It is a dark night. My cousin and I are driving in our hometown, Birmingham, Alabama. We are cruising along in the downtown area where Interstate I-65 is being built. There are lots of cones, signs and equipment, typical at a major construction site involving a federally-funded highway.
Somehow, we have lost our way and the next thing I know, we are on that Interstate yet to be open for traffic. I am not thinking about whether or not the road is open, or that in this particular area it is being built on concrete pilings, raising it up over the local streets below.
It is dark and very hard to see. My lights fail to reveal the road in the distance. Telling my cousin that I am having difficulty seeing the road ahead, I pull over to investigate. Getting out of the car and standing on the solid concrete, I step away, my eyes gradually focusing so that I am able to see. There is no road! A hundred feet ahead is the end of the road where we now stand, and a certain drop below to injury and death!
“Am I lucky?!” This question arises in my thoughts. Perhaps it is what some would call fate. I get back in the car – carefully and slowly we find our way off the unfinished Interstate and back on the safe local streets of Birmingham.
As I reflect today on that scene from years ago, I realize that pausing saved us from injury, perhaps even death. It was not a pause of lengthy introspection. It was just a moment in time. It was . . . a pause that made the difference.
In our busy world today, we are locked onto fast forward, hurry up, and there is no time to talk. When we do pause, it is often untimely and distracting, even counter-productive. In the middle of our daily conversations, someone says to us “Wait a second, I need to get this.” What they are getting is a new text or phone call. It is a pause, but one that destroys the moment . . . the progress of our conversation. We have plenty of pauses and stops. Most of them are driving us away from being present to what may ultimately decide our level of success and satisfaction, as well as the health of our relationships.
“Sharpening the saw” is one of the best habits in Steven Covey’s best seller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In this chapter, he writes about the importance of taking time from what we do each day to relax and do something fun and different. From that activity, much energy can be restored. As Covey would say, you can cut a lot more trees in a day if your saw is sharper! You can get that ‘sharper saw’ by taking occasional pauses in your life.
There is the longer pause of taking a vacation, or a break from work. But, the shorter pauses, the breaks during the day, are also essential. Studies show that workers are more productive if they take regular breaks.
As an author, I am committed to writing every single day. I am always writing either a new book or blog, or both daily. This practice is so important that I hardly miss a single day of writing, even on weekends. Sometimes, like other authors, I find the words just flying off of my keyboard onto the screen. These sessions will often go 60 to 90 minutes. I love it when my writing takes this path! As quickly as it comes, it ends and I find I need to take a break.
On any given day, that break can make the difference in whether I return and write anything of value, at any level of speed. Writing can be mentally exhausting. Those pauses . . . breaks . . . matter.
As a professional speaker, one of the most powerful moments during a presentation often comes at a pause. Sometimes my voice may get quieter in those moments. I make a statement that I believe has great value, and then I pause. I do not make a single move. I am motionless. The audience has no choice. They understand that this is a pivotal moment in the speech. I have their undivided attention. It makes the words leading up to that pause and those afterward extremely important.
If you are following me in this line of thinking, perhaps you see the opportunity that I see. Some of our best work often follows after a pause, a break in the action. The speaker on the stage gets the attention of the audience by pausing. No one will miss the next word he speaks. Everyone is waiting quietly to hear what they believe will be an important message.
The author who subsequently returns from a break may now have new inspiration on what is needed in the chapter he is currently creating. It often flows better after the break. The pitcher in a baseball game, who unwittingly gave up a hit, takes a moment to regroup and think about what has just happened. He walks back to the mound, determined to do a better job with the next hitter.
The employee who returns from vacation gets back into the job with more energy and a brand new attitude. That employee may get twice as much done on the returning week than in a normal workweek. Regardless of the job, everyone can do better by taking a break.
If the pause does have great value, and I believe it does, how can we use it for maximum effectiveness? Here are five ways to make the pause more effectual.
Take regular timely breaks. Take multiple small breaks during the day. Take vacation breaks during the year. Take a break anytime your production is going down or your attitude is not what it should be.
On purpose, excel after a break. You may be able to do your best work after you have had a break. Your energy is often higher, your attitude has soared, and your mind has worked out some of the challenges you face. We should come off a break as if this is the moment or the day when we will hit a grand slam. This is the day we will pitch a no-hitter. This is the day!
Recommend breaks to others. The people who will have the most influence in your life need to take breaks, like you do. Encouraging them to take breaks is going to make your life better. Because they become better, their influence on you will soar. You will win because they care about you. This matters even more with folks who live in the same house. You are going to be positively or negatively impacted by the people whom you see most often. Breaks will help those important encounters to be positive.
Vary your breaks. Exercising, reading a book, having fun in a hobby you love, meditating, praying, eating a snack, having a soda, or doing nothing are examples of varying breaks. Each can serve a timely purpose that will make a difference.
Get a good night’s sleep. There are volumes of medical data that support the value in getting proper sleep. Not taking care of this important daily break can hurt your health. Taking care of this area can put you on the road to a higher level of achievement and success.
Are you taking the breaks you need to be at your best?
How about a . . . pause?