When I started writing this blog, in August 2009, I might have been quite surprised to learn that I would still be at it nearly four years later. I was certainly surprised to discover how quickly it had become part of the rhythm of my life. I noticed this the first time I missed a week, quite early on. It provoked an unexpected feeling of guilt, along with a strong sense of disruption, of something missing.
Holidays apart, I’ve made a determined effort to write every week since then, however busy or tired I am, and I don’t think I’ve missed more than three weeks in all the nearly four years. Sometimes the regime does feel tyrannical, but I also know that it’s a good exercise in summoning my most present preoccupations and giving voice and form to them without the luxury, or hindrance, of too much forethought.
To my continuing amazement, people seem to find my ruminations entertaining, occasionally even thought-provoking – though, I’m relieved to say, not so much so that anyone takes me to task for going absent without leave, as I did last week.
Last week it was a combination of exhaustion and pressure to prepare for the coming weekend that proved too much. The previous ten days seemed to have involved non-stop workshops and by Thursday evening I knew I didn’t have it in me. I wrestled with myself for a couple of hours, then surrendered, went to the pub and woke up on Friday morning feeling better for it and quite untroubled by any kind of guilt.
It occurred to me, not for the first time, that although we need the constraints of deadlines, processes and benchmarks in our working lives, we also benefit greatly from breaking routines and occasionally taking time out to freewheel. The thought was almost immediately underlined by an email from the chairman of one of the organisations for whom I’d run a workshop the previous week. He particularly appreciated that we’d had no objective for the day, he said, adding that perhaps his team would remember it for having captured what they were trying to do without being too prescriptive.
There had, in fact, been an objective, but it was simply to connect the team with the way they felt about what they did, so that the vision and purpose of the organisation could be articulated in a more emotional and less rational way. And there had also been a result which, I’d like to think, was that people had left with a feeling of renewed energy, creativity and engagement. But it had not been a normal day in the office and there had been no great pressure to justify what we were doing by ‘coming up with something’ at the end of it.
There’s a growing body of evidence that we’re at our most creative when we’re removed from the structures, and strictures, of our habitual routines. Problem-solving is harder within familiar tramlines. Leaps of the imagination are much more likely to occur behind the wheel, or in the shower, or on a walk, than at one’s desk.
And so it also proved over the weekend. Eight brave souls took time out to come on a journey with Sarah, my wife, and me. We spent two days exploring aspects of the stories about ourselves and our families that we carry through life with us. It was, as we predicted, a weekend of telling and listening and reflecting, of laughter and some tears, and above all of connecting with one another. Perhaps its most salient feature was the fact that there was, again, no particular objective. We offered people a path and simply walked with them while they decided where they wanted it to take them.
It’s such a different approach to the one we take so much of the time in our working lives, yet it can produce such worthwhile results. It seems that sometimes time out can be more valuable than time on the clock.