When was the last time you just sat quietly without any distractions? Or went on a walk without listening to music, just being present and still with your thoughts? The answer for me was typically never.
Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is nothing at all. This realization hit me recently as I was recovering from hip surgery. I had to stay still for most of the day, and I realized that I had lost the capacity to really be still. What was shocking to me was thinking about how times a week I longed for the opportunity to slow down or to have a reason to not be so busy. Now here I was with the perfect “excuse” to do nothing, and I just couldn’t do it.
This got me thinking about the speed of life. No matter the stage of our career, most of us are overbooked, too involved with our phones, or otherwise continuously distracted. I’m someone who is super focused on my business, but I’ve also been working hard the last several years on being someone who is self-aware, and yet this issue had completely escaped me. Now that I was forced to stop any activity, I came face-to-face with my own lack of stillness.
On the Rule29 podcast Design Of, I recently interviewed five-time Olympian Kerry Walsh Jennings. She shared with me one of her daily mantras, which is to live where her feet are. To be present, engaged, and aware of what is going on. That is a great first step toward building stillness into your life.
During my recovery from hip surgery, it was a huge shock to literally have my phone, computer and remote taken away from me. All I could do was sit there, trying to get my mind to settle down. What helped was writing things down with a pen or drawing with a pencil. It took a few days, but finally I began to focus on what I was doing, and I poured my thoughts into that. Without all those other distractions, something else amazing happened. When soreness woke me up at night, I discovered that I had ideas and answers jumping out of my brain. It was everything I could do to not get up and start writing like crazy.
What became incredibly obvious to me was that in the speed of life I was doing many things—too many things—and I was doing those things just okay and very few VERY WELL. I was not “living where my feet are” enough in my personal life and even much more so in my work life.
Without the blessing of being forced to be still, who knows when I would have awakened to this. I’ve been observing what truly activates me to accelerate back into hyper mode. What I can delegate? What can wait? More importantly, what has to change?
One of the biggest things I have found is the discipline of a break. Every day during my rehab, I was required to walk. Half a mile, a mile, three miles—whatever I could get in. During those walks, I was able to get still and just be present to my surroundings. Instead of waiting for a vacation, or a planned retreat, or a rehab program, I asked myself how I could be still or meditate for just five minutes a day. This will be a part of my life forever now. Whether I need to get up earlier, schedule an alarm reminder, whatever—I now recognize that this is paramount to my health and my ability to BE where I am. Ideas flow more often and are better, my day feels lighter (even if it isn’t), I’m more patient with those around me, and I’m just plain happier.
You don’t need to recover from surgery to discover this for yourself. Give yourself permission to just pause. You will feel better, you’ll be more discerning with your time, and you’ll be a better family member, a better boss or employee—you’ll be a better human being. Learning to be still will pay huge dividends both personally and professionally.
Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is nothing at all.