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You know that pain in your neck that you just can’t shake? Or the irresistible urge to check Facebook and Twitter — anything but real work? These symptoms and many more can be pinned on pressure. Most of our performance issues stem from it.
We build these expectations in our mind for whatever we have to do. And we don’t notice at first, but those little expectations get heavier and heavier. Before you know it, you cry a little bit when someone asks about your project due next week.
That’s what happened to me last winter.
The day I almost assassinated my MacBook.
I love writing, and it’s the one thing I’d do for free all day. I’m fortunate to make money doing it. But over the last month I didn’t have an ounce of enthusiasm. I started getting scared. Was I losing it?
The keys got harder to press, and my fingers grew heavier — almost like I was typing with lead tape. My situation came to a crux this particular morning. It was Friday, and I woke up wanting to crush my keyboard. I had hints of ennui for the past month, which I dutifully repressed. (I live in America; it’s our thing). But I couldn’t ignore the feeling this particular day. It was strangling me. Knowing no other way to respond, I let myself off the hook. Something I hadn’t tried.
Since I had launched my own website and had a growing list to handle, I tackled that. And in seven-tenths of an instant, the weight I had felt for an entire month vanished. Here’s how it happened:
How my lazy day morphed into the highest production day all year.
Instead of going to my thinking perch, I went to work on my site, which was kinda fun. I accomplished a lot of the backburner tasks that had been frying my mind. And best of all, I squashed my pressure to write.
Two hours into the morning, I was sifting through my notes for different projects when I came across an idea I’d stored for later use. Inspiration swept me up, and before I knew it I had soared through a 1000-word article in 30 minutes, which practically glided from my pen. I felt free.
After I blazed through the post, I realized something. I just wrote my best damn article in a month like it was nothing! And it was on the day I didn’t have to write.
My pressure epiphany.
I had freelance clients, my own website and different publications to write for every day. I didn’t think about the pressure, but it was there, smothering my creativity and begging me to take a break. The burnout got so bad that I resorted to drastic steps just to function.
I started meditating for 30 minutes before I wrote. When my fingers started crusting over, I’d sprint for a block to shake up my brain. After I sprinted three miles in a day just to write two paragraphs, I knew I couldn’t continue. And I fixed my problems with one seemingly lazy decision: Don’t write. I let myself off the hook. And before I knew it, I had caught two huge fish. And you’re reading reading the second one right now.
After I wrote my first article, I was blown away by what a simple adjustment had done for my creativity. And I had this epiphany: Performance is about pressure. You need it to perform, because nothing happens in a vacuum. But too much pressure will flatten you out. That’s when I wrote my second unplanned article of the day and shook off the work-blues that had haunted me for so long.
Here’s how to get high production from your lazy days.
Next time you get bogged down at work, take a step back and ask yourself where the pressure is coming from. Then, give yourself a free pass. If you have to do work, don’t do as much. Better yet, coordinate with coworkers or partners to get yourself off the hook. But hang around. Focus on accomplishing the back burner activities that may be boiling over and contributing to your stress. Just make sure to relax. Free your mind completely from the big responsibilities that made you feel overwhelmed.
Then, like clockwork, you’ll feel your pressure gauges fall back into a normal range. As the pressure hits a healthy zone, your inspiration will skyrocket, along with your enthusiasm for your work.
You can keep your juju humming all year by building in at least two of these lazy days per month. Talk it over with your boss. Or, if you’re the boss, force yourself to back off. It’s okay — it actually boosts your productivity.
Some people call this a minimally viable strategy. I find that phrase awkward and pretentious; hence, I opt for “lazy day.” All things in balance, right?