Perhaps you’re like me. You pack more into the day than it can possibly hold. The items on the to-do list stack up and the top priorities that need your undivided attention slip as you deal with unexpected emergencies that can’t wait. Frustration builds and franticness sets in. How can you do more and do it faster? The voice in your head is insistent, “Work faster. Go. Go. Go.”
Now, instead of go, go, go; I stop. Just stop. It’s hard to do and it works. Not acting in that frantic moment actually increases productivity. It’s a specific strategy, executed in a specific way. Here are five easy steps to not take action.
- Notice the franticness. Pay attention to when you begin to feel over-whelmed, a wee-bit panicked, and frustrated with progress. There is a part of you that wants to leap into action. Bad idea. Your brain is on over-load; it’s trying to process too much information, and your attention is splintered. In this mental state you are in no condition to tackle that top priority that needs your undivided attention. Your brain isn’t ready and you won’t do your best work.
- Stop. Resist the urge to pedal faster and instead, force yourself to stop and take a break. The first time I stopped instead of accelerating, I thought, “This is crazy. I’m just wasting time.” I was wrong.
- Prime your brain. Take a moment to prime your brain. That means to briefly review the activity you plan to undertake next. For example, think about that top priority project that needs your attention and your best work. What is it and what do you need to do? Write a proposal, review a proposal, review candidates for a key position, pitch a new client? Identify what you need to do specifically. If you need to write a proposal, scan the overview, take a moment to think about the key points you want to make. This brief review pre-loads your brain with information.
- Shut out visual and auditory inputs. Here’s the key part. Find a quiet space. Close your door, put on noise-cancelling headphones, or go to another location. The goal is to shut out auditory and visual inputs which will quiet the brain. When you have your quiet spot, sit with your eyes closed and with no noise for five to ten minutes – not long. I set a timer on my iPhone.
- Let your brain work its magic. Here’s what happens for your brain. As you look around, consider the vast amount of information that comes into the brain from your eyes. Your brain spends a lot of energy sorting through, prioritizing and processing visual inputs alone. Add sound and there’s even more information to process. It’s a massive workload for your brain. When you shut down those inputs it frees your brain to think about your priority project. There’s simply more horsepower available for creative, focused thought. Let your mind wander. The brain is creative when it is wandering. Maybe it comes up with information about a different project or brings a new perspective to your priority project. In these few minutes, your brain resets and you emerge with more clarity and better ideas than if you’d plowed forward in a frantic state.
When you emerge from the few minutes of no action, you will have more focus and calm. Whatever your brain comes up with, get it down on paper, note the main points, and go. Go to work. You’ll have better quality, more creative work. All because you did…nothing.