I’m getting ahead of myself by a month, but this classic song by Soup Dragons is on high rotation in my brain.
it’s tip day and lip day! (the crowd roars!)
I am devoted to the Slow Movement. Slow food, slow travel, slow work. I once even tried to get traction on the idea of slow aid because I was frustrated by the push by donors to engender positive change in disadvantaged communities according to 12-month funding cycles.
Sadly my devotion is, at best, one of principle more than practice.
I want to embrace Slow Movement principles in my everyday life, but I also want to assume responsibility at work (which leads to working long hours), keep my side projects moving, maintain a healthy social life, eat well, exercise and play with my ten nieces and nephews on a regular basis.
It’s a puzzle.
So I was delighted to learn of research arguing that my apparently contradictory priorities are indeed symbiotic.
Tony Schwartz, chief executive officer of The Energy Project, made the case in The New York Times recently in the encouragingly titled: ‘Relax! You’ll Be More Productive’ (which I read while eating lunch at my desk).
Schwartz sets out the fundamental flaw of modern productivity measures. There are two key inputs for productivity – time and energy. Both of these resources are finite, but only one is renewable.
We try to increase output by drawing on these two inputs simultaneously. Over the years as we’ve become busier and busier we’ve maxed out the amount of time and energy we can input for productivity but keep trying to increase the output.
Tony Schwartz identifies the problems and offers a solution:
Although many of us can’t increase the working hours in the day, we can measurably increase our energy. Science supplies a useful way to understand the forces at play here. Physicists understand energy as the capacity to do work. Like time, energy is finite; but unlike time, it is renewable. Taking more time off is counterintuitive for most of us. The idea is also at odds with the prevailing work ethic in most companies, where downtime is typically viewed as time wasted.
The answer to increased productivity is rest!
Schwartz draws upon research from Stanford that demonstrates basketball players’ performance dramatically improving with 10 hours sleep a night. He also espoused the virtue of daytime naps. Short naps improve performance and longer naps (60-90 mins) improve performance even more.
I’m sure you will agree this is excellent, life altering news.
Much like my devotion to the Slow Movement, I am an ardent supporter but hopeless practitioner of napping.
I am, however, getting better at this most important life skill and have developed a few tricks along the way to make it easier.
Tips for taking a nap (for those of us who aren’t naturally good at it)
1. Don’t fixate on falling asleep. Just lying down with your eyes closed is good enough.
2. Set an alarm – the control freak inside will appreciate some structure to ease into this radically irresponsible behaviour
3. Unlike night-time sleeping when darkness is preferred, look for a shaft of sunlight to lie in for your nap. In my experience it is impossible not to relax while lying in a shaft of sunlight.
4. Read the definitive text on napping, ‘Change Your Life Without Getting Out of Bed: The Ultimate Nap Book’ by SARK. Just a few pages long (more a book of word illustrations than a book of prose) this book makes the case for napping while making your eyes droopy as you read.
5. Trick yourself into napping. I used to be wholly incapable of napping but very good at falling asleep in front of a movie. So I just declared it movie time whenever I needed a nap. These days I’m more likely to use podcasts for the same purpose and they work a treat.
6. Use a fan. Because naps often happen in the daytime, it can sometimes feel too hot to lie down. If you, like me, think air-conditioning is the devil’s work, take heart that running a fan for the whole summer will cost about $30 in electricity. All of that breezy box-fan goodness for much less energy than your fridge or kettle is chewing up.
7. If you’re a real productivity hound who balks at the thought of napping, consider meditation. All the CEOs are doing it. Meditation and napping are two different things, but they both require stillness and setting time aside from work. Think of meditation as a productivity junkie’s gateway drug to napping.
8. Keep it snappy. How long you should nap for is contested, but if you need to bounce back straight after your nap, keep it under 30-45 so you’re not groggy when you re-emerge.
9. Figure out the best napping window for you. If you’re an early riser, it will be earlier in the day – around 1pm. If you’re a night owl, push it back to 2pm.
10. Above all, nap freely and frequently. Become an expert of your own nap. If someone gives you grief about taking a nap, remember you’ve got science on your side.
There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.
No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.
(HT R. Mangan)
the squarest tip I’ve ever written. Next one will have to be about something radical.
So…2013 is kind of nuts. So far, it’s all about the work, with the occasional summer frolic and wedding (not mine) squeezed in.
One of the downsides of the busy is that some of the small good things I do can fall away in the mad rush.
Late last year as I careened towards holidays, I noticed that I was forgetting to take my reusable bags to the shops, I was churning through disposable coffee cups, and I even grabbed coffee from cafes without checking their fair trade status. Eek!
Dropping the ball on these things from time to time is human. An off day or week here and there isn’t going to affect the quantum of my good efforts over a lifetime. But an off day or week can often be the beginning of a broken good habit. Good habits maintained over a lifetime will dramatically affect the quantum of my good efforts and also makes those small things an effortless part of my day.
So I’ve written myself a list to put on the back of my door (my apartment is so tiny I will be able to read this list from almost every corner).
This list isn’t wildly aspirational – just the small good things I can do without much effort every day.
Daily small good things
1. Take a reusable bag
Envirosax are my favourite because they fit heaps of shopping and are easy to fold back up.
2. Take a reusable coffee cup
I have a Keep Cup because they fit in coffee machines.
3. Take out the recycling
It’s too easy to throw something in the rubbish when the recycling is piling up.
4. Make a plan for coffee
If I think about my morning in advance I can be sure I will have time to go to my favourite fair trade place rather than grab whatever is nearest and most convenient.
5. Take lunch to work
This is a double-whammy – I avoid the packaging of a bought lunch and the temptation to buy the cheapest thing available (which is probably also the least environmentally-friendly). I’ll admit this is probably the hardest item on the list but much easier if it’s a part of my regular routine.
6. Leave enough time to walk
Good for the environment, body, mind and soul. If I tell myself I don’t have time to walk it’s a sign I should recalibrate my day immediately.
7. Do the laundry
If I keep on top of laundry I’m less likely to find myself using the dryers at the Laundromat at 10pm on Sunday night
8. Take a reusable bottle
Buying bottled water when it comes free and clean out of the tap is, to my mind, both appalling and stupid. And yet, still tempting if I find myself out and about without water.
9. Take some coins
My suburb has an amazing collection of buskers. Having a live soundtrack for my shopping is one of the great daily joys in my life. I like to support the brave souls who bring music to the street and to express my appreciation with a few coins.
10. Water the garden
My little balcony garden won’t feed a family any time soon, but it does keep me well stocked of fresh herbs and less reliant on the shops to make my dinner taste good. Believe it or not, I can easily forget to water it for an entire week.
So, what small good things are part of your daily routine?
Time for another tip!
I spent a fair chunk of my twenties studying and working overseas. It was the best of times and it was the worst of times (as they say).
It was the best of times because I felt that glorious sense of ‘this is life!’ ALL. THE. TIME. I had days when it felt as if I’d learnt more in six hours than I had ever learnt before.
It was the worst of times too when I had my heart broken, or my boss was awful, or I was about to fail an exam. Just ask my mum. She got the long distance phone calls.
Over the past three years back home in Australia I’ve had the (often maddening) luxury to contemplate what I would like to do with my next decade.
My first impulse is to get back on the road! Plan an adventure that involves big cities, remote villages, jungles and huts on beaches.
But I remember the hard bits too and remind myself not to wear rose-coloured glasses (as so many of us do with our travel fantasies). I also contemplate the future, trying to make a plan for the next year that I won’t regret in 10 years.
I diligently think about my past experiences and try to uncover which parts worked and which parts were disasters. I want my next steps to be informed by where I’ve been and what I’ve learnt about myself.
On the way home from work yesterday I was walking past some men smoking and drinking coffee. I noticed the mingled scent before I noticed the men and I was transported to a place somewhere in my memory. ‘Yes! The coffee and cigarettes! The old men who sit in the same place all day! I want to be there.’
I didn’t know where “there” was exactly. But my longing for distant lands leapt out, grabbed me by the arms and shook me.
Whoa, I suddenly felt painfully aware of my longing for travel…and so marched forth an epiphany –
I had been overcomplicating the whole thing. I didn’t need to think about the next decade. Right now, planning out the next few months would be fine. Indeed, just taking the next step would be fine: I would buy a plane ticket.
I had also been oversimplifying the whole thing. Even though a part of me said ‘travel!’ another part said, ‘rose-coloured glasses!’
I experienced heartbreak, bad bosses, failing exams while travelling. But these are all things I probably would have experienced, in one way or another, even if I’d stayed home. I had thrown the travel baby out with the life-is-tricky-sometimes bathwater.
Also, I’m not in my early- mid- or late-twenties anymore. I won’t necessarily run into the same trouble again. There is probably a whole fresh round of trouble for a thirty year old waiting for me.
I don’t need aptitude tests or career coaches to know what my next step should be. I will buy a plane ticket and start my decade with travel. If it bothered to leap out at me on the footpath, the least I can do is listen.
Maybe it’s as complicated and as simple as that.