“Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.”Maya Angelou, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now
A fuse tripped in the house.
My faithful iMac switched off as a result, and it wouldn’t turn back on again. I’d been struggling for nearly a week to write a magazine feature, but it just wouldn’t come right, no matter how many hours I put in. And now this! Already tired and tetchy, I felt nothing was going my way.
After hours of fiddling and fuming, I finally called a repair service, but their suggestion didn’t really help my mood. Pull the plug out completely, they advised. Then let the computer rest for 24 hours before trying again.
I wasn’t happy about this. (Full disclosure: actually, I was shamefully whiny and shouty.) My deadline was looming, I needed to write. This didn’t sound likely to work, and I felt they weren’t taking my problem seriously. But they insisted that even if I took my machine in for repair, this would be the first thing they’d try.
So I unplugged the infernal device. And, after fuming a little more, I went for a walk, did some chores, caught up with a friend on the phone, read a book for a while and had a long, relaxed dinner with my family before crawling into bed early for some much-needed sleep.
The next day, the computer switched on instantly.
The odd thing is, so did I. The article I’d been struggling with for days just seemed to flow from my fingers. I finished it quickly and easily.
I still don’t know why unplugging my computer bought my it back to life. I do know why I could suddenly write, of course. Most of us are better if we switch off from work for a while. But it’s a lesson I never seem to remember when I most need it.
Sometimes, it really is about putting in the hours, pushing through and getting the job done. But more often than we think, we work better if we stop pushing and take a break. When you’re stuck or in overwhelm, just stop. Unplug. Replenish.
Less is often more.
In her book From Chaos To Creativity – Building a Productivity System for Artists and Writers, Jessie Kwak has a mantra she asks the reader to repeat:
- Just because it’s in my brain doesn’t mean it needs to get done.
- Just because you’ve always done it doesn’t mean you need to continue doing it.
- Just because you’ve said yes before doesn’t mean you can’t say no now.
If your to-do list is overflowing and your life feels like you’re constantly running up the down escalator, working hard yet getting nowhere, step off for a moment. Breathe. Write down everything that’s on your mind, if it helps: all your tasks, deadlines, to-dos. Then pause for a while – walk, play some music, make a drink, take a nap.
Now prioritise. Choose what’s really important. Delegate what you can. Delay everything that can wait. Dump everything that doesn’t matter at all.
Then take a longer break. Do something fun.
Preferably something that doesn’t involve scrolling, or staring at a screen. When you come back to your top task, it might not seem so daunting.
When I suggest this to coaching clients, a lot of them react in the same way I did to the computer repair company. You come to a coach because you are stuck in some way, and want to be back in action. Or because you feel ready to move up to the next level. You have goals to attain, projects to finish.
Clients tend to get frustrated when I suggest that they go on a play date, or just take a day off. But it often turns out to be exactly what they need to get the ideas flowing again, or to be able to see a tricky situation more clearly.
And yes, this is obvious, it’s common sense. We all know it.
So… when did you last take a proper break?
I’m writing this to remind you, but also to remind myself. And now I’m off for a long walk. So last word goes to Anne Lamott, a writer of infinite wisdom.
“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes,” she says. “Including you.”