Archive for the ‘Micro-vacations’ tag
Some days you feel like absolutely nothing can go wrong. You’re on fire, unstoppable. Ideas are flowing, confidence is high, and you’re walking around with your chin up and your back straight. There’s no better feeling than knowing you’re at the top of your game. The world is your oyster. Everything you touch seems to turn to gold and you wonder how you were ever stagnant before.
Until the past few years, I had really only been able to identify these times when looking back. Now I’m acutely aware of them when I’m in them and I grab onto them and try not to let go when that train is rolling.
But these feelings never last long. Maybe a day or two, maybe a little more. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a full week of this superhuman ability to create things out of nothing without obstruction. Sooner or later things will return to normal and there’s no explanation why this happens. You just can’t self-motivate like you were able to the day before. Ideas are at a distance, just out of reach. You aren’t feeling flow and a day’s worth of work is taking two full days instead of just three hours.
It’s crazy frustrating when this happens. You try and recreate the environment, the feeling you had, and you just can’t. Your mind has moved on, your thoughts are elsewhere, and your current experience has been altered in some inexplicable way. And you don’t like it at all.
What happened? Well, nothing at all. It’s perfectly normal for creativity to ebb and flow like this. It happens to every single creative person dozens – even hundreds – of times throughout a year. It’s just not possible to keep anything running at its highest capacity all the time.
But are there ways to keep it running for as long as you can? Maybe. There are things you can do that will help but only in the sense that they may be able to prolong that window. There’s no guarantee that these things will work every time, but if they buy you an extra few days or a shorter period in the downswing, it could be worth it.
I’m writing this overlooking the Pacific Ocean with an iced coffee by my side, and a gentle breeze on my face. I’ve spent the last week in Maui with my family, so please excuse the obligatory photos of paradise!
While on the island, I’ve been doing everything I can to unwind. I’ve been devouring scones, French fries, margaritas, Oreos, bacon, Frosted Mini Wheats and other junk I don’t allow myself to even consider eating most of the time. I’ve stopped tracking my habits. I’ve exercised just once if you don’t count swimming and chasing my kids; a short run near the beach on our first day here. I haven’t spent any time checking tasks off of my lists; in fact I had moved them all over to a "Post Vacation" category before we left the mainland so I wouldn’t even stumble upon them accidentally. I haven’t done much writing, stretching, or flossing, and I’ve had a metric ton of Maui Coffee. It’s been great!
Yet I’m not too concerned about slacking off, or at least not as much as my Type A personality would suggest. Though I’m itching to get back into my routine, I’m not worried about what would normally be viewed as a setback.
Planned breaks like these are required to reset my passion meter from time to time. I try and force myself to "unplug" from my (somewhat) normal intensity to help me remember why I do what I do to begin with. It’s hard to hit the ‘off’ switch… it’s frankly just as hard as turning it back on again, but I try and view it as sort of like stopping at a gas station before a long road trip; breaks like this fuel me for at least a few months, and after six days of gluttony and objective laziness, I always realize that it’s not the permanent life for me.
But what you do for a few weeks out of the year doesn’t define the year, and it doesn’t define you. It’s what you do most of the time, not just some of the time, that makes the difference over the long haul. Have consistency in the fundamentals (modulo a week here and there) and personal growth is inevitable.
Feel overwhelmed yet? Most people do. They’re in the daily grind: wake-up, work, come home, sleep, rinse-and-repeat. The failing economy has already hit people’s wallets and purses hard enough to limit traditional vacations, and without something to look forward to, the day-to-day hurdles can be even harder to stomach. And of course, mood affects focus in profound ways – someone who isn’t inspired can find the flow state to be pretty elusive. Focus requires some level of inspiration for a kick-start – without it, you can end up in a negative downward spiral for quite a while.
Tim Ferris talked about “mini-retirements” in his book, The 4-Hour Workweek. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal covered “mini-vacations”, which are shorter but more frequent getaways to recharge. I’m generally a fan of both concepts (although find mini-retirements to be a lot more impractical). But taking 3-day weekends is still not something most people can do all the time to recharge their batteries. And I really do think that focus is local. Meaning: in order to improve your focus consistently, you need to start with a daily habit and not a monthly, bi-monthly, or annual one. Do something every single day to increase focus and over time, the actions will compound into a heap of focus-inducing love.
So take your 3-day weekends… but look at what you can do every single day as well. I’ve started calling these quick recharges “micro-vacations”.
Micro-vacation (def’n): Daily activity lasting at least 15 minutes that can’t be considered “work” by any sane, rational human being; purpose of which is to recharge and increase overall focus for the next few hours
In talking with people who have trouble with focus, one thing I’ve found is that they don’t intrinsically value taking breaks. They think it’s slacking off or being unproductive. But nothing could be further from the truth. In order for your prefrontal cortex to kick into focus mode, it needs to be ready – and too much work simply doesn’t work. Just like your muscles, your brain needs time to relax before continuing to push on.