Manage Overwhelm in Times of “Crazy Busy”

Tool #13: Clear the Cache (and how making knishes can kickstart your creativity)

This is an edited excerpt from Ease: Strategies to Manage Overwhelm in Times of “Crazy Busy” by Eileen Chadnick. Reprinted with permission of author. All rights reserved. Ease is available from most major online book retailers. See more at www.Easerx.com

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

 

Now that I’ve had you thinking, thinking, thinking with various reflection tools in Ease, I’m going to invite you to stop thinking. Yup, it’s time for a break, or as I like to say, “It’s time to clear the cache.” This is an expression I use in reference to clearing your mind.

In the world of computers, tech types tell us that we need to clear our computer cache now and again. If we don’t do that, our computers become sluggish, process data more slowly, and just don’t function optimally. They also hold on to old web pages that aren’t useful anymore.

People are like that too. Today’s work tends to lean fundamentally towards thinking jobs. We are at it constantly. Sometimes we can get stuck with old thinking patterns or suffer fatigue from too much thinking going on. To perform optimally, we need to deliberately take time to clear out our mental clutter to improve our thinking power, creativity, and ability for fresh ideas.

To clear our cache, we need to unplug from our current thinking activity and completely shift gears.

Have you ever noticed that some of our best ideas happen when we are not thinking—or, rather, not deliberately trying to find the answer or come up with an idea?

Experts say that sometimes the best way to solve a seemingly unsolvable problem is to simply stop trying to solve the problem and to instead walk away from it. Heed the advice from Dr. Herbert Benson,1 MD, of Harvard Medical School and coauthor with William Proctor of The Breakout Principle.2 Benson and Proctor say taking breaks from thinking about an issue can trigger an inner switch that increases mental function, creativity, and productivity. Their book describes the breakout principle as:

“..a powerful mind-body impulse that severs prior mental patterns—and even in times of great stress or emotional trauma—opens an inner door to a host of personal benefits such as greater mental acuity, enhanced creativity, productivity, maximum athletic performance and spiritual performance.”

Sounds amazing—I’ll take two orders of that, please!

It gets better. The good news is that it is not difficult to trigger the breakout principle. According to the authors, it simply involves walking away from the activity you are focused on and shifting gears completely. You need to do something that allows your mind to remove itself from the issue you were focusing on and wander freely to any topic or thought. I’ve had breakout experiences driving my car, taking a shower, running, and, most recently, making potato knishes.

The Story at a Glance

A couple of years ago, I was all queued up during my year-end break to devote at least a few days to some of my writing projects (my book, my new website, my articles in the Globe and Mail,3 etc.). When I finally had some white space to write (time with no appointments or obligations), I found myself unable to tap into my writing mode. I had another case of writer’s block and couldn’t get a creative thought out, never mind a sentence. I tried and tried again. Finally, I gave up (temporarily) and decided to make potato knishes that I would freeze in anticipation of my family visiting the following week.

So I got to work—potato-knish-making work, that is. Guess what happened? Sometime between sautéing the onions, rolling out the dough, and stuffing in the potato filling, I had an epiphany. Then I had another and another. I was unstoppable! Good thing I had note paper nearby so that I could jot the ideas down.

All it took to end my creative dry spell was a little break and an activity that allowed my mind to disengage from the original challenge and instead wander wherever it wanted to go. That break from intentional thinking gives the brain a chance to make connections from different parts of our brain, which generates those ahas and creative insights.

Twenty-four knishes later, I also had six shiny new ideas. At least a few of them are now in this book, on my blog, and elsewhere. And the other ideas are filed away in my “Oh bleep! Another idea!” file (see tool number seven, “Manage the Paradox of Choice at the Buffet of Life”).

The Advice

Take breaks that allow you to unplug and shift gears completely. They don’t have to be long breaks. Sometimes a short break will do the trick. Pick an activity that either rests your mind or engages in something that is different from the issue or activity you were trying to work on prior.

Make It Work for You

Each individual will have his or her own personal breakout triggers that work for him or her. Recognize there are different categories of potential activities to draw on. Examples include spiritual pursuits, physical activities, collaborative and altruistic pursuits, musical or cultural activities, nature, housework, repetitive actions, and, yes, knish making.

 Here are some ideas to consider.

  • Take a walk or take part in any other activity that allows you to step away from the issue or problem you are trying to solve.
  • Engage in an activity that focuses you intently on something else. Whether it is a sport or a crossword puzzle, an activity that truly shifts your focus can help clear the cache.
  • Try simple, repetitive motor activities that allow your mind to focus on something else and wander at the same time. For instance, excellent breakout of this type include cleaning, knitting, crocheting, gardening, cooking, etc.
  • Take some time for spiritual activities, such as meditation or prayer, if that’s your thing.
  • Include stress-reduction activities, such as spending time with someone upbeat and positive or even enjoying some time with a pet.
  • Do something altruistic. Helping others gets your mind off yourself and your problems.
  • Take a break even if you are not in the mood if you are feeling mentally weary. Resist the temptation to forgo your break. I’ve had many days when I didn’t want to leave my desk to go to the gym (“Too much to do here!” I would tell myself). However, I’d go anyway and would come back fully refreshed and better able to tackle my work.
  • And more! Can you come up with some activities that work for you? Create a list of potential breakout activities that would be resonant for you.

The Pay-Off

Learn to recognize when it’s time to surrender, shift gears, and enjoy a renewal of energy, creativity, resourcefulness, and resilience.

You will boost your productivity.

  • You will have a chance for fresh thinking.
  • A breakout activity will offer a creative boost.
  • A timeout will provide a restart to your day, with more resources to tap into.

 

Eileen Chadnick, PCC, ACPC, ABC, is an executive and leadership coach and communications pro (20+ years). She is principal of Big Cheese Coaching and Chadnick Communications in Toronto. She is author of Ease: Manage overwhelm in Times of Crazy Busy.  Follow her on Facebook at: facebook/bigcheesecoaching.com and Twitter@Chadnick.