The Personal MBA

Master the Art of Business

A world-class business education in a single volume. Learn the universal principles behind every successful business, then use these ideas to make more money, get more done, and have more fun in your life and work.

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What Is 'Stress and Recovery'?

It's helpful to learn your breaking point: know how much you're capable of doing before burning out. Paying attention to Stress and Recovery is the how you make sure that you don't have more on your plate than you can handle.

You are not a machine: you can't always operate at 100%.

Dedicating time to relax and recovery will make your life more enjoyable and productive.

Josh Kaufman Explains 'Stress and Recovery'

During my last quarter of college-around the time I created the Personal MBA-I pushed myself to the breaking point. I was taking 22 credit hours of classes across three subjects: Business Information Systems, Real Estate, and Philosophy.

Every class I took had some kind of senior capstone project on top of the final exam. Two of the courses I was taking were at the graduate level, and each required a 20+ page paper on an extremely complex topic to pass.

I had far too much work to do in the time available.

By the last two weeks of the quarter, I was an absolute wreck: sleep-deprived, exhausted, and stressed beyond belief - my Gas Tank was completely empty.

Everything got done, but the workload took its toll, and it took me a few weeks of doing nothing after graduation to fully recover.

Even though it wasn't pleasant, I'm glad I found my breaking point. Here's why: now I know how much I'm capable of doing, and how much is too much. I know more about how my mind and body react to stress, and I'm better able to identify the warning signs of taking on too much before things get out of hand.

As a result, I've learned to keep myself running at about 90% capacity, which is enough to get a lot done without burning out.

At any given time, I'm variously writing, consulting, and working on a few interesting side projects.

Paying attention to Stress and Recovery ensures that I don't take on too much to handle. Learning my breaking point has made it much easier to know when to push and when to slow down.

It's impossible to know how much you're capable of until you decide to push your limits.

As long as you stay safe by limiting your Experimentation to things that won't kill you or do permanent damage, you can learn a ton about how you work by stretching yourself to the limit. The knowledge you gain will help you make better choices in the future about what projects to take on and how much is too much.

That said, our bodies are not machines that are designed to operate at maximum capacity at all times. It's remarkably easy to fall into the trap of comparing your work against a hypothetical idealized version of yourself who can build Rome in a day, then build the Great Wall of China as a fun side project.

If that's your vision of personal effectiveness, you'll always come up short. You are not a machine-the ideal of human productivity is not acting like a robot.

Humans need rest, relaxation, sleep, and play in order to function effectively. Too little of any of these things can seriously diminish your capacity to do good work and impact how much you enjoy your life.

So how do you rest and recover? It’s simple: spend time doing something completely different from your normal activities and responsibilities. The less overlap between your hobby and your work, the better.

During World War II, Winston Churchill was under as much stress as a person can withstand. As Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, he was responsible for leading the resistance in the defense of Great Britain from 1940 until the end of the war in 1945. The fate of a country and the freedom of its people depended upon his fortitude and persistence for five long years.

How did Churchill keep from collapsing under such a heavy burden? In Painting as a Pastime, Churchill explains how spending time painting helped him recover from the demands of war and politics:

Many remedies are suggested for the avoidance of worry and mental over-strain by persons who, over prolonged periods, have to bear exceptional responsibilities and discharge duties upon a very large scale. Some advise travel, and others, retreat. Some praise solitude, and others, gaiety. No doubt all these may play their part according to the individual temperament. But the element which is constant and common in all of them is Change.

Change is the master key. A man can wear out a particular part of his mind by continually using it and tiring it, just in the same way as he can wear out the elbows of his coat. There is, however, this difference between the living cells of the brain and inanimate articles: one cannot mend the frayed elbows of a cost by rubbing the sleeves or shoulders; but the tired parts of the mind can be rested and strengthened, not merely by rest, but by using other parts. It is not enough merely enough to switch off the lights which play upon the main and ordinary field of interest; a new field of interest must be illuminated.

It is no use saying to the tired mental muscles - if one may coin such an expression - "I will give you a good rest," "I will go for a long walk," or "I will lie down and think of nothing." The mind keeps busy just the same. If it has been weighing and measuring, it goes on weighing and measuring. If it has been worrying, it goes on worrying. It is only when new cells are called into activity, when new stars become the lords of the ascendant, that relief, repose, refreshment are afforded.

If Churchill could find time to paint in the middle of a world war, you can find time in your busy schedule to rest and recover doing something you enjoy.

Dedicating guilt-free time to rest and recovery can simultaneously make your life more enjoyable and more productive.

Questions About 'Stress and Recovery'

"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go."

T. S. Eliot, poet and playwright

From Chapter 7:

Working With Yourself

The Personal MBA

Master the Art of Business

A world-class business education in a single volume. Learn the universal principles behind every successful business, then use these ideas to make more money, get more done, and have more fun in your life and work.

Buy the book:

About Josh Kaufman

Josh Kaufman is an acclaimed business, learning, and skill acquisition expert. He is the author of two international bestsellers: The Personal MBA and The First 20 Hours. Josh's research and writing have helped millions of people worldwide learn the fundamentals of modern business.

More about Josh Kaufman →