As Ferris Bueller said in the 1986 movie, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” This was true then and is even more true now. Over the Labor Day weekend, I took it’s purpose to heart and did some thinking.
Our lives as professionals (or otherwise) are full of meetings and emails, commitments and distractions. For many, striking the balance between work and play can be a hard line to walk and something that is never quite mastered.
For me, this is especially true. Besides a full time corporate job, writing books, and managing my entrepreneurial ventures, I want to make sure to spend time with friends, travel and volunteer in the community. In the process of having to take care of a lot of business, the byproduct is generally busyness. With spouses, kids, aging parents and more, there is not much time left for anything else.
Recently I was cleaning out some files at home when I came across an article that my godmother had sent to me a couple years ago. It was a brief prose by Alexander Green called In Praise of Idleness.
This essay really made me think.
Looking back, I have seen how busyness has adversely affected both my concentration and decision making ability. A couple years ago, I was balancing a full time job and running two businesses, not to mention a number of other personal and community involvements. I found that my mind constantly jumped from one commitment to the next. Because of the shear number of things on my mind I found that I was looking for fires to fight. I would prioritize the most important thing with the nearest deadline and would focus on completing it as soon as I could to go on to the next thing. This was good in terms of getting many things done fast, but it affected the quality of my work. My judgment was clouded and I made some decisions that, in hindsight, were pretty stupid. They led to some failures in my businesses.
I needed to remember what Green states, “downtime is an energizing force.” He continues to reference how “idleness leads to contemplation, creativity, and inventiveness.” Taking this time creates clarity.
While it is something that I do still struggle with, I have been able to see the benefit. Whether it is setting aside 15 minutes in the middle of the day to take a walk (or at least get away from my desk) or if it is keeping one weeknight or weekend day free from commitments to have some downtime, I continue to see benefits from this. Create that time, maybe not a siesta or afternoon tea but a break at some point during the day
As Green references, there are many examples of how down time is a good thing. From Churchill’s “economy of effort” to Mark Twain, even these successful people understand the benefit.
The second step in the right direction (after setting time aside regularly) is to simplify. Think about why you are doing something, and don’t just take on commitments for the sake of being busy. Focus on what is important, and be excellent at fewer things. Steve Jobs made Apple amazingly successful through simplicity.
So remember, it’s ok to be a “loafer,” “slacker” or “bum” every once in a while. This idleness can create the clarity you need to be to reach your goals.