- these were small things, like write this summary of two citations. I checked it off as I did it, then went to bed.
posted by inevitability at 5:35 AM on July 23, 2021 [4 favorites]

Getting up early to write worked much better for me when I wasn’t getting enough done on the weekends and after work wasn’t working for the reasons you list. Pursue your goals first, then day job! If you take time off, I suggest one day at a time for writing vs. a week so it feels more urgent.

Also: bribe yourself liberally. You get a breakfast treat after getting up to write. You get to do fun things in the evening after writing and working. Sometimes I open a bag of potato chips and sit at my desk, and having a good snack helps me sit there long enough to get unstuck. Promise yourself something very nice when you’re done with the paper and visualize it often.
posted by momus_window at 6:49 AM on July 23, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: If naps are out then you need to figure out what is the closest thing to a nap that you can do. This is a physiological problem, not a character or motivation problem. Your brain needs to rest. How can you rest without sleeping? What about lying in a hot bath for forty-five minutes instead of a nap?

Get the best rest you can without sleeping, eat food that will raise blood sugar and exercise so that your brain has the resources it needs replenished.

Make sure you aren't doing any unnecessary brain work that requires reflexes, decisions, or processing which could produce more metabolites to make your thinking fuzzy. Don't balance your credit card statement, chat with your friends, catch up on the covid news or play a round of One Hour, One Life. Aim for sensory deprivation during your rest and recharge period. You want to be bored, not cozy. Watching a relaxing show is cozy. Staring at a blank wall is good, and might start you thinking about the paper. Grooming is probably okay, because it reduces stress.

Look at what you are doing other than working on your paper and don't allow yourself to do that.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:58 AM on July 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Rituals really matter to me in situations like this-- I use a breathing app and set it for 5 minutes and then I do some stretching with my eyes closed. Then sit down and set another time for how long I'm going to work. I also remove any pressure to 'make it good.' A good first draft is a done first draft. And I focused on revisions on the weekends when I could focus better. Good luck!
posted by jeszac at 10:15 AM on July 23, 2021

Best answer: When I have a gigantic, daunting project, I find it really helps to list as many super-easy tasks as I can. Anything you can think of that takes very little time and very little effort goes on the list. Then, when I need to get to work, I sit down and start on those easy tasks. Sometimes, it gets me into enough of a groove that I'm then able to move on to more challenging parts of the project that require more brain power. Other times, I'm just not able to do that, so I stop after a few easy tasks - but at least I've gotten SOMETHING done to move my project forward.

Also, I've heard that some prolific writers would intentionally stop writing mid-sentence when they finished writing for the day. That left their brains anxious to pick up again the next time they sat down to write.
posted by kristi at 10:23 AM on July 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: To add to what inevitability said, writing at lunch and during breaks (as well as on weekends) is what got me through a 100,000 word first draft novel in 10 months. But the thing I want to add is that it helps to be flexible about the tools you use and the time you spend.

I wrote on my phone at lunch with a Bluetooth keyboard. These days (pre-pandemic) I did the same with a tablet. Find a plain text editor app or even Microsoft Word for the phone/tablet, use Dropbox or iCloud or whatever cloud storage you have to provide a place for files to live between your PC and your mobile device. Be imaginative and flexible. A decent Bluetooth keyboard can be found for well under $100.

My workplace is very supportive of work-life balance. No one looked twice when I left my desk for the hour-long lunch break I was entitled to. If you can, take some time for yourself now and then!

I spent years trying pushing at inadequate technology to let me write wherever and whenever I want. Modern mobile devices are what I wanted 20 years ago.
posted by lhauser at 4:30 PM on July 24, 2021

Best answer: If you're in a location where it's possible, going for a short walk can clear your head and help reset you to get some work done. I'm also a fan of energizing (but not caffeinated) herbal teas, particularly rosemary; that's what I drink if I want to get a little work done in the evening but I don't want to stay up late. Making it is a nice little ritual, too.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 8:01 AM on July 25, 2021

Response by poster: I'm working through a lot of these -- thank you all very much! "Best answers" on things that seem like they should work, even if they don't work specifically for me.
posted by Shepherd at 3:48 AM on August 16, 2021

« Older Sell Japanese Prints   |   Looking for good books or documentaries on the... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments