How I boosted my productivity by stopping — a quick lesson in doing nothing.
This past week, I found myself restless and squirming at my desk, unable to link even two coherent sentences together. Instead of switching gears and doing something else I just kept pushing, desperate to squeeze out an article in time for my self-imposed deadline (which has passed, in case you are wondering). The more I tried to write, the more frustrated I became with myself and the abysmal work I was producing. I grappled for any semblance to flow, but it was completely and firmly out of my reach.
I have been in that place often; things aren’t going as they should, and I am convinced that the only way through is by pushing harder and trying to more tightly control the outcome. Sometimes, with sheer grit and tenacity this approach works for me, but mostly it means that I exhaust myself, waste more time than I should, and find that I am less than satisfied with the end result.
What makes this experience even more interesting, is that the topic of choice for this blog entry was an exploration on how doing nothing IS something.
Yes, the irony was completely lost on me.
For the past few days, I have been unable to make the connection between what I know cognitively (downtime is needed to inspire creative thought) and my own, unseen patterns. It’s like knowing that something is bad for you (like eating that quart of ice cream in one sitting) but doing it anyways. So much of what we do is orchestrated by our subconscious; our behaviours are, most of the time, choreographed by deep beliefs and patterns that we are not always consciously aware of. These driving forces play a powerful role in our lives, they impact how we treat ourselves, how we relate to others and how we view our own reality. The trick is that we can’t change what we can’t see.
So, this morning, I choose to look straight into the eyes of my natural tendency to push harder and took the advice I was writing about (well, trying to write about). In the middle of a busy morning at work, I got up from my desk and went for a walk. I walked slowly and really took note of what was around me: the rain on my face, the colours of autumn and the sound of fallen leaves beneath my feet. I connected to the present moment — my body and the world around me — and I enjoyed the inherent simplicity of what I was doing.
Doing nothing IS something important
On my walk, what I realized was that in all of my hurry to be productive, I had forgotten, once again, how integral downtime is. By doing ‘nothing’, by taking a break or going for a walk, I am allowing my mind to go deeper and do more powerful work than it can at a desk. Like struggling with a problem, and then finding a solution to it while singing in the shower, accessing a more diffuse mode of thinking is the key to unlocking our creativity and sense of wellbeing. It is the place where the brain is able to access ‘big picture’ perspectives as it works to connect different, and often unrelated, parts of the brain. Beyond being just a physical organ found in our skull, the brain is also a complex network that stretches through our entire bodies (the central nervous system). This network provides sensory information to our brains, and by allowing our thinking to become a more embodied experience we are able to access different thoughts and connections that may have been previously unavailable to us.
I arrived back at my desk feeling more relaxed and energized from my time outside. As I sat down at my computer, almost instantly a new and better angle for this blog post appeared, the thoughts came easier and the writing just flowed. Often, it is those unseen beliefs that keep us in a behaviour loop that is neither healthy nor productive. For me the urge to push harder, which seemed like the logical response at the time, only resulted in more resistance, feelings of frustration and limited productivity.
It is in those moments, that I need to remember that doing nothing really IS something.