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Rest and Recovery

Back home in Portland, I went to my first yoga class in several weeks and immediately noticed that something was different.

This class is kicking my ass! I thought—but then I looked around, and everyone else was doing just fine. The same thing happened during my 40-minute run the night before: 20 minutes in, I was ready to give up.

My most recent epic journey was fairly intense. Among other challenges, I slept in a different bed every night for 10 nights in a row. I hadn’t planned it that way—I was in Cyprus for three nights, but I changed rooms one night and hotels the other night. Because of the complex itinerary, I had a lot of transit stops—one night in Munich, one in Miami, one in Heathrow, and so on. Living out of a suitcase can work for a while, but it does wear you down over time.

Flying home to the States from Germany, I was preparing for two big projects—speaking at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, then launching the Empire Building Kit on board the Empire Builder westbound train from Chicago. I had started working on each of them two weeks before, but Parkinson’s law of “work expands to fill the time allotted to it” kicked in. The night before the talk, I was still shuffling the slides around. Then a few days later on the morning of the launch, I was up at 5:30 a.m. in North Dakota trying to update all the site files before going live.

The two big projects, the hopping around Europe with a bonus trip to Cape Verde, the 46 hours on Amtrak, and everything else contributed to my feeling pretty worn down by the time Portland’s Union Station came into sight. On Thursday I said I was ready for a five-hour nap, but I probably could have used about 50 hours.

Don’t get me wrong—the trip was 100% worth it. I wouldn’t have done it any differently.

I’ve come to believe more and more that saying yes is better than no, an active life is better than a passive one, and embracing adventures are all important aspects of what make many of us happy. If you’re out there doing fun stuff, you can usually ignore people who tell you to “slow down and take it easy.”

Nevertheless, I do get tired doing these things, and I also believe it’s important to rest and recover. Here’s how I do it.

Sabbath Day

I go around the world at least four or five times a year, but home in Portland, I’m kind of a homebody. I don’t go out much, and when I do, I don’t go far. Not owning a car confines me to a 15-block walking radius and wherever the bus or bike will take me, but that’s perfectly fine. I live right in the middle of the city for a good reason.

I generally work six days a week, but on Saturday or Sunday I take most of the day off as a Sabbath day. There are different ways to observe the Sabbath, and I tend to believe that the principle is more important than the “rules” (which is kind of what I believe about everything). The principle is that our bodies and minds need rest, so we should plan a regular winding-down period to ensure we have the strength to keep going.

When I’m traveling, I don’t worry about a day of rest. Sometimes rest just isn’t possible on the road, and other times it will happen naturally at one of the stops. At home, though, I usually take a modified Sabbath from Saturday evening to late Sunday afternoon. During this time I don’t use the computer for much of anything, and it’s the only time during the week when I don’t check email at all.

(I know that other people advocate spending even more time away from the computer, but that doesn’t work for me. I also don’t find that being online all the time is especially draining or disheartening.)

Recovery vs. Rest

While rest may be a passive activity—for me it’s reading books and hanging out in coffee shops—recovery is both passive and active. Recovery activities consist of things that help us recharge and get ready for the next thing.

In my case, I go for a long run every week, usually on Sundays. I also review my lists of projects and tasks at least once a week, usually on Friday or Saturday night. I ask: Am I on track? Does something need to change? Am I forgetting something?

This weekend I realized that I haven’t been writing as much as I would like over the past few weeks. It’s a natural consequence of the big launch and all the travel, but I don’t want to lose the habit. Getting back to the writing is a recovery activity. I opened up the files for a couple of big writing projects and immediately felt better. “This is why I do what I do,” I said to myself. “I need to recover so I can do more of it.”

My favorite book about this concept is The Power of Full Engagement, which is a a great response to more traditional “time management” books. I’ve always been skeptical of the idea of managing time—time exists independently, and we can’t tell it what to do—but until I read Full Engagement I didn’t have a good alternative.

In the book, the authors show that instead of trying to manage time, we should be conscious of managing our energy. At different points in the day we have more energy than others, and we’re also motivated to do certain things at peak moments. They key is working with what you’ve got, and planning your work times around when you expect to have creative energy. (This is also a good reason to never answer the phone—but that’s another story.)

Whenever I try to motivate myself to do something, I encounter a great deal of resistance. Whenever I do what I’m already motivated to do, I work much better and get much more done.


At TEDx in Pittsburgh I talked about the idea that many of us live our lives waiting for someone else to give us permission to be ourselves. I know that I’m wired for an active life and I wouldn’t be happy with anything less.

That said, I do get tired—sometimes even exhausted. On Thursday I came home and slept away the afternoon. Friday was OK, but on Saturday after yoga I took another two-hour nap. All three days were low on productivity, and I think I still need a bit more recovery time.

It’s good to rest, in other words. But I think it’s even better to have something to rest from. With that in mind, I’ve got more adventures planned, very soon. But first, another nap. zzzzzz …

How about you—how do you rest and recover?