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During my college years in the early 70’s, I read Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock. Toffler predicted increased automation and wealth such that by the year 2000, we all would need ‘leisure counselors’ to help us adjust to having large amounts of free time. Check out this Christian Science Monitor article written in 2000 for their take on the accuracy of Toffler’s prognostication.

Even in the 70’s, I couldn’t imagine worrying about leisure, other than not having much. By the 80’s, I was a high school teacher raising two active children. I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep, let alone ‘leisure.’ In some ways, that was my choice – I could have taken on fewer responsibilities. But I enjoyed working 50 to 60-hour weeks, keeping up with Jessica and David and running a household. I even liked the onset of ‘information overload,’ which Toffler accurately predicted, because it gave me more time flexibility at my fingertips.

But for some workers in this global economy, information technology brought expectations of 24/7 availabilities. In the January 27, 2014 issue of The New Yorker, James Surowiecki wrote about ‘The Cult of Overwork’ in finance, law and medicine. Some bankers, lawyers, doctors and other workers spend up to 120 hours per week on the job with unsurprising consequences: inefficiencies, less effectiveness and more breakdowns – depression, anxiety and stress-related health problems.

The brain at all ages needs a health program, according to Sandra Bond Chapman, Director of the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas at Dallas. Her research recommends the following:

  • Take five-minute breaks, five times a day
  • Practice big picture ‘synthesized thinking,’ rather than spitting back undifferentiated detailed information
  • Avoid multitasking so you can focus on a complex task
  • Exercise and thus increase the blood flow to the memory centers of your brain

Sounded good to me, but the best cure for the ill-effects of overwork I ever read came from comedian Lily Tomlin:

“For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.”

Maybe Toffler was right – we need leisure counselors after all.

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