I use to travel, a lot. The worst part about travelling was the loss of time. Yes, I could try to work on the plane or on the train, but it was never very efficient. Inevitably, a lot of the time in travel was just “dead time.” Lots of time to think, but not so much to actually accomplish anything useful.
But, over time, I noticed something about those long travel periods. When I got off the plane at the end of the flight something often amazing had happened. I almost always had a very clear idea of what I needed to do next. My priorities always seemed to sort themselves out, to the few key things that needed to be done next. It would become crystal clear what needed to be accomplished and my effectiveness over the next few days and weeks would clearly go up.
Over time I discovered this clarity came often from not being able to do anything! When I was not so constrained, I kept very busy and active. This I discovered, this constant activity, seemed to work against clarity of purpose. It was not as if thinking about what needed to be done that brought this on, but instead not thinking about anything seemed key.
I never personally found that activities such as vacations or busy non-work activities achieved the same effect. For me, it seemed exclusively to come from not being able to do very much for a period of time. I do recall a time when I suffered a muscle spasm in my lower back. This simple sounding spasm left me hobbled for several weeks. I could get around and work, but it was very slow and very painful to move around. I felt like I was working at 1/10th speed for all that time.
During this “slow down” I again found my clarity of purpose to be very high. It was just frustrating that I could not drive all the activities as fast as I would like. Yet the benefit was it cleared my mind and focused it on the now clear critical tasks. I talk about another instance where I was sick for a week, which turned out to be one of the most productive weeks in my life.
The manger, project or line, is often rewarded for their fast and furious, highly productive habits. However, if in all that fury we find ourselves losing clarity of purpose or looking back and thinking we should have been doing something different, then take a break. Don’t allow ourselves to do any real work, and let the natural drive of the mind achieve clarity of purpose through all the competing thoughts and inputs — through inactivity. While each individual may go at it differently (vacations, meditation, hobbies, sports, etc.) the break and inability to work at the job looks to be a project management tool that works to help renew and clarify what is important in the project, job and our life.
What helps you to rejuvenate and achieve clarity of purpose?