It can sometimes feel like work only has one speed: 100 miles per hour. And when you’re always head down, working hard, crushing multiple deadlines and projects, it can be difficult to downshift on the rare slow day.
But don’t feel guilty for taking a mental break and unplugging from work thoughts for a while, even while you’re in the office. “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets,” Tim Kreider of The New York Times wrote.
Here are a few tried-and-true ways to make the most of that time.
Turn Some Pages
You could spend a lot of time researching which local honchos to try to have coffee with, emailing their assistants, and following up until you get something penciled in…or you could pick up a book by a leader whom you admire and do a deep dive into their brain. Alternatively, find a book or blog on any interesting subject. It’s what Warren Buffet credits to his success. He once held up stacks of paper and said: “Read 500 pages like this every week. That’s how knowledge builds up, like compound interest.”
Todd Combs, known as the billionaire whisperer and Buffet’s protégé, took Buffet’s advice. He started keeping track of what he read and how many pages he was reading a day. Combs discovered that Buffett’s advice worked, giving him the tools and the knowledge to uncover the truth about potential investments.
Clean & Organize
Chances are, you’ve got a system that could use some tweaking. Take advantage of your downtime to get into the back of drawers and files and clear out what no longer serves you. Or, think about ways to streamline a task. Jeffrey Hayzlett, the author of The Hero Factor and Think Big, Act Bigger, as well as the host of C-Suite with Jeffrey Hayzlett, cleans the bathrooms at his office in order to set a good example and show everyone in the office that no job is beneath him and by extension, no task is beneath anyone. Straightening up a common room or office kitchen works, too.
The research is in, the anecdotes are voluminous, and across the board, successful driven people work up a sweat. Richard Branson may seem like an extreme example (Bikram yoga, kitesurfing, rock climbing, running…what doesn’t he do?) but the founder of Virgin Group claims that his active lifestyle has gifted him with four extra hours of productivity each day. If possible, indulge in an activity that takes you back to your childhood (like roller skating) and that makes you feel happy and carefree in addition to your regularly scheduled run/weights/spin workout. Just getting up and taking a walk around the building can clear your mind and inspire innovation.
Take a Look at Your Accomplishments…and Acknowledge Others’
Reflect upon your recent achievements and take a minute to feel good. Then, spend some time thinking about the rock stars around you. Write a note of appreciation on an app like Preciate, and watch how that gesture grows beyond you, into a stronger, more open and communicative relationship. Acts of public recognition build genuinely collaborative, productive, partnerships.
Plan an Inspiring Gathering
Think of some of the most important cultural movements of the past couple of centuries. The Enlightenment, the Surrealists, and the Algonquin Round Table were forged and fostered in a salon setting, a gathering of brilliant minds who encouraged and promoted each others’ ideas.
Plan to host a simple dinner party and curate the crowd beyond your usual circle. Include some people you hope to know better, some whom you admire, and some whom you think would benefit from exposure to such a crowd. Susan McTavish, of Silicon Valley’s Living McTavish, gathers together inspiring and intelligent people in a salon-like setting. She says the key is to be a curious host and to ask attendees about their lives while delivering an array for the rest of the senses (great food and music are musts).
Chat With the Boss
When your desk is clear and organized and your goals for the week ahead are set, what better time to check in with your boss? You don’t want your only check-ins to be when you’ve got a million piles on your desk, and your hair is on fire. Use the time to reassure your manager that you’re clearly focused on the company’s purpose. Or, ask for some advice. According to research by the Harvard Business Review, this can make you look more competent at work. And if there was a project that you recently passed on because you were too busy, check in to see if your help might still be wanted.
Downtime is rare in our constantly plugged-in careers, so it can feel foreign and uncomfortable to those of us who are used to working constantly. But utilized wisely, it can also be incredibly productive and rewarding, and leave you feeling refreshed and on pace to resume your regular work schedule.