Habits are important. Rest is also important.
How do you square the advice to write every day with my advice to take weekends off and have real vacations?
Change “write every day” to “write every working day”.
Your brain is perfectly capable of distinguishing between work days and rest days. You can have different habits for each.
There are a couple of benefits to developing a habit of writing every day. These are either not affected or minimally affected by making that habit every working day.
Benefit: Reduce decision fatigue by not having to decide whether to write.
Decisions take energy. By making writing a daily habit, you reduce the number of decisions you make reserving that energy to put into actually writing.
Taking weekends off and having proper vacations doesn’t change this benefit at all. Your body and mind adjust to “work habits” and “vacation habits”. For example, you might also get up at a different time of morning on weekends and vacations, or stay up late, or eat your meals at a different time. When you are back at work, you might notice a bit of discomfort on the first day but mostly you slide back into your work-day routine.
Benefit: Build momentum in your projects by not leaving too much time between writing sessions.
Weekends and vacations can disrupt your momentum. However, there are ways to minimize this disruption. The tips in “How to take the weekend off” will help you finish your work week in a way that leaves breadcrumbs to help you find your way back after the weekend/vacation. You should also allow yourself time to refamiliarize yourself with the project on the first day back. You’ll get back into the swing of things pretty quickly but cut yourself some slack for the first few days.
The negative effects of time away from your project will probably be balanced by the fresh perspective you get on it after some time away. Distance can help you see what’s really important. Conceptual or structural problems you were having might look different with the distance a break can give you.
Benefit: Keep your skills up by using them regularly and frequently.
2 days or even 2 weeks is not long enough to lose fluency with a skill you use as frequently as you use your writing skills. The chances that you didn’t write anything on the weekend or during your vacation are slim. You write notes, personal email, Facebook updates, possibly even letters to friends. In addition, you probably read a lot of writing even if it wasn’t academic writing — newspapers, magazines, novels, recipes, etc.
You are a highly skilled writer. The benefits to your cognitive abilities of being rested will far outweigh the minor inconveniences of confining your academic writing practice to 5 days a week, 48 weeks a year. Trust me.
If taking 2 day weekends and 2 week vacations seems too much of a change, start with one day a week without writing.
Remember “take a day off in seven” (sabbath = 1 in seven) is a law equivalent to “thou shalt not kill” in the Laws of Moses. Whatever your own religious beliefs, the fact that major religious traditions make those things of equivalent importance should not be taken lightly.
If you don’t yet have a daily writing practice, try the 15-minute academic writing challenge.