Our quest for productive time can easily turn into a distraction.
The best ideas don’t happen when you are busy letting your calendar dictate your work. Most ideas show up when we are doing nothing.
A pause is a moment for reflection — we make room 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.
A pause equals freedom — we liberate our mind from obligations. We let go of busyness.
A Pause: Life and Silence
“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 you appreciate the rest of the elements.
White space is like glue — it 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 too. The white space is not wasted space — it adds depth to the design.
The same happens to our creativity. When we free our mind we make room for new ideas to show up unexpectedly.
A pause amplifies our perspectives — it becomes a learning experience.
The Incubation Period
“Take a walk with a turtle. And behold the world in pause.” — Bruce Feiler
At a previous 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 on the adult world. 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 thinking. Keeping our calendars cluttered is a like a badge of honor — we don’t protect our reflection or thinking time.
Consultants, lawyers, advertising agencies, accountants charge their work by the hour. This reinforces our crazy relationship with time — most companies pay services based on quantity, not quality. When time is the unit to make money, we end up prioritizing quantity over quality.
To stop — to think, reflect or decant — is associated with negative financial consequences in a time-driven economy.
In the 70s, GM’s employees were not allowed to stop the assembly line because of financial implications. However, the automated process was too fast and the workers didn’t have enough time to do their job causing a lot of frustrations and flaws.
Japanese automakers, on the other hand, prioritized quality over everything. Special groups were tasked to oversee manufacturing and anyone could stop the process by just pushing a button.
Japanese automakers defeated Americans. Even worse, GM ended with a record of car recalls, not just frustrated workers.
Pausing is an intrinsic part of Japanese culture.
Take landscapers, for example. Before they design the walkways in 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 build the paths — they just follow the way people choose naturally.
A pause as an incubation period — what feels like a waste of time (or money) is a major win in the long run.
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 do encourage people (myself included) to “show up” too. But not at any cost. Showing up in bad shape is pointless. If you’ve worked for more than 14 hours or your mind has run out of gas. What’s the point of starting your day at 5 AM after?
Showing-up requires pausing from time to time too.
Listicles Make You Busy, Not Smart
Don’t get caught by modern gurus that are trying to maximize your productivity at the expense of enjoying 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.
Managing your emotions is more important than time management, according to breakthrough research on procrastination. 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.
Cody Royle wrote a very smart post 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.
Take Your Time. Now.
Learning to value “pausing” is not a motivational gimmick. A pause provokes a change of behavior.
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?
Turn a pause into a high-performing act.