Since I teach mostly introductory courses, I spend a lot of time giving students advice about how to approach subjects that are new to them. One of the best pieces of advice I give them, to which they almost never listen, is to start the assignments early. Part of the reason for that is so that they will have plenty of time to mull the problems over and ask lots of questions. But the biggest reason I tell them that is because solving problems is a creative process, and one thing that creativity needs is time and space. They need to pound their head against the wall for a while, then take a break, and then come back to it later once the headache has passed. Giving yourself time to take a break is an important part of being successful in any difficult activity.
And why am I reminded of this now? Because I took the last 24 hours off from work, for the first time in months and months. I know that the talks I’ll give next week in Montreal and the week after in Haifa will be all the better for my having taken some time and space for myself. Now I just need to remember to do this more often during the academic year.