March 7, 2011

Defrag Your Personal Hard Drive

Filed under: Career Advice,Creativity,Staying Fresh — Joe Grant @ 6:32 pm


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So…deep in your heart you’re a little concerned you’re working too hard, that your outlook and style is coarsening, and achieving meaning from your work gets more elusive every year.

You’re not alone. When we coach executive talent avoiding burnout comes up a lot, with both emerging leaders and 50+-somethings pushing for legacy and worth.

After many years as a business therapist, I’m convinced what keeps people creative and helps them prevent getting stale is scheduling plenty of personal time to focus on “un-business” and recharge. Yes, it can – it must – be done, even in our crazy business.

Let’s go for a low-hanging analogy. We’re bipedal computers getting sticky and slow trying to handle too many open programs. Our hard drives sluggishly strain to jump from sector to sector, churning away valiantly but always behind the curve.

Or how about high performance athletes? They know that to be competitive they must rest between heats and meets. But us, well, we treat ourselves like machines revving our engines at high speed for weeks, months, and sometimes years with little down time. Until something breaks.

Perhaps you know someone who brags about not having been on a vacation for several years. Well. . . that’s just dumb. It’s not that you “deserve” it, it’s that you need time away. Otherwise you’ll soon resent your work, your company, and what it’s all slowly doing to your health and your family relationships. Not to mention your sanity.

The truth is the longer you’re in our business with its unrelenting deadlines and sudden zigs and zags, the more you’ve got to make time to catch your breath.

Creative people know this. The reason so many good ideas come while singing in the shower or commuting in is that those are “down times” when your brain is not racing quite so fast to process multiple inputs. Good ideas bubbling to the top are easier to see when the surface is not roiled.

If you examine the lives of people who made great contributions, especially in their later years, you’ll see they understood that full speed ahead was not when they had breakthrough moments. It was when they lay quietly at anchor – remember Archimedes in his bath?

And here’s an irony. You know the line about give the busy man the work and he’ll get it done? It’s true. The more you do the more you can do, but there’s a twist you may not realize.

You’ll get more satisfaction out of your job if you tackle something challenging and stimulating outside your job. Something meaty. Especially if it’s a long-buried desire to realize a wish you first had in childhood.

Some examples: maybe you always wanted to play the piano, learn to fly, make outstanding pasta sauces, speed read, paint, restore an old car, build something out of wood that wouldn’t fall down when you leaned against it…I don’t know. What’s important is that it’s something you’ve always wanted to do and it challenges you.

You know people like this, right? Folks who run demanding companies but still make time to indulge themselves in things they enjoy and grow from. Effective people know that parallel challenges make them better in all dimensions and they’re not afraid to stretch for things which may at first appear slightly beyond their reach.

We take ourselves and “success” entirely too seriously. To stay engaged and vigorous, learn to take a breather and challenge yourself with something that has deeper personal meaning than just speeding up your personal assembly line to get more widgets out the door.

Remember, you have more than just “high” and “off” on that switch of yours. Try some different settings.


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