The quest for productivity can easily turn into a distraction.
The best ideas don’t happen when you are busy letting your calendar dictate your work. Creativity tends to show up when we are doing nothing and not at meetings.
A pause is a moment for reflection. To notice things.
Just like music. Without silence, the various notes will all feel the same. Utilizing silence for very brief (less than a few beats) or for longer periods creates a different impact on the listener.
Distractions don’t help. The quest for productivity can make us suffer from self-imposed jet lag, rather than help us.
When we are constantly looking at our phone screen, our attention shuts down. When we jump from one activity to the next meeting, we are distracted from being free.
To pause means freedom. To liberate our mind from obligations. To let go.
The Pause: Silence And The Art of Living
“Silence isn’t just the canvas upon which music is painted. It’s one of the colors on the composer’s palette.” — All About Jazz
Visual Design is another example of the importance of “silence”.
The white space has more importance than the typeface or images. You don’t pay attention to it. But it’s the white space what helps us see the rest of the elements.
White space is like a glue that connects all the elements through balance.
Silence is the real sound of music. Empty spaces play a critical role in building the right atmosphere in architecture and space design. The white space is the most important element in visual design.
The same happens to our creativity. A free mind provides room for new ideas to show up unexpectedly.
A pause amplifies our perspectives. Pausing provides a learning experience.
A Pause Is An Incubation Period
“Take a walk with a turtle. And behold the world in pause.” — Bruce Feiler
At my former job, we ran an experiment: recess at work. It was based on the notion that “mental breaks” can positively impact performance. A small pause helps us switch gears and get recharged.
After a couple of months, we validated the hypothesis that recess can have a positive impact in the adult world. Unfortunately, I heard it was canceled before new iterations.
That’s a perfect example of our paradox with pausing. We value the effect it creates but our knee-jerk reaction brings us back to an “always on” behavior.
Our society values busyness. It’s perceived as a synonym of productivity. We value doing much more than we value thinking. We value keeping our calendars cluttered rather than giving our ideas freedom to unexpectedly show up.
Consultants, lawyers, advertising agencies, accountants charge their work by the hour. This reinforces our crazy relationship with time.
Quantity seems to be more important than quality. Working more hours matters more than the final product or outcome. If time is the unit to make money, then working more is all that counts.
To stop -to think, to reflect, to decant- is associated with negative financial consequences in a time-driven economy.
For Japanese landscapers, the pause is an intrinsic part of their design method.Before they design the walkways on a new park, they take a break. They let people walk freely across the park. After some time, by simply looking at where the grass is worn away, they realized that’s where people walked and they just pave those paths.
Think of a pause as an incubation period.
I don’t see any productivity loss there.
A Club You Don’t Want to Join
“He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.” — Albert Einstein
If you are running a startup -or any fast-growth/ challenging company- you probably bought into the notion that endless handwork is the formula to succeed.
All the productivity gurus feed this idea. From the 5 AM club, to formulas to increase your performance by “x” or the notion that your first 100 days will make or break your business.
All these beliefs are based on the principle that working more is the formula for success. And that the same formula will work for anyone in any situation.
Let me give you an example: “The power of showing up”.
If you want to succeed, you have to show up. Like any motivational phrase, that means nothing without a context.
And that’s a problem. Highlighting a nice phrase here on Medium and then tweeting it, won’t create any real impact in your life.
If we don’t pause to reflect on its real meaning. If we don’t stop to challenge its message. What’s the real impact of any inspirational advice?
I too encourage people (myself included) to “show up”. But not at any expense. Showing up in bad shape is useless. If you start your day at 5 AM after 14 hours of work. Or if your mind has run out of gas. What’s the point?
Showing-up requires pausing from time to time.
Listicles Make You Busy, Not Smart
Don’t get caught by modern gurus that are trying to maximize your productivity at the expense of enjoy living. And I’m not talking about work/ life balance which is another modern paradox.
Old time philosophers appreciated the value of pausing. They turned it into an art. Taking time for a walk, to reflect. Archimedes had his “Eureka!” moment when stepping into a bath.
Let your mood and emotional state drive your behaviors rather than being obsessed about time management. It will make your life more joyful and productive. I’ll dive deeper into this topic in a future post.
Self-proclaimed gurus love to show-off how they can write a daily post in less than an hour. But then, they expect you to buy their“seven things that will change your life forever” as the perfect formula.
I love a very smart post by Cody Royle on that matter. He invited authors to provide people with frameworks rather than lists. Instead of dictating what people should do, share the roadmap. Let them design their own journey.
This is my framework today: regain the value of pausing.
No listicles attached.
Take Your Time. Now.
Learning to value “pausing” is not a motivational gimmick. A pause provokes a change of behavior.
Go ahead. Highlight and tweet any phrase on this piece that resonates with you. But not before you reflect on its real meaning and impact.
Silence in music is so important and fundamental like a white canvas for a painter, the pauses in between words for a poet, stillness for a ballet dancer or empty spaces for an architect.
What’s your pause? What does it mean to you? How can it help turn your work into art?
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