There’s only a finite amount of time in the day, and when things feel out of control, our tendency is to fill the time with more action and busyness. But this exactly the wrong approach.
In order to maintain perspective, I do two things regularly, and it’s been immensely useful to me.
Every Thursday morning, I block off time to simply think.
First, I do this starting 6am in the morning, when my wife and son are still sleeping. I close the door, lay out a yoga mat, put a clipboard with a pile of fresh paper and some pens next to it, set a timer for 90 minutes, and lie down to think. I scribble notes and sketches as they come to me, in no particular order. When the timer beeps, I get up, throw my notes into my inbox, and get on with my day.
What I think about varies from week to week, but how I approach this time doesn’t.
And I always come up with something valuable. Whether it’s a different way of thinking about my life goals, or some small detail on how to solve a particular UX problem that’s been bugging me.
Of course, you don’t need to wake at 6am and stare at the ceiling for this to work. But there are criteria that make this time far more effective.
For more on what is needed to think creatively, watch this video by John Cleese on Creativity.
Much more difficult, but also more valuable, is to take every 7th week off.
It’s difficult because there’s always some pressing issue that has your attention, that you feel you just can’t put aside for a whole week. And even if you could, would the world let you?
To this I say, do it anyway, and let the world wait. This space to play can yield immense returns, but few will understand your choice to do it.
Recently, someone whose podcasts I listen to extensively, has decided to also take his 7th weeks off. When he heard I’ve been doing so (on and off) for the last year, he asked me about it. Here’s the core of my reply:
Yes, my wife and I both work for ourselves, and from home.
We tag-team on child care, as we have a 1.5yr old son too.
We started taking 7th weeks off a year ago: my son was a few months old, my thesis work was giving me trouble, things were stalled with our software development, and I was hardly sleeping. From this sleepless haze I made some rash, out-of-the-blue decisions. Fortunately my partner recognized my burn-out.
Ever since then, even though we’ve had many ups and downs, every time one would sense that the other was losing perspective, going down rabbit holes, or getting overworked, we’d insist that they take a break for a week.
The results on coming back, again and again, proved how just one week off can make an astounding difference. I would notice his output go up, and he would notice mine, even at a distance (he’s in Russia, just to throw another twist into the mix).
During breaks, what I do is simple: I play.
I love just thinking, and as a physics PhD, I love math and creative problem solving, so often my play looks very odd. My wife and I call them “math binges”.
But the idea is, I allow myself to follow whatever trail I’m interested in at the time, for as long as I’d like (or am able to, given childcare constraints).
And I do not worry about producing or sharing the end result: I don’t want fear of judgement or fear of failure.
Often though, this freedom to explore, to ask and answer “what if” questions, to learn a new programming language, does pay back directly when I get back to work.
During breaks I’ve: built tools that I now use regularly (like my “brain-sort” tool, that helps you sort a long list efficiently by comparing items pairwise), I’ve come up with novel approaches to the data structure of our app (one which resulted in 20x speedup with a massive simplification of code). etc.
And there’s also the times where a break just gives you perspective. Where I do no intense thinking, but we do go on lots of ‘walk-and-talks’ with my wife, discussing where we see our companies going. Since I’m a futurist and a sci-fi nerd, I don’t just think big, I “think cosmic”. And breaks are a great time to do that.
Anyway, I could go on, but I hope you get the idea.
So those are the two things I do regularly to maintain perspective. And there’s one more benefit to this scheduled time. I have a tendency to think too much. But now, with my thinking timeboxed to Thrusdays and Sabbatical weeks, I can allow my self the freedom to just do, knowing I will have time to just think.
What about you?
If you were able to, would you consider taking a week off every seventh?
If not, would you be willing to schedule a 90minute block of time to “meet with yourself” every week (or at least every other week)?