Unproductive Moments: Making Room for Intuition
Here’s my new thing: taking time to do nothing.
Last week, I started practicing very intentional, micro moments of non-productivity. Moments in which I sit or stand or pace without purpose. Without checking something off my list. Without consciously brainstorming for the next marketing campaign or big personal project.
Why? There are so many reasons, but here’s the one that feels most important to me right now: taking a break from all that thought can re-ignite a whole bunch of feeling.
I’m a dancer. So I’ve always been an overachiever, a disciplined worker and a busy bee. In high school I woke up an hour early to make it to extracurricular choir practice, took all advanced courses, had musical practice after school, and then drove to the dance studio to teach and train. In college I took 18-24 hours each semester, held three part-time jobs (at once), and choreographed and performed in dances that rehearsed in the evenings or on weekends. I can easily fall into a trap of constant doing, workaholic productivity. It’s my natural mode.
This work ethic and my general drive to achieve have served me well in building my own business. One of the most common questions I get about my work life is: “How can you work from home without getting distracted?” The next most common is: “How do you get everything done?”
I’m not going to lie. I’m neglectful some days. I watch Gilmore Girls on Netflix for six hours and then scramble to do one task on deadline. I’m only human. But for the most part, I have the opposite problem my peers think I should have. More often, I’m struggling with: “How can I make sure to stop working tonight when Ben gets home?” “What else can I delegate to my team so I can make dinner?” “How can I turn off my brain so I can fall asleep?”
What I’m starting to realize is that sometimes my brain is working so hard and so fast I can’t focus on how I feel.
Last week, I left a meeting with a brilliant client, who has spent her summer brainstorming ways to take her business and social impact to the next level. It was an inspiring and generative meeting, full of hope and excitement. I walked over to a nearby Brooklyn café, and after grabbing my drink, immediately started responding to a few emails, jotting down ideas about building business for another one of my clients, and writing a to-do list for the next day.
I realized I had finished my cappuccino, and I had not appreciated a single sip!!
Now, guys, I love my work and I love my clients, but I L-O-V-E coffee. I try to savor at least the first sip of every morning brew, and anyone who knows me knows one of my favorite things is the comfort of a nice, cozy mug you can hold with both hands.
Once I realized I hadn’t savored any of my cappuccino — look how sad it looks up there! empty and unappreciated! — I forced myself to take a five-minute break.
Five minutes shouldn’t be so hard, right?
I put all of my work away at the coffee shop – my notebook, my pen, my laptop, my phone. I lingered at the table, and the first minute of my lingering was ROUGH! I could not get my mind to stop racing, and I wanted desperately to take notes on what to write next and which groceries I should buy on the walk home from the gym or respond to new Instagram comments.
Then I started to look around the café. The branding had changed a bit since I was last there. They were using a new font, and I liked the look. It was cloudy outside and a storm was coming our way. I love a good storm. (I grew up in Illinois, so a thunderstorm feels like home.) There was a nice cool breeze coming in through the open window. Fall would arrive soon, which means sweaters and more coffee!
My breathing started to slow a bit, and my shoulders relaxed away from my ears. I adjusted my posture in my seat so I could appreciate the width of my shoulder blades and that newfound space between my ears and my shoulders.
All the sudden, I felt better. I hadn’t felt stressed or anxious or upset ten minutes before. But I had been a little frenzied and scattered thinking back on it, and now I felt grounded, focused, calm.
It was like hitting “reset.”
I tried the same thing later that evening while I was waiting at a restaurant for a friend to arrive. When I first got her text saying she was running a few minutes late, I immediately signed into one of my many work emails and composed a note to a potential client explaining pricing and deliverables. I hit send. I started to reach for my notebook to add something to my to do list, but stopped myself.
Instead, I sipped my glass of wine. I admired the beautiful tin ceilings in the restaurant. I tried to guess who at the bar was on a first date. It was easier to disengage from work-work-work mode this second time, and I imagine it will get easier to do so the more I practice.
I enjoyed my recent unproductive moments, because they gave me time to feel good. To appreciate beauty in design. To taste the notes of citrus in my wine. To remember home. To get excited about my friend’s arrival.
So, I intend to make space for more of these unproductive moments in my daily and weekly routines. The most clear and stress-free I feel are always the minutes I spend dancing or in spin class or walking Edison to the park, and usually, I’m more productive, imaginative and helpful on the days I make time for those activities.
Without taking a break from the spinning wheels in my head, I lose touch with the clarity and calm and completely tune out my intuition, which is a strong, essential presence in my decision-making.
My intuition has never let me down.
My intuition told me where to move (twice), it gave me the courage to quit bad boyfriends or bad jobs, and it shoved me towards a freelance lifestyle, which has bloomed into a fulfilling business. My gut, not my brain, tells me which potential projects are not the right fit or how to advise that client who’s having a tough time with a new employee or when I need to set and maintain better boundaries.
Sometimes logic and checklists just don’t cut it, and those are the times I need a clear head and deep breaths to better intuit what decision I should make. Without unproductive moments, I don’t have the room to feel those things. Without unproductive moments, I am likely to make “rational” but potentially unwise or unhealthy choices.
My goal for the next quarter year is to make room for intuition and to remain open and receptive to what I feel as well as what to do next. I hope you’ll join me!
Did you learn something?
Sign up to receive more FREE tips — just like this one — directly in your inbox.
Written by: Amy Jacobus
the brains of the operation
I strategize, consult and manage digital marketing and communications for small businesses, individual artists and nonprofit organizations.
I’m an independent contractor based in Brooklyn, because I have a thing for exposed brick and cozy, local coffee shops. Because I work with small businesses, I get the chance to really know my clients – what makes them tick and how and why they should stand out in a crowded marketplace. This leads to marketing strategies and solutions tailored to each company’s unique needs and actual capacity.