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Time of Rest Must be Proportional to Time of Work

artistic rendition of time and clocks

When I was in college, on one particular semester I was able to arrange my weeks into 4 days of classes and 3 days of weekend. This was the best work/rest ratio experience I had at the time.

Later in life, when I left my conventional career and became responsible for managing my own time, this one situation represented the ideas I already had about how work/rest should be balanced, and became an example of such balance.

My Case Study

In that semester, the amount of work – total class hours, as well as the amount of assignments/projects/exams and time needed for them – was roughly the same as in other semesters. They were just arranged differently.

I was fine in having slightly more congested week days, if it meant that the weekend was three days long. And believe me, there was no shortage of work. This was what my University took pride in, and was famed for.

Those three days felt different than a regular two-day weekend. My extra weekend day was Friday. This first full free day felt different, than Saturday in a two-day weekend. Instead of being a whole one-half of the weekend, it was just one-third. Psychologically, I wasn’t particularly pressed into “resting”, “relaxing”, or “having fun” — to make the most of the day. So what happened was, I actually ended up resting and relaxing — properly.

It was not so much what I did: if I sat in the couch all day, or if I spend the day out doing something. It was about the mood I was in. I was more relaxed, less tense. And that allowed me to rest better. It was, after all, a whole Friday, rather than simply the later part of it.

Throughout my life, I never enjoyed “regular” Sundays too much. Because “tomorrow I get back to work/school”. This subconscious stress works on you, and prevents you from being actually relaxed during that day. So instead of being completely relaxed, at some level you feel it’s the day before work.

However, in that case, the second day in the weekend (Saturday) for me was also relatively clear and relaxed. It was still midway through the weekend. So again I managed to relax properly for a whole day, a smooth continuation from the day before.

Finally, you’d now expect the third day, Sunday, to be lived with the aforementioned subconscious, subtle tension, about the weekend ending. But actually, it didn’t felt that way. By Sunday, I was already nearly fully rested from the two days before. I had succeeded in enjoying my rest. I was satisfied. So now Sunday felt what it should be in the first place: a transition and preparation for the next week.

The fact that the work week was only 4 days also made a difference. Four days somehow seemed shorter, swifter to endure and less draining overall, even with the same amount of work to do. It weighted less on the Sunday.

Today, being self-employed, the emotionally charged and dreaded “Monday the first day of going to my slavery”, as well as the “Friday the tiny speck of freedom in my life”, are absent. As well as all the emotional ups and downs that you’re consistently subjected to, for the duration of a lifetime, resulting from this.

Work Proportional to Rest

One of the main things I’ve learned, is that the time of rest must be proportional to the time of work.

(And by “rest”, I mean the space and time to detach fully from what you do as work. This means not opening the work email, not take work calls, and not think or produce anything to work, during this time. Or, at least, during the bulk of it. Because otherwise you never have enough emotional and mental space to clear your head, and it’s all a neverending period of work.)

Let’s hypothetically imagine this situation: you spend 15 days of non-stop, arduous and committed work – doing whatever you do for “work”. No weekends, no major intervals, no time to do anything else at all, other than time for meals and sleeping.

This is an exaggerated exercise, just for the purposes of this explanation.

Simply imagine you wouldn’t check any Facebook or internet “leisurely”, rest for 10 minutes doing nothing, work out, go for a walk, watch TV, be with your spouse or kids, etc. During these 15 days, you’re doing whatever you need to do to remain relatively healthy, but otherwise you spend this period just working.

Given this scenario, here is a question: once these 15 days are over, how many days of rest would you consider you need to replenish yourself?

Would you consider one day to be enough? “Enough” meaning you’d be able to fully replenish from the accumulated effort and time spent working. Also, consider this period being of “pure” rest: time for yourself, on your own accord, completely devoid of anything related to work.

If you don’t consider one day to be enough, would two days be? Maybe three?

Now imagine that after these 15 days of work, and whatever days of rest you deemed sufficient, you now go back for more 15 days of work, followed by those of rest, and so on, repeating the work-rest cycle.

In this situation, how many days of pure rest would you think you need, in each period between 15 days, to maintain your good energy and health (physical and mental)?

The answer to these questions is not exact, because everyone functions differently. That is precisely why I used exercises to describe it. But for 15 days of work, a comparatively short period of rest — 2 days, 3 days — would probably not be enough. A conservative answer would, probably, be around 4 days, maybe 6 days of rest, maybe even more.

Now increase the hypothetical work period to 30 days. 50 days. The time of rest would now increase proportionally, correct?

This may sound basic and obvious, but my point is that each quantity of work – the amount of effort spent and time invested – will require a proportional amount of rest to replenish yourself.

This will vary according to the individual, yes. However, the period of rest you need is not abstract, generic. It’s a specific, concrete period of time, that is intrinsic to you, to how you function. After this period you naturally recuperate and regain your energy momentum. But not before.

But if you allow yourself less time of rest than what you need to properly balance your time of work, you will not be able to physically and emotionally recover. Over time you’ll start to descend into increasing states of accumulated tiredness and fatigue— physical, mental, and emotional.

You may even manage to adapt and adjust to living and operating with increased degrees of long-term fatigue. But this is the same as adjusting to sleeping next to a highway, or an airport. Even if you do get sleep, the quality of it will always be degraded, due to the noise.

You may also attempt to offset the accumulated tiredness with a proper, longer period of vacations… but if you spend, say, a year, 365 days, accumulating fatigue continuously, do you expect that 15–30 days in that year will be enough to restore you completely? Here we could place the same question again: what is the ideal ratio of rest for a total of 365 days?

Will you not be tense about “recuperating” in your period of vacations, during which you’ll be facing another 300+ year-long period of work, and thereby defeating the purpose to begin with?

The Ratio of the 7-day Week

I fundamentally do not consider a 2-day weekend in a 7-day week a proper ratio (for those that follow conventional work days). Or if you will, a 5/2 ratio.

A period of rest needs a middle, a beginning, and an end. But a weekend of just two days confers it to just a beginning and an end — there’s no middle, so it doesn’t work properly.

This is why many treasure the Friday: this the day of the week is the informal, non-acknowledged — but nonetheless felt — as the beginning of the period of rest/leisure. This also is why Mondays are particularly costly, depressive: you’re being thrown back to work without feeling you managed to have proper, replenishing rest.

The beginning, middle, and an end, would translate into, at least, a three-day rest, being each full period one day. Therefore, the better functional ratio would be 4/3 — rather than the current 5/2.

The key concept is abundance. You require a perception, an experience, of abundance in rest, to be able to have abundance in work. If, however, you deprive yourself of rest, and you always leave your period of rest with a sensation of dissatisfaction, of lack, don’t expect to feel abundance in terms of work, at least in a sustained sense.

While you might still be able to experience performance peaks in your work, the overall tendency will nevertheless be, for the time of work to drag itself.
It’s subtle and therefore difficult to detect this in the short term. But your focus and patience will be dissolving, while the tiredness and reluctance to engage with the work will accumulate. Until you end up with 60% of time (or more) looking at Facebook and cat pictures, and only 30% of time (or less) actually doing something.

You neither rest, nor work, efficiently — or abundantly. You may even end up working while resting, and resting while working. The periods muddle up, as you try to compensate, because you’re not satisfied in any of them.

This is valid whether you’re self-employed and responsible for your own schedule, or if you subscribe to a more conventional week. It’s valid for smaller periods of rest, akin to weekends, but also considering larger periods of rest and vacations. And it’s valid if you work on something you love, or not. Even if you follow a passion in a professional sense, you still need time management, and you still need rest.


And now you ask me: “so Nuno, how do you propose we change all of society around so we manage to change week proportions from 5/2 to 4/3? What is your idea — economics, salaries, work hours, etc?”

The first part of my answer is: regardless of the solution, the ratio is off. The availability of feasible solutions will not invalidate the observation. So first, it would be necessary to acknowledge the fact that most people, especially those who subscribe to the “conventional time” so to speak, are not allowed, and are prevented by the systems of society, to properly recuperate and rest from their work, in a sustainable manner, in their lives.

This needs to be acknowledged first.

Secondly, once the acknowledgment is attained (if that was to happen), I believe that humans have the skills, expertise, and ingenuity, to achieve whatever they want, and make whatever they want to work, to work. So if society in general would at some point agree that the ratio of “official work time” and “official rest time” was inappropriate, immediately and intrinsically, by via of this mutual agreement, society itself would shift and make changes that would reflect, and accommodate, this agreement.

So what would be the specific measures? I do not know. I know they’d be found if the vision of the collective was to meet. I know that if such ratio is true and feasible on an individual level, then perhaps some form of agreement for society as a whole could be possible.

For this reason, I prefer to state and acknowledge the observation first. To clarify the mind and raise awareness. Before acting or doing anything. And only think about the solutions and measures, secondly, once the first observation is clear and evident. It’s only then, from awareness, that any and all solutions may come forth.

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