You’re back to work after Labor Day, after one of the calendar’s great punctuation points. It’s a time for putting the pedal to the floor, to use some of the gas you’ve been storing up for the sprint to December.
When the weather starts ventilating in the stretch formerly known as Indian Summer, it brings not only the promise of cooler days but also of harvests to come. For most of us, change for the better “is in the air.”
This is the annual time (along with post-New Year’s resolutions) when you put to the test all those ideas you’ve been saving and plans you’ve been making during the lull in your work calendar. It’s when you start getting valuable feedback from what you’re doing differently. It’s the season of possibilities, of successes/failures, of two steps forward and one back. You can learn something everyday about whether you’re making your work what you need it to be—as long as you’re open to that deep learning experience.
No lessons are more important than what you find out from putting your ideas into action and your plans into practice. It’s essential to give yourself time to absorb those lessons so you can be more effective tomorrow and the day after. But it can be hard to give yourself more time when it seems that you’ve just given yourself so much time.
However effective summer downtime was at replenishing you—that is, however much sun and water you managed to soak up—taking small intervals of time off everyday once your “back to work” can be just as essential. It is these daily allotments of time-for-yourself that will enable you to integrate what you’re learning as you strive to realize your work goals.
For example, should you double down on the path you’re set for yourself, tack a little to the left or right, or start moving in a whole new direction? These are questions you should be asking yourself everyday when you’re actively road-testing your plans to become happier and more productive.
Since there is an opportunity to be more effective when you’re trying to get where you want to be, why not take advantage of it? Some simple suggestions.
Most of us are creatures of habit, particularly when it comes to looking forward to something. My dog Rudy (who is somewhere north of 100 in human years) still manages to remember to come over for a treat—same time/same place every night. We’re like this too once the rewards start coming for us. The confidence that comes from having more control of the work path you’re on will be that reward for you.
As a creature of habit I recommend that you give yourself 15 minutes of quiet, uninterrupted time at the beginning, middle and end of every day. Thinking of yourself as an engine, these are the times to:
1. Prime Your Engine,
2. Re-Charge Your Battery, and
It’s a daily effort to learn, to replenish and most of all, to integrate by putting it all back together.
You Prime Your Engine when you first wake up: before coffee or other interruptions. Go somewhere that’s quiet and dim. You still have access to what your unconscious and sleepy mind is telling you. Listen to it. Think about what your dreams and “your gut” are saying to you about the day before and the day ahead. Don’t force it. Just relax and let it come. Have a pad handy and jot down notes if you want. Then go about doing whatever you do everyday. 15 minutes, and you’ll have some marching orders.
When you throw yourself into work the way I do, you don’t need to eat at mid-day as much as you need to absorb and relax. A great way to Recharge Your Batteryis by taking a short walk outside, either alone or with others, where you can be flooded with nature. A park, a garden, the woods out back: what you want is detail for your senses to body surf through. Look at it, smell it, feel it and let you mind wander through it as your walking. The sense-awakening effects of nature will help you to absorb the morning and start looking forward to the afternoon. Try it. You’ll be surprised. (And then have lunch.)
You Recalibrate Your Engine just before bed. Research in neuroscience is confirming that your mind continues to process while you sleep and dream—especially issues with an emotional component. What are you afraid of? What is the piece of the relationship puzzle you’ve been unable to find? In the lights-down-low/quiet-time before sleep, “give your dreams a path to follow” a question to resolve, a barrier to get around. You’ll pick up the thread the next morning.
We don’t give ourselves enough quiet time, enough time alone, or enough time with nature. I’ll talk about these different stages of Engine Maintenance—and some of the thinking behind them—at greater length another day.
In the meantime, no day is better than today to start taking regular time with yourself to get ready for the work of your life.