For the first time in a while, I took a few days off recently. It’s funny because I often write about how important it is to let yourself rest and take breaks to heal. I even published a whole post on remote work burnout just recently. Even so, like many self-employed folks, I still struggle to take that pressure off of myself sometimes..
And, as is wont to happen when you neglect yourself, I was wearing myself out. The funny thing is, your body will always get the rest it needs, whether you comply willingly, or it simply shuts down on you without your permission.
That’s what was happening to me. I was falling asleep in the middle of the day, I couldn’t focus for the life of me, let alone get through any real creative work. So, despite everything in my head still screaming about how much more I needed to do (both in my personal and professional life), I decided to take a few days off.
And it was exactly what I needed.
Even with so much going on that feels like it just cannot wait, sometimes our best strategy for moving through it is to take a beat. To slow down now so that we can speed up later.
Slow Down to Speed Up
Slow down to speed up. Is it a paradox, or another funny little thing we’ve all been missing in pursuit of a smooth and joyful life?
Look, you don’t need me to tell you about how life is fast, and busy, and noisy, and getting faster all the time. You know that already. People have been parroting that simple truth ever since progress was invented. Which, I believe, was around 1760. Yeah, fun fact. Lot of people don’t know that. Progress was invented in 1760. Tell your friends at parties.
But, it’s true though, isn’t it? Not the 1760 thing – definitely not that. The part about living in a fast, busy world. It’s a lot to keep up with, and that can be exhausting. Overwhelming, even.
We can yearn to go back to a simpler time, sure. But yearning won’t get us very far. And honestly, those “simpler times” had no shortage of their own problems. How do we actually play the hand we’ve been dealt here, and keep up with this busy, chaotic life that never stops moving?
The trick is, we don’t keep up with it. Not all of it, anyway. What we need is to slow down.
The Beauty of the Spaces in Between
If we’re always charging through life at a full sprint, we’re going to encounter some problems. Fatigue is the obvious one, and we’ve all felt that. I write about managing your energy all the time, and I still got bit by the beast of fatigue.
But more than tiring ourselves out, we also pay a cost in missed opportunities when we rush through life. Negative space, the moments in between things, is never wasted space. Remember, simplicity is the greatest friend of productivity. Because even in the quiet moments, when we’re not directly facing everything we have to deal with, we’re still working on it in other ways.
When the body rests after exertion, it repairs and builds back up to be stronger next time. The mind keeps working on a complex problem in the background long after it is no longer your central focus. Even the soul can reflect, heal, and grow in life’s quieter moments.
Negative space doesn’t come at the expense of these things; it is how we attain them.
The voices in our heads may tell us we can’t slow down. We just cannot take a break right now because there is too much we need to do. But for precisely this reason, slowing down now is exactly what we need so that we can speed up later.
Quit Getting Blue-Shelled
I like to think that life works kind of like Mario Kart. And not just because I’m constantly throwing bananas at the people trying to get ahead of me. (I do that, though. That’s something I do.)
When we’re playing Mario Kart, we all want to go fast and win the race. Yet speed alone is hardly all it takes to get there. If you want to cross the finish line first, you’ll need to strategically slow down to speed up. Ease off the gas at just the right moments to hit a tight turn, take a sweet shortcut, or let your friend generously take that blue shell for you.
Similarly in life (and actual racing), keeping the gas pedal squashed against the floorboards at all times usually isn’t the best way to get where we’re going. It’s not even the fastest way.
In my case, taking a few days off gave me time to rest and re-center. It gave me new perspective on some of my personal and professional projects. I was able to come back to my work with renewed intensity. It got me more excited to jump back in than I’ve felt in months.
Over-exertion always comes crumbling down sooner or later. We all need rest. But on top of that, slowing down, taking time to think, breathe, and process, creates new possibilities. Negative space is a gift, with which we can discover newfound energy, solutions, ideas, and growth.