Downtime

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

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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.

Revisit

Revisiting your past, including your career history, may give you valuable insights, increase your comfort/confidence and help you to steer your future.

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Have you ever revisited something from the past?

Perhaps a restaurant you hadn’t eaten at for a while, or a suburb you hadn’t visited, or a friend or family member from the past, who you hadn’t seen for a while. People you’d worked with, employers who hired you or clients you did work for.

When you revisited that place or person, perhaps some old feelings came back. Or maybe it was fresh – you noticed some changes and it even felt like a new experience.

It can be an interesting exercise to mentally revisit experiences of places and people.

You can apply this idea of mentally revisiting to your career history. You can recall the details of the jobs you held.  What you did. Who you worked with. The way decisions were made. The way conflicts were managed. The way the team worked together. The end results.

Remembering those details can give you some fresh insights – insights about yourself and others, about why you were hired, about why particular decisions were made and about the general landscape of your profession. You can identify common elements in your career history, which reveal, for example, where your strengths and weaknesses lie, what you enjoy / don’t enjoy and what you, as a person, bring to a situation.

One category of experience you can re-visit is the challenge. Perhaps a person or a thing might have troubled you in the past. Maybe it was a difficult job. Maybe it was a person who you found difficult to get along with. Maybe it was a relationship that went through some turbulence. By revisiting a challenge you had, you can gain insights into why that challenge arose, how you dealt with it, how you might deal with it the same (or differently) today. You might realise some way to avoid such a challenge in the future.

One of the cool things about going back and revisiting a past experience is that you can think about it with fresh eyes. You can take your present self, as you are now, and project that self back into the past, and that can give you new insights into that situation. You might assume that you learned everything that could be learned about an experience at the time you had it, and there’s nothing more to be learned. But there may actually be a wealth of new things to be learned, from your present perspective.

Another cool benefit of revisiting a past experience is that you can become more comfortable with it. Perhaps the experience was distressing or uncomfortable in some way. Perhaps it was confusing and you weren’t able to grasp exactly what was happening at the time or why. By going back to it again, now that you’re out of it, you can become more comfortable and acquainted with that experience. Rather than being a “black-box”, a past experience can be something you begin to understand, to learn about, and to treat just like an old friend.

And becoming more comfortable with your career history can give you a shot of confidence now, in your current work situation, and it can help you to guide and steer your career for the future.

You carry your memories with you. They are always accessible, and can be pulled up practically at will. So why not use them?