Reboot

Drop everything for a moment… then pick up what’s really valuable!

Advertisements

Audio

Around this time of year – in fact, many times in the year – there’s a little mental exercise I like to do, which I call “reboot”. Basically, I take everything in my life – committments, obligations, goals, attachments – and try to momentarily drop them all, in my mind. It’s kind of like rebooting a computer. I try to switch everything off and imagine that I was starting all over again, from scratch.

What I find useful about this exercise is, by letting everything go, I can start again from scratch and think about where I’d like to be, which commitments I’d like to have, which goals I’d like to pursue and which are achievable. This helps to set me up better for the next period of time, whether that’s the next year or the next few moments.

I’ve found this useful on both a macro and a micro level.

On a micro level, I might find that I’m working on task A, and this leads to a smaller sub-task B, which leads to a smaller sub-task C and so on, so that I get bogged down in a very deep level of complexity. When this happens, I try to notice it happening, stop for a bit and think again about what I’m trying to achieve, and whether all of those details are really necessary. By doing this, I might be able to see where I could cut out some unnecessary detail or subtly switch focus to a more essential sub-task.

On a macro level, I might be thinking about the next year. What are my plans, work goals, commitments I’ve made and obligations or attachments I have to things, people, places, etc. But suppose I was starting again from scratch. Imagine I had just arrived on this planet! What would I want to do? Some things would stay in the list, even after the reboot. If I dropped everything, I would still want to do those things. So I can re-affirm my commitment to them. Other things might be not so essential. I went down a path of pursuing them, but that path kind of wore itself out. So I decide I no longer need to continue down that path, and I can think about dropping those things.

As you can see rebooting can be a useful exercise both in a short-term context (working on a piece of code or design, planning some detail of your life, purchasing decisions, etc) and a long-term context (planning your year, thinking about career, relationships, etc).

Have a happy new year everyone. Enjoy!

Downtime

Work and life comes to us in ebbs and flows. The “ebbs”, or “downtime”, can be a great opportunity for “slow thinking”.

Audio

Have you been working on a large, challenging, long-term undertaking? Perhaps a startup, or a large corporate project?

You are probably going to find that there are up-times and down-times. Ebbs and flows.

There will be stretches of time during which you’re fully engaged and “in-flow”, i.e. you’re spending multiple hours of a day, perhaps 6 or even 8, and those times are fully engaging you, and you’re using most of your mental and physical capacities, and you’re engaged in the immediate problem at hand.

But you will also probably notice that there are downtimes. These will vary in length and frequency, according to the nature and kind of work, the industry you’re in, etc. For example, some industries are seasonal. Some corporations have periods where people are away on holiday at certain times of the year. Some consulting relationships go through periods of less direct contact/communication with the client.

These “down” periods could go for months or weeks at a time, or parts of the week (e.g. weekdays vs. weekends), or parts of the day (e.g. morning vs. afternoon).

It can be helpful to notice these downtimes and to spot the patterns in them. This is because, during these downtimes, you can perform activities, mental or otherwise, which are better suited to downtime. Activities which would be more difficult to do during “uptime”.

During uptime, you’re in a more “reactive” move, responding rapidly to events and situations as they occur. Whereas during downtime, you can do more of what I call “slow thinking”.

By “slow thinking” I’m referring to things such as strategic thinking or long-term planning. Taking a step back and thinking about the bigger picture. Asking what you’re trying to do. What are the broad goals? Are my day-to-day actions (when I’m in “uptime”) appropriately focused on, and contributing to, those goals? And, heck, am I enjoying myself? Is this sustainable over the long term? Are there strategic changes or tweaks I could be making? For example, could I be taking my effort in one domain and applying it to a different market, where it’s more sought-after or more valuable, or applying it to an additional market, so that I can increase my customer-base?

Using down-time in this way may not only be beneficial – it may be critical. It may only be in those slower contemplative moments that you identify a major problem or issue or risk to what you’re doing, that otherwise would have gone un-noticed in the hustle and bustle of “getting stuff done”. So it can be important to pull yourself out of up-time, if needed, and deliberately move into down-time, to give yourself a proper chance to have insights you wouldn’t have otherwise had the time and space to have.

The down-time can function as a kind of rehearsal for up-time, because, during down-time, you are preparing ahead-of-time for the decisions you’ll need to make and the actions you’ll need to perform when you’re back in up-time again.

During down-time I recommend putting yourself in spaces and doing things that mentally relax and inspire you. Perhaps visiting a calm and peaceful place such as a park or a camping site. Perhaps walking or exercising. And giving your mind a chance to “tick over” everything. Everyone has a different way and you might have your own way of creating a space. But whichever way you choose, it should give your mind freedom to contemplate, wander, retrospect, revisit and then be strategic about the future and the next steps.