Happy 2017! How do you get ready for the new year?
This is my favorite part of the holidays, when the buzz of parties and people and constant noshing has receded and the relentless drill of work has not quite restarted. At the end of every year, I try to sit down in a quiet place to journal about the year past and set goals for the one coming. After just a few days of contemplation, I feel more clear-headed and purposeful and brimming with new ideas, making me wonder why I don’t do this more often.
In some ways, it’s easier to just keep going mindlessly. The periods of my life during which I was the least introspective were those spent in very demanding, client-service jobs (law and consulting) where I was at the bottom of the hierarchy. Years flew by, and all I had to do was keep showing up to the office. Compared to having a hard think about my life values, goals, and action steps, showing up was pretty easy. Plus, I was getting ahead, right? But where was the finish line? Where was I going?
In my experience, the American work culture does not believe in downtime. No one in any workplace ever suggested that I clear my schedule, unplug from technology, and just wander around aimlessly. But research suggests that our brains actually need downtime to optimize creativity, productivity, and attentiveness. Our bodies and minds remind us too, when they burn out. I remember taking 5 days of vacation in 2011 (after working holidays and weekends), and went to a piano performance camp. Music can be restorative, but good golly, wasn’t that just another attempt to cram more into my schedule? That year was a blur.
Since quitting the corporate game and embarking on the journey of creating an artistic career on my own terms, I’m finally starting to get the value of introspection. This year, I'm resolving to schedule in regular periods of downtime so that they are protected as much as work or other obligations. These periods of “unplugging” can be scheduled into every day or at regular times during the year; Tim Ferriss blogs about doing both and how it has resulted in big ideas and bigger income.
One period during the day that I’ve grown to value is my long commute on the New York subway. Previously, I always lived within spitting distance of my work or school. Makes sense if that place is your life. This year, I finally moved out to a beautiful neighborhood where people seem to care about quality of life. At first, I dreaded the 45-60 minutes it took me to get where I could practice, work, or teach, but now I use the time to read, listen to podcasts, and indulge in free-form thinking. As a result, fewer days are blurs - they are guided by purposeful thoughts and meaningful actions. I'm hoping that these scheduled periods of downtime will make 2017 a very memorable one.
Wishing you all a happy, productive, and fulfilling 2017!