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How Three Productivity-Free Days Changed Everything

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A few weeks ago I made the decision to embark on my first ever “solo trip”. It wasn’t a big one – an adorable little Air BNB overlooking Maple Bay was far enough for me – and while I initially had some trepidation, it turned out wonderful and had some unexpected outcomes.

I’m usually a “get ‘er done” kind of person, and in the past when I have dedicated time for business thinking and planning there would absolutely be an agenda, a timeframe, productivity, and a concrete result. Except after an incredibly busy (and if I’m honest, stressful) first part of this year, I felt what I needed was rest and a clear head about where I was going in my business. I kept hearing how smart, successful people take time away not to be productive, but to be creative. To listen to their gut, to give their brains a break, and to tune into their hearts; all of which fly in the face of productivity.

So, I took a giant box of books, planning tools, productivity exercises and the like, but promised myself I would only look at what was calling me in any given moment. It was hard not to dive in and start with a plan, but I was committed to the gut, brains, heart thing, so I relaxed into it. I read a few chapters of a few books, I did some financial forecasting, I journalled, I meditated, and did only what I felt like doing as each moment unfolded. I also binged Netflix, played games on my iPad, cooked delicious meals, drank some outstanding Island wine, listened to music, did some yoga, saw the Northern lights, sat by the fire and allowed space to see how everything would converge. No guilt over lack of productivity.

And you know what? Nothing earth shattering happened. Lightning did NOT strike when I was “wasting” time. I did NOT have a massive paradigm shift about my business. I didn’t finish a single book or come up with a brilliant plan for my next quarter.

But here’s what DID happen. I sat on the balcony almost all weekend taking in a breathtaking view of Salt Spring Island and the water in between. I felt an ease and peace flow through each day that made stress feel far away. And I rested. Not only physically, but mentally and emotionally. And that easy pace, the rest I felt in body and soul, began a stirring in me that I haven’t felt in a long time and that has not left me since. It created a space for new ideas to emerge – about my business AND my life. Ideas I don’t think would have come in my day-to-day rushing around getting things done productivity-focused craziness. And it felt so good! I found myself on the third day wondering how I could do this more often, or even . . . every day? Was it possible to create that kind of margin on a regular basis?

I may not have accomplished anything of note that weekend, but I experienced a small shift – and that change allowed me to see things in a new way. I have since thought about some things I want to change. Some things about the business have come into focus, as well finding clarity about decisions I need to make. Some important perspectives have shifted on what I want to accomplish and what’s really important – which activities are (and are not) aligned with my values.

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In a world where productivity, busyness, action and sacrificing to get ahead are considered keys to success, there is a paradox. An over-focus on those things also produces exhaustion, disillusionment, hopelessness and burnout. And, research is emerging that it’s in the quiet, non-busy, work-free, apparent wasting time moments that creates the space our minds and hearts need to come up with the best ideas, the truest goals, and the greatest clarity about life and work.

One of my favourite authors, Anne Lamott, said “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” What if we all could create this kind of space to unplug from busyness? For the free flow of ideas, the convergence of unrelated things that become the right thing? For unearthing buried, but important, thoughts? What if we regularly felt the kind of rest that only comes from intentionally committing to the flow rather than the outcome, even if it’s just for a few days, or hours? How much better might we all feel? Clearer we might see? Or aligned we might live?

I encourage you to find ways – big or small – to do this experiment, and see how it might turn out for you to unplug yourself, go with the flow, and expect the unexpected.

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