In the life of a person who consults, there will clearly be many struggles and stresses – but, one of the biggest will be what he or she does with the time that they aren’t actively working or pursuing work. To most of us, this time is called “down time”; a time to get away from work and do other things. But, to a consultant, this can be some of the most important and valuable moments.
I wanted to explore some of the things I’ve done and how to best make use of these very important moments.
First off though, I’d like to tell you one of those “I learned the hard way” kind of stories. Early on as a consultant the work was plentiful and the downtime was not. I would be working sixty or more hours a week and, when it came time to stop, I would find more things to work on – extra paperwork, more programming, working on other projects. This downtime was essentially erased by more work. What happened wasn’t well understood at the time, but it was plenty powerful. It started off slower – I would sleep and find it difficult to wake up – and then become a mess and spend a complete day in a daze. This had to have been burnout.
I imagine that will manifest itself differently for others, but the lesson was more about balance. I needed to better use downtime or I felt I would start paying for this with my health. When you can, it might just be as valuable to you to turn off the devices and just rest your mind. Shut the active mind off and stay in bed for a day.
To be sure, we’re living in an information-rich society. Everyday, stuff bombards us at a constant rate. Advertising, white noise, conversations, phone calls, emails, entertainment, and whatever else you can hear off in the distance. Have you ever thought “our ancestors wouldn’t have had to handle all of this information”. I tend to feel that’s the case. Life had to have been much quieter, at least.
It may be the bane of modern society to be on this hyper fast-track of noise pollution, but the balance is going to be in where you shut it off. For some it’s in silence, others it’s meditation and even others take off the edge by partying with friends. I do feel as time goes on, I’m having to be a concerted and conscious effort to get away. I might just take some time and reflect or take a 15 to 20 minute nap.
I’ve also needed to learn how one’s life can be in a constant state of balance. Difficult, yes. But also possible. This makes me think of the nap itself. Some believe the perfect amount of time for a nap is about 15 to 20 minutes. But, every time I lie down for a nap, I feel like sleeping and hour. When I do sleep that much, I ultimately pay for it. The lesson in balance is to give our body and soul what it needs and no more or less. If you do take naps, try a 15 minute sleep and see how that goes.
I’ve never found that harmonious balance that also understands the chaos and is inclusive of my already erratic rhythms, but perhaps this is the constant struggle we have to face every day.