We all have it: Those two minutes waiting at the red light or for the next train, the seconds spent reheating the meal or coffee you never managed to eat or drink the first time. Surely, we can do something useful with those moments, right?
Experts say yes – but the rest of their answer may surprise you.
“Just stop the busyness, stop the cycle, disrupt it, and pause,” says Brigid Schulte, who writes of “time confetti” in “Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time.” “Just pause. Do nothing. Go for a walk.”
You may be thinking you don’t have time for that, but consider the idea – maybe the next time you’re waiting for your colleague or client.
Giving yourself permission to pause with the rhythms of your day may not come easy. We live in an “overwhelming, overdoing society,” says Schulte, a longtime journalist and director of the Better Life Lab. To go with the flow in this instance, she says, is to “go with the flow of busyness.” Give yourself some grace, she says, if you’re trying to forge another path.
So the next time you have one of those in-between moments, consider:
Do Nothing (or what may look or feel like nothing at first)
“If we’re agitated, and ride that agitation to flip half-mindlessly through our phone or play a video game, our brains don’t get to rest and recharge,” writes Dr. Joel M. Rothaizer, MCC, and CEO of Clear Impact Consulting Group. “We stay in ‘task mode’ where others are generally more like objects than people to us. We’re capable of more busy-ness but less creativity.
“When we take a few minutes of quiet reflection or contemplation, a little prayer, some moments of gratitude, a short mindfulness practice, or just enjoy the spaciousness of doing nothing, we’re much more ready to be better human beings, better leaders, better workers, with more discerning minds and more open hearts.”
Is Your To-Do List Filled With Your Actual Priorities?
“Once you’ve created some space where you just are alive and breathing, then begin to think about what is really most important to you,” Schulte says. “You cannot do 700 things in one day, but you can do one, or two.”
Schulte says she often gets caught up in “clearing the decks behavior,” which she describes as, “I can take care of all these little things, then I’m going to get to the big one, or I’m going to take care of all this stuff on the to-do stuff, and then I can relax.” While Schulte notes we’re programmed to want to cross those little things off our list – and that we get a little dopamine rush from it – she observes that it often means that at the end of the day we’ve done a lot of little things that really don’t get us any closer to what was more important to us.
Schulte says that you’re never, ever going to have the decks cleared. “It’s never going to be the perfect time to do the big thing,” she says. “Just start.”
When thinking about what to do with your “time confetti,” Rothaizer recommends considering whether what we’re doing supports us being happier, calmer, more fulfilled, or the opposite. He continues: “Does it lead us to treat the next person with a little more respect, dignity, and care? Or the opposite? Does it help our brains to be clearer, creative and more focused on whatever our next task is? Or not? Are our hearts a little more open or a little more closed?”
Part of the problem, he observes, “is that most people don’t reflect. They don’t ask themselves how what they did two minutes ago is affecting how they’re doing now.”
Once you begin such practices, consider the bigger picture. In the world’s wealthiest society, Schulte says, she wants all of us to feel like we can look around and help each other.
“We can build a better society together,” she says, noting that requires having the time and awareness that we can make change, that it’s within our power to do so individually, in our organizations, and also in our society.
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