Stephen King and the Science of Stress: Why ?All Work, No Play? Doesn?t Work

Posted by Brittany Dingler

It is no wonder that Jack Torrance's "all work, no play" obsession led to a rather, shall we say, unproductive ending while forcing himself to write his novel non-stop in the dead of winter in Stephen King's The Shining. Although a fictitious example, we can all relate to it as we emerge from hibernation only to be greeted by the end of the school year, and a seemingly bottomless pile of final papers, projects, presentations and tests. It seems truly impossible to fit all of our obligations into such a limited period of time and, in response, we push ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally to use every free moment to keep working-even if that means skipping meals, sleep and social commitments with friends. Although this undoubtedly seems like the only possible strategy to get everything done, recent research shows that the all work, no play method is actually more detrimental to achieving our goals. Rather, it is the play that is key to allowing us to complete our work more efficiently and effectively.

One idea that may help to explain the necessity of breaking up study-thons is Parkinson's Law. First identified by Cyril Northcote Parkinson, columnist for The Economist in 1955, this eponymous law of productivity essentially states that we inflate the complexity and difficulty of the task at hand to fit the time we allot to it. For example, if we arrange to clear our schedule to finish a 15-page term paper over the weekend, our minds will stretch the intricacy of the assignment to fit that allotted time. Parkinson's Law, however, suggests that by restricting ourselves to small chunks of time, our brains prioritize the challenge to more quickly and efficiently complete the project, therefore giving us more time later to fix anything and - goodness forbid the thought - have some time left over for ourselves.

Many psychologists and self-proclaimed "life-hackers" like Tim Ferris advocate for this less-is-more approach by working in chunks interspersed with play. Although often considered to be reserved for those age-groups more often seen in Greenberg or the E.C.C., play is a critical tool for surviving the stressors of adulthood. Furthermore, learning how to incorporate play daily is particularly important for college students whose academic and personal lives never really cleave. Playing-even if it just entails skipping through Northwoods, spending some time with a friend's pet (and maybe the friend, too), braving a hike to the top of Palmountain with the Outing Club, reading Frank McCourt's last upper, cooking some vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free, (fun-free?) cookies or throwing around a frisbee-reenergizes you to focus on the task at hand, no matter how scary it may be, and prepares you to prioritize so you can slay that task dragon in record time and return to the puppy and the frisbee

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