Not everything needs to be “value-add” time

Busy. I’m busy. I’m too busy. I don’t have time to think – hell, I barely have time to sleep. Between work commitments, friend commitments, relationship commitments, and building my own brand, I am left with little time for myself. I’ve gotten into a pattern of trying to make every second add value (work-type value). What does it turn into? Burn out and ineffectiveness, and that is not what anyone wants or needs.

As knowledge workers, we need time to think and decompress and that does not always mean increasing our knowledge like I once thought. Decompression time increases our effectiveness. It increases our value to ourselves and the organizations in which we contribute and work. I’m a coach. I need to take that time to evaluate and retrospect on so many things:

  • How I interact with people
  • Understanding what I observe
  • Dissecting what people say and do
  • Formulating options and ideas from similar past experiences
  • Searching for new knowledge to apply (and absorbing that knowledge)
  • Sharing my ideas, sharing advice, just sharing feelings
  • The list goes on…

But often my head is too full of other activities that are a higher priority because they provide a perceived higher value to the organization (or to me). Except that they don’t. They’re just those time consuming things that have to be done. But as far as the relative value they provide compared to the time I could have taken to come up with something more useful than another deck, another email, scheduling another few meetings – it’s pretty unequal. But yet we have to do them and that is not going to change.

And then there are the activities that add pleasure but maybe not work-type value. Like exercise, reading for enjoyment, organizing my closet (well, not pleasure per se but a sense of accomplishment and necessity)…

Ok so maybe this type of thinking is not possible in the bustle of the workday. I’m bad at distractions, bad at setting a pomodoro, bad at ignoring interruptions. When is my mind the most clear? During a run (though it’s hating every second), in the morning when I’m not in a hurry, sometimes at night (though not in the middle of the night, that’s when the thoughts and insomnia start to rush in).

So what do I do about it? I have a new plan. Instead of being rushed for time in the morning to get into the office at 8:00 am, why not take a bit more time to myself before? Get up, do a quick workout, make myself breakfast and coffee, and spend some time thinking. Maybe it’s reading a book, maybe it’s doing some writing, maybe it’s just meditating, or maybe it’s solving a specific problem or going over some event coming up or one that just happened. Or maybe it’s just zoning out.

I used to try to make every second as valuable as possible (think listening to podcasts or audiobooks when walking to work, running, running errands [running into people]), and it just wasn’t working. My brain could not absorb that much all the time. I would find myself zoning out and not realizing what I was listening to. Like when you read a page of  a book but take nothing in and have to re-read it (a few times). It just does not always work and it’s not healthy to schedule every second. We need to remember that not just in our personal lives, but at work, too. Sustainable pace – we can’t always do everything.

I know none of this is new and many people already do something like it, but I am also hedging that many people don’t. The other piece of this is that not everything needs to be a value-add activity. Go have that beer with friends, read that trashy novel, listen to music, surf the net for a few minutes at work…relaxation betters you in other ways. Now to take my own advice…

01. November 2016 by Natalie Warnert
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