Occupying Your Mind Away from Work

One piece of advice you see out on the internet–to the point of it becoming as trite as “wash your hands”–is to “take it easy on yourself.” Technical writing is primarily a mental activity, regardless of how many keys we press or words we write on a page. Therefore, rather than restate the trite advice, I’ll try to share the how and why of it.

I started out with great intentions of teaching myself piano in the midst of this crisis; however, there are days I’m just not in that mood. Either I’m tired at the end of the work day or I lack the concentration to do the practice. No doubt I’ll have to start over on some things, and that’s fine. I’m doing this as a hobby, not a new career choice, for which I’m certain the ghost of George Gershwin is duly grateful.

I am doing my level best not to read too much of the news because it’s one big pile of awful all the time, with random changes in the weather forecast.

Sometimes I need distraction. Books are a favorite of mine, but some forms of literature require more attention than others. I’ve got a piece of historical fiction I’m reading right now, and I’m chugging along 8-10 pages at a time. Meanwhile, I’ve got several books from a science fiction series I like that I can read 50-100 pages in a session. Other, less familiar SF works take me a little longer because I have to learn the “language” of a new world.

There are days when my brain doesn’t want to work that hard, in which case I might find a movie I’ve never seen before on Amazon Prime. That, or I’ll shift to movie I’ve already seen if I really just want something to entertain my eyes.

One thing I do almost daily is walking. My usual hike takes about an hour and covers 3-4 miles. Sometimes I get more ambitious and I’ll walk 5-10 miles at a time, just to get outside, away from my apartment, the internet, and people (there aren’t a lot of folks walking around, but there are plenty of chatty ones online). At those times, my brain might be engaged or I might be daydreaming or doing a whole lot of nothing. I’m not planning my work, I’m not thinking about TFV (That Frickin’ Virus), I’m not imagining what life will be like “after all this is over.” I just let my brain go into neutral while I stroll a few miles.

None of this should be seen as harmful. Indeed, if you can take your mind out of a condition of stress and put it somewhere more peaceful and relaxing, you’re doing yourself some good. A stress-free brain is a productive brain when it comes time to work. The dishes and dusting will wait another day.

Bottom line: disengaging your brain outside of work is a good thing; in a crisis, doubly so. Try to put your mind somewhere not focused on work and not focused on the Worldwide Pandemic. It’s good for you, trust me!

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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