I might be writing this near the holidays in 2022, but the message I want to send is timeless. In times of disruption — which seems to be all the time — these are the lessons that my clients, friends, and family did best when they were heeded. They certainly worked for me.
I love reading the year-end reflections from some of my favourite authors and colleagues. Whether it’s the book lists, lessons learned, top 10 lists, or otherwise, when I hear about others’ experiences of the year, it gives me hope. I also find it inspiring, too.
I’ve struggled with hope sometimes because, As many have said, “it’s the hope that kills you”.
But hope can be re-ignited with a little help and that often means taking a break, changing perspective, recharging, healing and designing in something better.
As I go into the holidays, here are the four r’s that guide my time and have worked for my clients.
Rest is vastly under-appreciated. When was the last time you saw a best-seller devoted to rest? Productivity books are way more exciting and interesting and, while helpful, often feed into a pathological belief that we need to keep doing more. Many of the productivity gurus I’ve followed in recent years took a brief break to speak about the importance of rest, only to fall back as the pandemic wore on.
I work extensively with health organizations that are still fighting the pandemic. The people in these organizations have yet to have a substantive break. Rest in the context of the pandemic, grief and loss, or burnout isn’t taking a holiday. Our rest is more than three-day weekends in the summer or shutting off your computer at 4 pm instead of 5 pm. (And who can shut off our mobile devices?)
Rest means taking a real break. When I break, it means ditching the routines, habits, and systems I use that draw me to work/stress. I find it difficult, especially when my mobile device is a calendar, phone, music player, alarm clock, and more. But rest involves different things than work. Rest also means knowing when to slow down. Take this example from the sled-dog champion, Blair Braverman:
One of the most surprising things about distance mushing is the need to front-load rest. You’re four hours into a four-day race and the dogs are charging down the trail, leaning into their momentum, barely getting started — and then, despite their enthusiasm, it’s time to stop. Make straw beds in the snow, take off your dogs’ bootees, build a fire, heat up some meat stew (for the team, but hey, you can have some too) and rest for a few hours. The dogs might not even sit down; they’re howling, antsy to keep going. It doesn’t matter. You rest. Four hours later, you rest again.
I use the solstice as a place to pause. Every season, I try to pause and ask myself: how am I doing? Usually, this involves coffee. I also sit with my paper — yes, paper! — planner to sort out my projects and goals. This helps to ground me. It also is a way to use evaluative thinking to help me match my goals with my actions and my outcomes. This past year went very well for me in that regard. However, I also recognize in reflection what things I should have prioritized and why the areas I could be doing better are the way they are.
This practice is personal, but it can be organizational, too. Organizations that pause to reflect on their work do better work. Research by Joseph Badaracco has found that managers who design in reflection have a better sense of well-being and productivity.
Design is the keyword here. We need to make reflection and downtime something we build into our lives and work if we are to expect to do it. My clients often ask how to do this as if there is a trick or hack. My answer is time, care, and attention. If we create/make/protect time in our days for this, we will do it. When we reflect appropriately and consistently, we improve. If we are mindful and present when we do this, we will accrue the benefits.
Remember that 10,000-hour rule for skill mastery that Malcolm Gladwell wrote about and made famous? That only works when we devote care and attention and do more than just invest time. Reflection is the same way.
Successful recovery involves both rest and reflection. This is why lessons learned or After-Action Reviews and debriefing are so important. The action might still be happening for those working at the frontline of the pandemic. Recovery involves another “r” word: rehabilitation. Rehabilitation involves a process of healing that recognizes the hurt we’ve experienced. It’s not just that we need to repair something, but proper recovery — which might mean we don’t repair things.
Our recovery might mean designing ourselves a new next. Like healing, reflection, and rest, we do this by design.
If I don’t design in space to recover, I won’t — unless it’s under conditions not of my choosing.
So far, I’ve talked about design in strategic terms related to accomplishing the goals of rest, reflection, and recovery. The last point is about reinvigoration and realizing the ultimate goal of design, which is inspiration. When our designs inspire, people notice and value what we make. When designs are terrible, the resulting product is neglected or ignored.
My better new year, or next or whatever I want will come when what I design inspires something. That something might be a connection to my values, my community, my profession or vocation, or something else. We might need rest and downtime, but in that the seeds of inspiration can grow.
As 2022 winds down and 2023 begins — or whatever fresh start you find whenever you read this — may you find these four r’s, and may they bring you peace, joy, creativity, health and inspiration.
Thanks for reading and happy holidays.