How to Actively Recover After Deadlines and Finals
If you were an athlete, runner, dancer, or did anything in your life where you really pushed your body you’ve probably heard of active recovery. Active recovery is the process of letting your body rest without being totally inactive. It can include a light jog, yoga or other activities that don’t push you or leave you sitting on your couch. You also probably know that after a long training run you don’t just sit down, you stretch, and eat something to fuel your body among other recovery practices. Athletes are taught this from the beginning, but I think it has so much value for engineers. Projects, finals and papers are your race and hitting “submit” is the finish line.
The last few weeks I was reminded of how crazy finals as an undergrad was. I had a final exam and final project due last week and was coming up on a major research deadline where I found out that I needed to redo a significant part of my work. It seemed like every day I was telling myself “Okay, after this weekend things should calm down” or “I can wrap all of this up by tomorrow night” We’ve all been there. Trying to find our finish line.
Yesterday, I finally passed my part of our research project onto my group, my classes were finished and for the first time in 2 weeks I didn’t have an immediate, daunting deadline. I immediately took a 2 hour nap and showered for the first time in ~3 days. My instinct was to watch netflix and sleep for the next few days but I also knew that I would have more work starting next week and if I didn’t use this weekend for active recovery, I would just let that overwhelmed, unorganized, scattered feeling continue on into the next few weeks.
So how do we, as engineers, actively recover after that crazy project deadline or turning in that last final exam?
- Give yourself some time to rest. Chances are you’re sleep deprived. Take a nap or get a really good night’s sleep.
- Wrap up loose ends. What if rather than immediately shutting everything down after hitting submit, you took 30 minutes to answer those emails you’ve been putting off and update that project status document? What if you organized your notes from the project before you forgot about them? This way the rest of your active recovery time isn’t tainted by the knowledge that you have to take care of that at some point.
- Clean up your workspace and close all the tabs. There is no better feeling than closing all of those tabs after completing a project or taking an exam. Do this and clean up your physical workspace. This can help you feel more DONE
- Take care of the “chores” you’ve been putting off. If you are like me, things like laundry and going to the grocery store can get pushed off when you have your nose to the grindstone. You probably don’t want to clean and run errands but do just enough so it isn’t hanging over your head.
- Move your body! Exercise is so easy to neglect when we are busy. Take a walk or get in a really good hard workout. Whatever makes you feel good
- Eat some good, healthy food. If you’ve been on a coffee and takeout diet the last few days use the groceries you got and make yourself a good meal.
- Rest. Read, practice your hobby, go for a walk or just sleep. Whatever rest looks like for you, do that.
As I am trying to implement this more, I feel so much less guilty about those loose ends that I need to tie up and way less sluggish and resentful when I do have to start working again. Active recovery can be such a powerful tool to prevent burnout and make sure the bad habits you developed while sprinting to the deadline don’t continue. How are you actively recovering after deadlines?
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