What my back has to say about time management

My back and neck give me hints when it’s time to take a break. A lot of the time, I don’t listen.

I’m quick to take a (long, long) break when I’m creatively stuck. But when my body needs a breather, I keep pushing.

It puzzles me, how I won’t pause and rest when I’m gardening or cleaning house or sitting at the computer. I like breaks. But stopping to rest just because my body is asking me to, feels like a big bother. It takes too long! I’ll lose my place! It’s inefficient! I have to get this thing done!

I’m especially aware of this tendency right now because it’s the time of year when there’s a lot to harvest in the garden. (Blueberries! Wild arugula!)  I’m doing more bending and twisting than usual. If I’m careless, I feel it for days.

What would it be like just to stand up and stretch whenever I notice the urge? Even if this makes the project take longer?

I experimented with this the other day while cleaning out the bathtub, which is a good chore to practice with because it’s time-limited and you can clearly see when you’re finished.

I paid attention to the cues—even before any soreness set in, just the little mental message that said, “You know, this would be a good time to do something different.” Noticed that I didn’t want to. Stood up anyway. Shook myself out, got back to work.

Though I was kind of annoyed by these interruptions, they didn’t make the tub-cleaning any more onerous. My back and neck felt OK the next day. And the amount of time the breaks added to the total task was practically imperceptible. Huh.

Applying the slowed-down approach to gardening, or to sitting at the computer, is a more advanced level—those activities have fluid boundaries and are more fraught.

Next step: See what it’s like to garden while being responsive to my body’s cues for, say, 45 minutes. What kinds of signals tell me I need to pause and change what I’m doing? What’s it like to make that change? Does my impatience continue, go away, take on a different cast? Does the weeding or watering or harvesting take that much longer with breaks? If so, what is that like? How do I feel physically, right then and the next day?

And if I find myself resisting a break, what’s going through my mind? What happens after that?

I want to be more aware of my reaction to my body’s signals—observing the mental sequence, the anticipated consequences, the actual consequences, for a concrete period of time. I guess you could say that I’m opening negotiations between my impatience and my body’s need for a healthier response, and this is the fact-finding phase.


  1. Katie Brandt says:

    LOL – I just had a major back pain yesterday – I have been busy and a tad stressed lately. What I did was go to the mall on my lunch break and get a 10 minute chair massage – the best $15 I’ve spent in a long time! When I went back to work I was more focused and more productive.

  2. Janet Bailey says:

    @Katie – Chair massage, yum.

  3. The mind-body connection is very powerful and it’s amazing how we end up turning it off or ignoring it. I imagine we would have less repetitive movement injury if listened to our bodies more.
    I’ve been practicing listening to my body more – I even took my shoes off with a client recently because I stubbed my toe the day before and it did NOT like being in a shoe – so off it went!

  4. Janet Bailey says:

    @Nick – Wonder what that says about us, that we ignore the mind-body connection despite its power? The cultural (and internal) drive to achieve, finish, push through is so, so, hard to step back from. But the body’s messages are helpful when we listen… Hope your toe is feeling better!

  5. Jeff.R says:

    Most of the time when your body sends a signal that it needs a break – it is certainly time for a break!

    When your body is tired, your mind is definitely not in the best form.

    Lets remember that “A healthy body means a healthy mind “ and work accordingly.

  6. Char Brooks says:

    I really resonate with how hard it is to take a break when I am in the middle of something – and how it seems like such a bother. I also notice that those times that I am willing to stretch just for the sake of stretching, I’m surprised by what a small amount of time it takes and how much easier it makes everything. Yet, I actively fight having to be bothered with it.

    I love how you’re experimenting with this and noticing the effects.

  7. Janet Bailey says:

    @Char – It’s still a surprise to me, how little time it takes to stretch, compared to the imaginary hassle I anticipate. What’s up with that??

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