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Work hard, play hard, rest hardly

Grades, sleep and social life: choose two. We’ve all seen the triangle-shaped meme suggesting that we, as college students, must pick one of those three facets of life to give up. And from what I’ve seen amongst Duke students, sleep is the first to go. We “work hard” and “play hard”, and rest is never factored into the equation, often at the expense of the quality of the time spent on the other two vertices.

It seems as though every time I talk to someone or overhear another conversation, the phrases “I’m so busy” and/or “I'm so tired” get tossed up and are met with lackluster grunts of agreement. However, I believe that I have enough time to do whatever I want—if I do indeed want it enough—within reason. We are only as busy as we want to be, and there is always more time in the day to bend as we so choose. We are limited by energy, not by time.

This may seem oxymoronic, as I certainly do not agree with the toxic productivity culture of always doing something to further some aspect of your life. This “productivity” seems to be nothing more than the act of looking busy. But, there are so many ways to maximize time while minimizing tasks that may appear productive or relaxing in the moment, but end up inducing exhaustion and providing minimal benefit. So many activities typically associated with relaxation aren’t restful and are often more exhausting than doing nothing at all.

Social life is often seen as the break from work. Sure, it is a change of pace and important for maintaining mental health, but it is unreasonable and unsustainable to only work and play all the time. While I won’t claim to agree with the ways in which some Duke students execute the “play hard” part of the equation, I won’t attempt to establish moral superiority for not participating in them, either. Regardless, drinking and partying aren’t adequate or healthy ways to relax from the stresses of everyday life, and seem to only exacerbate and prolong them.

Socializing is important to wellbeing, but when done in certain ways it can do much more harm than good. There is no room for rest when you are constantly “on” and hyper-aware of what other people are thinking about you. “Play” shouldn’t be optimized per se, but rather cultivated with an eye towards aiding the other facets of the equation. Perhaps studying with a friend or going on a group hike, rather than drinking at Shooters on a Wednesday.

Work is arguably the hardest of the three to give up, but often takes up more time than it should. The less rested I am, the more time completing a homework assignment takes me, leaving even less time for rest. And so on. The most optimal way to be productive is by partaking in adequate amounts of unproductivity. To perform your best, you must sufficiently rest. 

This may seem rather trivial, but by resting I don’t mean simply getting the requisite eight hours of sleep. Rest encompases a broader range of activities away from work and typically away from other people. Sure, sleeping counts as part of it, but so does anything done either away from electronics or just for its own sake, such as going on a hike, reading a book or cooking a meal.

It’s not surfing through Instagram, binging Netflix or going shopping. The passive consumption of electronic media is easy to decide upon, but only provides satisfaction in the moment without any long term benefit. As college students, we already have to spend more than enough time on our computers. If all of our leisure time is also spent online, there is no distinction between work and enjoyment which can make it even harder to concentrate on the former

I used to spend the bulk of my leisure time in ways that drained me instead of rejuvenating me. But, now that my “me time” is markedly more finite than it used to be, I simply cannot afford to partake in these activities with these low barriers to entry and low levels of attained fulfillment, or else my precarious pyramid of productivity will perish.

Going on a walk in the gardens, for example, helps generate writing ideas. Making a craft project lets me create something tangible without any pressure to be successful. Reading a book gives me the delayed gratification and gentle mental stimulation to recharge between assignments. Reclaiming genuine, unproductive hobbies is the single best thing to do to improve productivity.

We all have the same number of hours in the day and by wasting so many of them in meaningless ways, I used to make the whole of my time less enjoyable and a lot more stressful. Now, I find that by leaving myself less time with which to complete assignments, they actually get done quicker and more efficiently. I trust that everything I need to do will get done because it always has before, and that everything I want to do will get done if I want it badly enough.

It’s not easy to balance the holy trinity of college priorities, but it is entirely doable. Prioritizing fulfilling, meaningful rest time generates more creative, effective work time and more genuine, attentive “play time.” Only with a reasonable balance of all three will each individual piece be completed with the most enjoyment and efficiency. Because of this, I would propose the addendum of “rest hard” to the “work hard, play hard” saying, as neither of the latter are completed very meaningfully without the former.

Heidi Smith is a Trinity sophomore. Her column runs on alternate Wednesdays.

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