Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Wednesday Wisdom: The Importance of Doing Nothing


Disconnecting from work lets our mind and body recharge.  It ensures that when we are working next, we're working at full capacity.  Jory MacKay   

I saw a Facebook meme recently that contained a nugget of homespun wisdom. It read:

If you don't schedule time to maintain your equipment, your equipment will schedule it for you.

This comment got me thinking. It's certainly possible to run our machines until we run them into the ground. Then what? And these days, what do we mean by "equipment?" I don't drive tractors any more, like I did as a young man on the farm. How does this "maintain your equipment" idea apply to me today?

In ancient agrarian societies, their most important piece of "equipment" was the land itself. Through Moses, the Israelites were instructed to let their fields lie fallow and rest every seven years (Exodus 23: 11). This allowed the soil to replenish itself, avoiding depletion of important nutrients. The result was greater harvests and longer-lasting farms. In Roman times, the author Ovid applied this principle of agrarian sabbaticals to human workers when he counseled: "Take rest; the field that has rested yields a bountiful crop."

In my business, computers are key to our productivity. I need to make sure our computers are in good shape, employing software that regularly reviews, updates, and maintains them. If that software is not installed correctly and is not run frequently, it's likely that we'll be dealing with computer issues at work.

(Interestingly, when my laptop or my wife's iPad is misbehaving and we call our son who works in IT for help, the first thing he usually says is, "Why don't you power off for a few minutes and then turn it back on and see if that helps."   In most cases, a little "down time" is all that is needed.)

But far more important than keeping our computers running smoothly, it's imperative that my team and I properly maintain our tools of greatest consequence, our brains. We are in the brain business. The essence of what we provide our clients is knowledge and wisdom. Those are the fruits of our brain power.   Unless we keep our brains in tip-top shape, we cannot expect to produce a bountiful crop.  

I love my job because I've been able to create a business around my own unique talents and aptitudes. (I've often said that if you want a perfect job, you need to build it for yourself.) But even in a perfect job - and perhaps especially if it's a not-quite-perfect job - it's vital to disconnect from it from time to time. Down time is essential to any successful enterprise, but especially if you're in the brain business.  

I love to work but I must maintain a balance between doing and not doing. "Strategic disengagement" is how I describe taking time away from work so the brain can rejuvenate. I appreciate Tony Schwartz' advice that in today's intense and fast-paced world, we need to create "white space" for ourselves.  

"It's not possible to move from one activity to the next at blinding speed and be reflective at the same time. The more complex and demanding the work we do, the wider, deeper, and longer the perspective we require to do it well. It's almost impossible to do that when we create no white space in our lives."

When we're not at work, doing something different is good, but sometimes DOING NOTHING is even better. If our "days off" are too tightly scheduled, we may arrive back at work in worse mental shape than when we left. We must learn - and then remember - to MAINTAIN THE BRAIN BY DOING NOTHING.

When I say "doing nothing" I mean:
  • Sitting and thinking.
  • Walking in the woods.
  • Listening to the birds or the crickets.
  • Taking a nap.
  • Sitting on the beach and watching the waves.
  • Lying in a hammock and pondering the clouds.
  • Hanging out on the porch and admiring the sunset.
  • Or doing whatever allows us to fully disengage.
Otherwise, when we are working next, we won't be working at full capacity. We cannot be tightly wound every single minute if we expect to deliver our best results.  

If we don't schedule time to maintain our equipment, our equipment will schedule it for us.

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