Respecting The Yin and Yang of Productivity

In this achievement, results-driven culture that we find ourselves in, it can be easy to get caught up in the craze. With the focus on movement, there’s an inherent lack of focus on being still. Taking time to pause and reflect. Doing nothing. As Benjamin P. Hardy eloquently describes in The Harsh Truth Of Rapid Personal Growth, there is the Law of Opposites, where it’s impossible to appreciate things like the sweetness of success unless you’ve tasted the bitterness of defeat.

In my personal experience, I’ve learned the hard way that getting important things done and making big strides forward are easier and faster when I make time to do the opposite. Time to stop and pause. Time to rest. When we choose not to do this, sometimes it’s imposed upon us like my Career Break.

Since then I’ve had a chance to revisit some lessons learned long ago while I was working abroad. Concepts first introduced to me while reading Benjamin Hoff’s The Tao of Pooh— a fun way to get acquainted with Taoism, particularly Yin and Yang.

Copyright: Goruppa/123RF

For anyone not already familiar with Yin and Yang, here’s a translated excerpt from the Tao Te Ching to help provide some context:

When people see things as beautiful,
ugliness is created.
When people see things as good,
evil is created.
Being and non-being produce each other.
Difficult and easy complement each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low oppose each other.
Fore and aft follow each other.

To simplify what can be a much deeper interpretation of the concept, I see the main takeaways as balance, flow, and wholeness.

Counter-Balancing Flow

Like many others, I also feel the pressure to keep moving, to make it happen, to do what it takes. Not too long ago, I would do 14 hour work days with only 4 hours of sleep. Push, push, push without taking the time to rest, rest, rest. Always being plugged in so I wouldn’t lose any connections. Recently, I’ve significantly changed my pace.

There is a natural ebb and flow as day turns into night and night into day. When we fight against the natural rhythm, we invite disharmony and imbalance.

At work, this can lead to burnout or loss of personal mojo. At home, fatigue makes us impatient and fosters a dysfunctional environment. Within ourselves, we lose clarity and creativity. None of this is particularly appealing yet we continue to force flow without respecting ebb.

“Life is full of ebbs and flows. Trust that when things are slow or not going the way you’d like, there’s something positive coming your way. Things are in the works, the universe is shifting, and all the seeds you plant will come to bloom in their right time. Take care of yourself, trust in the process and stop trying to force things.”
— Stephenie Zamora

Whether you occasionally do ‘a complete unplug’ as suggested by Neil Pasricha, or simply listen to Depeche Mode and Enjoy the Silence every once and a while, rest is not only vital for your overall balance, you’d be surprised at how much more productive you are after you re-engage. As Jim Lore and Tony Schwartz are quoted, “The richest, happiest and most productive lives are characterized by the ability to fully engage in the challenge at hand, but also to disengage periodically and seek renewal.”

Going Full Circle

Before I got caught in the ‘the busy trap,’ I used to enjoy sleeping in and taking long naps. I’d wake up fully recharged and filled with fresh ideas. Full of energy, I’d actually follow through and see those ideas to completion, one step at a time.

Settling into my career, I got too caught up in the wave and would try to ride the momentum too long. Forcing flow when it was time to ebb. Focusing only on Yang and neglecting Yin. Not making time to enjoy the silence.

At the extreme end, I eventually lost my mojo, burned out and received the dreaded pink slip after years of climbing the corporate ladder.

I don’t regret it, though. It was the sign I needed to reset. And the experience has given me more appreciation for a simpler life…and more naps. That might sound a bit like the other extreme, but for now, it’s the needed Yin to counter-balance the Yang life I had been living.

My One Thing now is wholeness to improve the flow.

“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”
 — Tim Kreider in his New York Times article, “The ‘Busy’ Trap”

Fortunately, cultural shifts seem to be moving in a similar direction. You may have noticed as well. Perhaps you’ve joined the ranks of Susan Cain’s Quiet Revolution. Or you’re following Arianna Huffington’s Sleep Revolution.

All good.

Take a break, get some rest, and I’ll see you on the other side.