Before we start, I want to let you in on a little secret: every successful person you truly admire take naps.
On May 15, Laura Vanderkam wrote a story for the New York Times, The Busy Person’s Lies, calling bullshit on all of us busy professionals who end our days in tears believing our lives ravished by our 60, 70, 80-hour work weeks.
Her tagline says it all, with four kids and a full-time job, time is precious. But it’s also plentiful. In it, she tracked every hour of her every day for an entire year. After she did the math, she had time to take runs, to go to the spa, to read books, and even sleep an average of seven or eight hours-a-night.
Her conclusion is that we spend way more time dreading, worrying, and freaking out than we do actually doing office work or domestic chores. You may be at the office for 80-hours but you’re really only working for 35 of those hours. And no, your commute doesn’t count, only the work, not the seat-warming.
Some of the most universally-admired gods of industry, stage, and screen play as hard as they work. They put on their own oxygen mask first. They pay themselves first. They take calls on lounges or on treadmills. They stay at hotels instead of commuting for two hours if they need the time. They’ll take a half day. They’ll make like a doc and take Wednesdays off. Or, they’ll actually love their jobs enough to make every day feel a little like a play date.
They’ll do all that and then lie to your face about how early they start, how late they sleep, and how they have no life. Why do they do such a thing? Because if they ever told you what their real life was like, you’d resent the hell out of them. They work smart–not nearly as hard as you’d think–or at least not in the kind of steady-state way that grinds all the rest of us into nubs. What “they” do is something more akin to Tabata, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), or Jeff Galloway‘s run, walk, run marathon training. Ever watch an ultramarathon onYouTube? There’s a lot of walking, even amongst the leaders.
Nobody can keep up even a slow jog for 50-weeks-a-year, not even your hero.
I was infected when I was 16 by US Senator from Hawaii Daniel Inouye. I was in DC, my current home, with a bunch of other high-performing teens from Hawaii, my home state. He invited us into his office and amazed and impressed us in so many ways.
What I took away from the visit is that Senator Inouye professed that he only got 5-hours of sleep a night. From then on, I fancied five hours of sleep to be the x-factor associated with getting everything done. I’ll admit that I am not the most efficient human in the world.
I could blame being a Pisces or my debilitating ADHD, but the truth is more along the lines of needing to steal time, interspersing the time I committed to work with bits of play. With little sips of recovery, because I deserved it.
It worked when I was warming the seat as a salaryman in an office job but it just doesn’t cut it at all when you’re your own boss (I am judge jury and executioner at Gerris).
Mindfulness is not mumbo jumbo.
Mindfulness is Norton Antivirus and System Tools for you. Unless you’re a sociopath, an Ascended Master, or a Virgo, you’re spinning your wheels to some degree or another. You’re either really lost at sea or you’ve developed an elaborate suit of armor against the little happy place you’ve begged, borrowed, and stolen to protect.
Either way, a little bit mindfulness and some accountability are all you’ll need to unlock the gate to your very own magic garden. And by magic garden, I mean all that time and happiness you magically have when you’re on holiday for two weeks every summer, up until that dread of returning to work starts creeping back on day ten.
I am not an expert in Mindfulness. I am not even a practitioner. While some of my best friends are mindful (David Gelles wrote the book on Mindful Work), I am starting with getting enough rest and enough sleep. More of a gap between my work and my play.
What I do know about what mindfulness is and should be is this: you never stop experiencing your life and everything in it, but you’ll become better at disconnecting from all the crazy associated with the crazy. You’ll be able to compassionately detach (not insouciance–professional distance–but simply recognize the difference between what you think is going on and what is actually happening).
The tenets of mindfulness, as I grok them, are similar to the tenets of theSerenity Prayer, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Mindfulness is the wisdom to know the difference.
The extent of my mindfulness training includes running, rowing, lifting, cardio, naps, sleep, and as much time spent with the Headspace guided meditation app that I can (it’s really wonderful, at least when I’m not unintentionally sleeping through the guided meditations).
I don’t know about Apple products, but my PC and my Android need to be periodically rebooted and recharged. I also need to defrag hard drives, delete cache, kill rogue processes, uninstall unused apps, keep up with application updates and system upgrades, and even downright delete and reinstall. If I don’t do this kind of maintenance on both my machines, resources become so clogged that you no longer have access to them. They’re there, but you just can’t use them.
You’re the same.
You’re not working nearly as much as you think you are. You’ve become an inefficient engine, dumping way more of all the energy you generate to heat than light. It’s because you’re going mental. It’s because you’re stressed, worried, insecure, unsure, and wasting your brain power keeping an inventory of how you come up short, what you haven’t done with your life, the money you haven’t saved and don’t make, and you’re just in a big frothy tizzy and it just might kill you.
It doesn’t have to be that way, just as long as you can promise me that there’s nothing in your crazy that you’re addicted to.
So, if you’re already fully aware that you have an embarrassment of leisure time you just don’t want to share any of that time with your friends, neighbors, spouse, or family, then that’s your business, go ahead and be too busy.
For the rest of us, the truth is, we’re kind of freaking out. We’ve lost control of the train.
Some of you have been humping that pack since you were a tween and your ruck was made by JanSport.
You might not even know what it’s like to have all the time in the world. To sit with a book in a sunny spot all afternoon. To put aside time every weekend for your long marathon training run, or even the hour every day you’d like to spend at the gym — and, according to the accountability work done by superwoman Laura Vanderkam, you won’t need to “just sacrifice your sleep and get your ass up at 5am, soldier!”
None of that.
Of course, the idea that nothing can help you of your busyness is part of an elaborate pissing contest (I’m the first into the office the morning and the last home at night)? Is your busyness a ruse? Do you resent your spouse, friends, and family, and either hide out at work as much as you can to avoid them (do you commute to DC from West Virginia, do you commute to NYC from Connecticut)? Are you keeping a lover on the side? Another family?
But if you’re really and truly losing your proverbial shit, there are ways you can cope–and you already know this–coping is not the answer. Coping skills are awesome, but they’re much more akin to snooze alarms then truly enough sleep, rest, recovery, and resources.
The only human with more going on than Laura Vanderkam is Arianna Huffington who is currently obsessed with both mindfulness and rest. The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time is Arianna’s way of getting off of her habitrail the only way she personally knows how: by writing an entire book, doing a book tour, jumping on every interview imaginable, and working more than ever.
While the road to mindfulness is a long one, my prescription for you is to take a nap. Lots of naps, actually. As many as you can steel. Step one: become OK with taking naps.
I drove to NY and back from DC yesterday and by 8PM on the Jersey Turnpike on my way home my eyes were tired. I was driving my old Bimmer somewhere between 80-90 in a light shower. My eyes were burning even after popping a caffeine pill and downing a red eye.
I was smart.
I took the exit to the Walt Whitman Service Area, drove to a dark corner away from traffic, stopped the engine, reclined the seat, locked the doors, and lost time.
By the time I woke at 8:40pm my eyes felt so much better, I was aware that part of my tiredness was dehydration (I needed to drink a lot more water), and my mind was clear and I was Autobahn-ready again. I never feel this way on my motorcycle because I am always overstimulated and engaged, but my car is warm, smooth, comfortable, easy, effortlessly fast, and there are infinite podcasts, audiobooks, and 80s New Wave.
I don’t know if taking a break would have been enough.
If I were to just park, stretch my legs, take a walk, use the bathroom, and grab a cuppa, I don’t think it would have had the same effect as those 35-minutes of shut eye did, assuming some meth head didn’t slit my throat while I was sawing logs, which thankfully didn’t happen.
Now it’s your turn.