Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Staying Up Late is Not A Competition

Take care of yourself and watch out for blade injuries!!!

Monkey here (yes, again):

So yesterday I was sent an article by a friend that talked about how people who work more than 40-hour work weeks lose productivity.  This makes sense, as between plain fatigue, burn-out, and boredom, when you're working crazy hours, your brain doesn't work right.

People say that driving while tired is nearly as dangerous as driving while drunk (I totally believe this after some totally tired driving stints where I suddenly was five blocks away from where I thought I was), and I can totally tell that my motor skills don't work quite as well while I'm tired.  It's also been shown that fatigued workers will usually screw up, so that although more work  gets done, it's more bad work that's being done that will eventually have to be re-done.

Yes, Monkey is the king of irony, as he sits here typing this at 3am after printing for five hours, but once again, it's a matter of listen to what I say, not what I always do.

Why? Because I acknowledge that I'm not the ideal role model that I strive to be.  I know I should learn how to say no to things, or how to tell people "Sorry, I'm busy," but that's still hard for me.  It's something I'm working on, but yes, I take on too many projects and by my choosing to do freelance screenprinting/art/gallery ownership/event planning rather than do some job that pays me consistently every two weeks, I admit I have put myself in this situation.  The point of all this is that it is a choice, and I'm learning how to choose to not make myself so crazy sleep-deprived.  Regardless, I know what I'm talking about, even though I might be half-cracked out on lack of sleep.

Moving on, I realize how much of a culture of over-working we live in, especially as someone that has gone to art school.  In art school (for those of you who haven't gone), especially as an illustrator, you learn that you need to work hard, and work often.  Teachers tell stories of former students or their peers who drew nearly every waking hour.  When they would hang out at bars, they'd be drawing.  The star students are always working in their sketchbook.  Instructors will tell you that deadlines are everything - to miss one is to jeopardize your entire career (although this point is true).  Students will complain to each other about how little they've slept, and it almost becomes a sort of competition:

"Damn, I only slept two hours last night trying to finish this last painting."

"Really?  You're lucky, I didn't sleep at all.  I maybe could have slept for 15 minutes, but I figured I might as well power through it."

"I totally know how that is, I did that the night before last.  I think I've only gotten five hours of sleep over the past three days."

"I know, right?  I think I might be at like 8 hours this week, but I know how you feel, I think I only got five hours of sleep over the weekend working on that portfolio piece."

And on and on it goes.  Many people are trained to think that by staying up late, we're going to win some sort of magical award or something just for staying up late and being "productive."  Honestly, if I'm complaining on Facebook about how tired I am, most likely my brain is so shot that although I'm getting some work done at the computer, I'm probably also playing Solitaire Blitz or reading articles that friends had posted earlier in the day.  Seriously, if you're posting on Facebook, chances are that you're probably not just posting on Facebook then getting back to work.

Last week, there was one point that I was so tired that I stayed up from 3-5am doing work that, if I was sane and well-rested, probably would have taken me maybe 15 minutes to do.

Now, I'm not saying that all-nighters are not sometimes necessary, or that maybe your circumstances (working two jobs and raising kids, working and going to school at the same time, taking care of your elderly relatives, etc. etc.) are trivial and you should suddenly just quit things and get more sleep.  Believe me, I know what it's like to be tired all the time because of other obligations that pay the rent and allows you to eat meals on a daily basis.  We know that sometimes you just have to work and work until you're exhausted or the job is done.

However, what I am saying is that we need to fight against this competitive, crazy culture of overworking.  We need to start focusing on sustainability and making sure that we take care of ourselves.  Think of it like maintaining a car.  If you change your tires and oil on a regular basis, while expensive and annoying, it's much easier/less time consuming/cheaper than having your engine crack or your tires pop on the freeway.  Just as you have to schedule in vehicular maintenance, you need to schedule in maintenance for your mind and body.

Things to scare you into taking care of yourself: Carpel Tunnel and Repetitive stress injuries.  Loss of eyesight from staring at the computer too long without breaks.  Loss of cognitive function from sleep depravation.  Slicing your hand open with an xacto blade because you were too tired to focus properly. Chronic neck and back pain.  Ulcers and other gastrointestinal ailments from stress.  High blood pressure.  Type II Diabetes from not eating properly.  The list goes on and on.  And I personally know someone with all of that, and believe me, it's not fun.

So if you can, schedule in a breather.  Take a short break.  Get off the computer and take a nap.  Take care of your mind and body.  Whether or not you can do it right now is up to your own individual circumstances, but don't put it off until it's too late.  Stay healthy artists!