I was reading a blog recently on how we are losing our ‘downtime’ . The article by Scott Belscky on the Fast Company site highlighted the ‘ the value of the “creative pause“–a state described as “the shift from being fully engaged in a creative activity to being passively engaged, or the shift to being disengaged altogether.” This phenomenon is the seed of the break-through “a-ha!” moments’. You can read the full entry What Happened To Downtime? here .
The article was highlighting how with our fast paced world and the ability to continue to do things all the time – send that late night e-mail, just do a quick text, access all your office online from home, – we are losing the time to stop and let the dust settle. If we are not careful we can end up constantly in a doing state without taking the time to get a real perspective on the actual world we live in.
You can see this in teenager’s lives big time. With all the modern communication media, social networking, texting and so on, they are constantly in touch with each other. This has some real benefits and keeps people connected, when in my youth you would have lost touch and drifted apart. But it does mean they do not have time to let the dust settle, to get a sense of perspective on what is going on; arguments can continue when a with a bit of time, space and perspective they might well have just died naturally , things can get out of proportion and misunderstood.
Another aspect of not taking time out to be aware of what is really around us, is that we live more in the version of the world in our minds then in existence around us. Constantly planning, running scenarios, playing out possible conversations, living in a memory world of the past and possible world of the future, rather than experiencing and revelling in the actually here and now.
There is a critical need for leaders to be able to really connect with the here and now world, as well as being able to create their thought world. Even more so now than ever with the amount of change constantly happening. Not that the planning and thinking that goes on is not important, just that is needs to be balanced with an ability to ‘be’ truly where you are. What Willams and Penman describe as balancing a doing mode and an awareness mode of thinking.
This becomes important on both a personal level – such as maintaining health and creativity, and also on an interpersonal level – being able to fully empathise and connect with people around you.
Stephen Covey said ‘seek first to understand’. In order to do this you need to get out of all the noise and traffic that is going on in your own head, put it into the background a little, and listen, see and touch what is actually happening around you. As he further points out: ‘As you learn to listen deeply to other people, you will discover tremendous differences in perception’
People have various ways to do this. Changing your environment can be a great help, possibly why we notice things that we have missed that are right in front of us when we go on holiday. This can be as simple as getting out from your office, or even out of your chair! Going for a walk or a run can be a powerful to do this, and it also gets your system oxygenated and your endorphins flowing a bit more. You could also learn some meditation and mindfulness techniques, which will help you learn how to connect with where you are and let your thoughts tick on like background noise.
So see if you can become more really aware of what you are doing now; become aware of the shape colour and texture of your desk, pen , office; notice the sounds that are around you and the multiple layers of them; be aware of your own body are you read this; what thoughts are going on in your head right now?
Often we get so wrapped up with achieving things that we forget how to stop and be aware. It can take practice, but in the long run can save you time and improve the way you work and interact.
Covey. S the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People 1989.
Williams M., Penman D. Mindfulness 2011.