Recharge more effectively
Beat boredom for better rest
Hey there —
If you’ve been a Snail Mail subscriber for even a short while, are an avid watcher of Matt’s YouTube videos, or have read any of a number of recent popular self-help books, this next fact shouldn’t be a surprise to you.
Rest is really important.
In fact, without adequate rest our minds and bodies will literally cease to function properly.
Now, most of us aren’t trying to argue with either of these facts. We’re more than happy to chill on the couch after work, enjoy a fun weekend with friends, or head off on a tropical vacation. 🏝️
But that doesn’t mean turning off our brains or figuring out how to rest is always easy.
When you’re working, your mind is in active mode, attentive to the task at hand. When you step away from work to something that doesn’t really require focused attention, your brain shifts into neutral — still working, but in the background, through something scientists call the “default mode network.”
This is why taking a break from work when you’re feeling stuck is so beneficial (and why you tend to have “aha!” moments in the shower). Your default mode network takes over as your mind wanders, untangling the problem and inventing creative solutions.
But as Amelia and Emily Nagoski point out in their book on burnout, not all of us have an easy time transitioning between active and default mode. The result? Boredom, aka “the discomfort you experience when your brain is in active-attention mode, but can’t latch on to anything to attend to.”
In other words, you’re trying to rest but your brain is looking for something to do.
The solution? Active rest. As the Nagoski’s define it: working one gear while resting the others. Or as MSNBC host Rachel Maddow once told Emily about how she deals with burnout:
A creative tip that may help you harness the power of active rest, try another gear, and recharge more effectively comes from a saying that’s attributed to Rabbi Abraham Heschel…
If you work with your brain, rest with your hands. If you work with your hands, rest with your brain.
Do you spend your days analyzing data, coding websites, or writing articles? Consider a hobby like gardening, crocheting, or building elaborate lego sets. 👐
Do you work a more hands-on job like construction, woodworking, or barista-ing? Consider writing, reading, or solving crossword puzzles in your downtime. 🧠
This isn’t to say that construction work is a mindless job or that a creative pursuit like filmmaking doesn’t require any physical effort — just that doing something that works a different part of your brain can help you rest in a way that is both engaging and truly refreshing.
So next time you’re looking to rest and recharge, skip the social-media-scrolling, Netflix-binging routine. Instead, consider the ways you might keep boredom at bay, and offer your brain an activity that will actually help it chill. 😉
How to be bored, and what you can learn from it
by Melinda Wenner Moyer
Boredom doesn’t just strike when we’re trying to relax and don’t know what to do with ourselves — it can also creep in when a task is too easy, too hard, or doesn’t feel meaningful.
The key to handling boredom in a healthy way (aka, not just reaching for your phone) is to identify which of these problems you’re facing, so you can pivot accordingly.
Here, science journalist Melinda Wenner Moyer explains the science of boredom and how you can use it to spend your time more wisely. (Or in the case of monotonous or difficult tasks — make them a bit more rewarding.)
Can’t view the article? This student opinion post offers a brief summary, plus a link to the full article that will get you around the NYT paywall. 😉
Why are the best TV episodes always the ones without the main characters?
by Tom Murray
Using examples from shows like The Last of Us, The Bear, and Doctor Who, entertainment reporter Tom Murray explains why side characters are bringing us the best TV. 📺
While these standalone (and standout) episodes might deviate from the main characters and plotlines, they’re far from being “fillers” — and they can teach us a lot about experimentation, creative problem-solving, and strong storytelling.
(If you haven't seen the shows in question, don’t worry, the article is spoiler-free!)
A different way of goal setting
We often set goals based on what we want to achieve in our lives or careers, but this video offers up a different suggestion that’s brilliant in its simplicity: Instead of focusing on material rewards or titles, approach your goals with the question, “How do I want to feeI?”
Not only does this mindset help us set more meaningful goals, but it can help us better assess if the people, spaces, and environments around us are really helping us get there. 💪
I've recently told my boss that I'll be working only 4 hours a day so I can begin my transition to freelancing. Now that I'm going to finally have the free time I've always wanted, I'm getting doubts. I doubt I'll make use of that free time wisely. I tend to procrastinate and lose myself in perfectionism. My question is: What advice can you give me on not letting my mind wander in an idyllic freelancing career and just start doing the work? Thanks in advance!
— Nestor S., Argentina
High five for going after your freelancing dreams! ✋ To help answer your question, here’s Matt with a tip for avoiding procrastination. The trick? When the urge to take action hits, get to work before your brain has time to get distracted.
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Written by Ashley Martin
Edited by Matt D'Avella