Please, Just Give It a Break!

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Two among the many things I learned during my internship in McCann-Erickson still reverberate to me clearly: 

One, the “busy working-class person” is one of the lamest profiles to describe today’s professionals. Our mentor, strategic planning expert Hans Lopez-Vito, gently but firmly reminded me that lesson, while our group was working on an exercise one summer afternoon years back. As I recall that incident now, I chuckle inside and tell myself how right he was, and still is. After all, in this day and age, who isn’t? We’re always preoccupied, always going here and there, always barraged by a list of to-do’s and to-be’s. This is a busy world, and we are a busy people.

Two, the best ideas don’t happen when you’re busy. Dan Matutina, also one of our advisers back in the day, quickly reminded us youngins that we should set a limit to fretting and fumbling over a plan. You have to step back, relax, and enjoy other things, and let the lightbulb moment happen on its own. The idea has to incubate inside you before it comes out, fully-formed: an amazing concept consolidated from personal experiences and other ideas. 

We need our downtimes. We need space outside of work to see the world from a grander perspective. We cannot process the bigger picture if we stay holed up in our cubicles, listlessly checking our inboxes for emails. It’s integral to commit to a life outside of work so you can bring in fresh perspectives the moment you return to your office. 

Jeff Weiner, Linkedin CEO, echoed my thoughts when he said: “There will always be a need to get things done and knock another To Do item off the list. However, as the company grows larger, as the breadth and depth of your initiatives expand — and as the competitive and technological landscape continues to shift at an accelerating rate — you will require more time than ever before to just think…That thinking, if done properly, requires uninterrupted focus; thoroughly developing and questioning assumptions; synthesizing all of the data, information and knowledge that’s incessantly coming your way; connecting dots, bouncing ideas off of trusted colleagues; and iterating through multiple scenarios. In other words, it takes time. And that time will only be available if you carve it out for yourself. Conversely, if you don’t take the time to think proactively you will increasingly find yourself reacting to your environment rather than influencing it. The resulting situation will inevitably require far more time (and meetings) than thinking strategically would have to begin with.”

(To read more about his article, The Importance of Scheduling Nothing, click here.)

Last weekend, while talking to a lawyer friend who was very committed to balancing her work and life (this is another story of course), I realized how important it is to live life fully, now more than ever. It sounds like cheap advice we often read from self-help books, but it pays to remember that our work productivity depends on the quality of our life outside of work. To be frank, I believe the best ideas I’ve put in in my years of working came from the time I actually spent outside of work.

At the end of the day, take note that work is a means to an end, not the end itself. So enjoy the ride, have fun, and make it worthwhile. 

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