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“The missing element of oxygen, when brought home, gives us time in which we can record the tiny, visceral, magnificent details of living. The shower after a sweaty workout, a belly laugh with a friend, the warmth of fine whiskey, rain on the roof, or a tight and lasting hug . . . Busy can make you miss it all. Busy keeps you paddling along the surface of the water instead of diving down to see the parrot fish and the fan coral.” —Juliet Funt, author of A Minute to Think: Reclaim creativity, conquer busyness and do your best work
A thinking life is a happy life. But if you don’t give yourself regular time to think well, living well is near impossible.
Inspired by my own aha moments most recently as work shifted temporarily to being at home during the pandemic restrictions for in-person work environments, but also throughout my life when I would notice my productivity rise and fall based on the rigidity of my schedule, I witnessed which approach blatantly not only produced the best productivity, but the most joy as well. They were not mutually exclusive.
In fact, each time I have had the opportunity to travel to France, I witness the daily routines of the French, the long lunches, the deliciously untempered dinners that stretch into nearly early morning, and I remind myself to value quality engagement over the quantity of doing more and fitting more into a day’s work or even play schedule.
A new book, A Minute to Think provides encouraging evidence predominantly from inside the corporate world of the benefit of shifting away from more and instead investing in less. Today I would like to share with you seven ideas to ponder when it comes to how to live a life, that includes work, but is not driven by work, but rather living a fulfilling life, that brings you deeper contentment, joy and satisfaction.
1. Add regular white space to your days
“Without space we can’t sustain ourselves.”
The analogy of how fire remains alight demonstrates the point of the importance for white space or small, regular pauses, throughout our days. Once we have ignited the fire, struck the match and set ablaze the fuel, Funt reminds, “it’s the space between the combustibles that fire can’t live without. The space is what makes flames ignite and stay burning.” In other words, we need to add more oxygen to our days in order to live and experience life more deeply.
When we add white space, we add the potentiality of serendipitous moments, connection – deep, honest, unrushed – with our fellow human beings and we add time to think, clearly, enabling ourselves to be grounded.
2. The feeling of life balance comes from the vibrancy of your everyday life
Funt makes the argument that often work becomes our source for the dopamine hit we instinctively crave, and since our homes are perceived as places of routine, we look outside of our private and personal lives for a rush, even if it results in burn out.
The shift that must happen is understanding what we actually need to feel vibrancy. Funt encourages readers throughout A Minute to Think to add regular white space to your days – that includes both work and home life. White space opens up an opportunity where nothing is planned, spontaneity, rest, connect can occur without expectation.
3. Shift your idea of what work looks and feels like
Funt presents the idea of creating ‘thoughtful’ workdays. Workdays that enable you to flow with what your body and mind needs as you create a protected environment that welcomes the space to think.
“In this protected environment there is room to think. You contemplate tasks before acting. You mull over problems without prying eyes. You take breaks as your body requests them. The feeling of flow is incredible. A mere two hours later, you stand up to stretch and realize you’ve completed what would have taken days during the [typical work] week. No wonder you burned so brightly. You had plenty of oxygen.”
When you add regular white space to your days, you are adding time to think. You are not telling yourself what to think about, but rather simply providing space to let your mind wander and see how you actually feel, what creative solution arises, how to care for yourself as you give yourself the space to listen to your inner voice.
4. Unfilled time is not the enemy
“When people are freed from the antiquated notion that unfilled time is the enemy, they discover that taking a minute to think is a formidable source of professional power.”
The permission to take regular (every day) pauses, both long and short must first come from you. You must shift your nurtured value system that always being busy is the best way to live. In actuality, non-stop busy only keeps you on top of the water, and you want to live deeply. You want all the feels, the deep connection, the truths and understanding of who you are so that you can live sincerely. In order to live well, you have to let go of what is keeping you on the surface.
Funt encourages readers to give yourself permission to pause; “it makes everything you do better”.
5. Want less, live more
“‘Less’ liberates. ‘Less’ gives us the possibility of the pause. ‘Less’ makes work smarter and more productive.”
Wanting less whether in regards to consumerism or pertaining to working fewer hours a week, each paradoxically contributes to a more fulfilling and sustainable life because as Funt points out, “The path of more is not sustainable” and “Our Range Rover lives become monsters we must constantly feed.” In other words, the ‘curb appeal’ of how our lives should look is all eye candy and lacks substance. And environmentally speaking, leads us down the road of destruction to our planet, but along the way, the quality of our lives and our relationships as deteriorate.
Including two different recent studies in Japan (Microsoft workers) and Iceland (2021), both examining the effects of shifting away from the typical five-day work week to a four-day work week, the increased productivity astounded researchers. In the first study, productivity soared 40% while overhead costs decreased by nearly a quarter; and in Iceland, it was reported that “workers felt less stressed and [less] at risk of burnout, and said their health and work-life balance had improved. They also reported having more time to spend with their families, do hobbies and complete household chores.” The latter study took place over the course of four years (2015-2019).
6. Be honest, you may have conformed and didn’t realize it
“It is through a subtle psychological conversion that smart people become habituated to illogical things and then tolerate them.”
Making the argument that conformity plays a powerful role in our lack of white space, no matter how smart we may be, Funt shares multiple examples on how we fall prey to unhelpful patterns in our daily life when it comes to work: the constant checking of our email, the belief that it is the hours we work, not the quality of work we produce that matters, the belief that working until 2am is something to brag about, designing a schedule that doesn’t even allow enough time for a restroom break.
Ultimately, the hidden cost of constant busyness is burn-out, not only at work, but in our personal lives.
“The human costs are very real . . . in people’s wellness, happiness, and work-life balance.”
7. Don’t forget the mortar
“Behavioral changes are what we call the mortar and without them the whole house is unstable [in a brick and mortar building]”.
Behavioral changes at work consist of changing the culture and most often it must be modeled and regularly practiced by those in top seats, the decision-making seats. After all, when the boss is seen working until well beyond the work hours, subordinates indirectly understand this is what is valued. When the boss honors their personal commitments while demonstrating professionalism and attention to work while present, this sets a precedent for what is not only acceptable but expected – a healthy work/life balance. And not just for someone who has the same lifestyle as the boss.
I noticed this contradiction often in the various schools I taught in. Certain family and lifestyle choices were supported more openly than others – if you had children for example, if you had to leave early to pick up your child, it was understood and people would cover for you and no harm was done to your career; however for those of us who while not having children (whether by choice or the time in our lives had not arrived to have them yet), yet we still had responsibilities – pet care at the vet, caring for a family member, taking care of ourselves, asking for understanding when coverage was needed wasn’t always understood by those in the admin office (in some, but not all schools). My point is, the mortar is how we engage, live and honor the truth that we are humans and not machines. Yes, trust must be established, maintained and not abused, but so too should be acknowledge that work and life coincide.
Don’t forget the mortar if you want to prevent burn-out not only from yourself but from those you work with or who work for you.
Quality over quantity.
As someone who works as an observer assisting Fortune 500 companies find potential by unburdening their talent from busywork, Juliet Funt witnessed time and time again the underlining truth that is hard to accept in a predominantly capitalist-driven culture – “professional achievement is not a substitute for happiness, personal connection and meaning”.
Urging readers and the companies who hire her to hone the skill of ‘getting good at joy’, she embracing much of what living simply luxuriously is all about – pausing to allow true pleasure to be experienced. She warns that we spend so much time seeking that we aren’t savoring, and thus, we miss the ride of life that will not go on forever, waiting for us to figure out this truth.
Don’t miss out on this awesome ride we can all take. Hold yourself in the present, courageously add more and regular white space to your work day and life, and dive deep into a live you love living.
~Listen to my turn as a guest on a podcast when I joined Peter McGraw, host of Solo: The Single PErson’s Guide to a Remarkable Life, episode #93, talking about Developing Taste.
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~Learn more about my experience with and why I recommend Joanna Vargas masks here.
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~The Simple Sophisticate, episode #314
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