About taking breaks

We are coming upon the end of another year. This one has obviously been quite strange. And while I’ll reflect on my own year in another post, I wanted to quickly music on the idea of taking breaks.

I’m a bit of a workaholic, so I’ve always struggled with breaks. I’m great about taking frequent “breathers” during the day, but it’s really hard for me to not do something each day. “Plowing ahead” is sometimes needed, I think that taking little breaks resets your head, and allows you to actually accomplish more.

During school, you sometimes have sprints of doing a whole heap of work in a short period. One such period I’ll always remember fondly (for its sheer craziness) is a Thanksgiving break during my master’s degree. I was getting ready to apply to doctoral schools, and I felt that I really needed a strong stereo fixed media (“tape”) piece in my portfolio. I had spent the better part of a month struggling with this piece, and basically started over and composed a new one in a week.

The ending piece, Straphanger, is based on recordings I made of Atlanta’s MARTA public transit trains. Although it’s very lo-fi, I’m still proud of the piece, conceptually. It’s been a long-standing goal to remix it–but it would take a lot of work, going back into my old Csound files. I haven’t used Csound in nearly 15 years now!

But back to the idea of “breaks.” I wanted to knock this out before the December 1st deadline for some doctoral programs. So I had Thanksgiving break to do it. From Wednesday to Sunday, I basically worked all day, every day. I went to my grandparents for Thanksgiving dinner, for about 2 hours. Then back to my apartment to work.

However, I did take breaks to have some leftover pie and watch Peter Jackson’s (then-new) King Kong in 15-20 minute chunks. That movie is 3 hours so I suppose that means about 9-12 short breaks!

Those short chunks of of movie allowed me to turn my brain off, move away from the computer, and kept me energized.

It was somewhat like the Pomodoro technique, which I’ve mentioned before. Work for short spurts, then take a mental break. I used that technique more deliberately during my PhD qualifying exams, where I essentially wrote 3 papers, 2 short pieces of music, and an algorithm for generating pieces.

Now I don’t have any hard-deadline, high-stakes goals like graduate school. And yet, I find it hard to take extended breaks. I suppose that will be a goal for 2021 – find a way, finally, to unplug.

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