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In an era of crazy busy, with many people working or on call 24/7 and vacations often jettisoned for work, it’s worth contemplating philosopher Blaise Pascal’s words: “All human evil comes from this: Our inability to sit still in a chair for half an hour.”

LaRae Quy, a former FBI undercover and counterintelligence agent turned business coach, says the most important skill we have never been taught is to take time for ourselves and use that to become a better person. “Information technologies dominate our culture, and there’s no doubt they’ve brought our world closer together. We’ve also begun to experience the downside. We’re connected to everyone, except ourselves,” she writes on Smart Briefs.

She points to a 2014 study that found 67 per cent of men and 25 per cent of women would rather endure a mild but unpleasant electric shock rather than be alone in silence for even 15 minutes.

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She encourages you to carve out quiet time for reflection – not just for relaxation – amidst the turmoil of daily life but also to put some space between you and the crowd so you can build backbone and mental toughness. If at home, close your door. If at work, close your office door if you have one. Turn your phone off and shut down your computer. If sitting quietly to reflect is too unnerving, write in a journal rather than look for electric enticements.

David Astorino, a senior partner at leadership development consultancy RHR International, says we have to become like athletes, who have found peak performance comes from oscillating between periods of stress and recovery. Give yourself permission to rest and recover.This is the most frequent barrier we encounter with high-achieving executives. Their keys to success have been predicated on a 24/7 work ethic – an ‘always on’ mentality. It usually serves them well until it doesn’t. Reflect on your conscious and unconscious beliefs about work and rest and challenge faulty assumptions that associate rest with weakness,” he writes on the corporate website.

The day after the 2018 Oscars, Black Panther star Lupita Nyong’o celebrated the end of the hectic awards season and her birthday with a 10-day silent retreat. She told Marie Claire magazine it wasn’t a piece of cake: “I was constantly wanting to leave and then daring myself to take one more hour and another hour.” After filming a movie she usually changes pace with a vacation. “Finishing an intensive project is kind of like having a hangover, where you’re so used to a rigour of existence and then all of a sudden, there’s none,” she told Vanity Fair. “I make the time because otherwise I wouldn’t survive.”

You shouldn’t need to be a film star to take a break. Mallory Stratton, associate editor at Thrive Global, notes that her company offers “ThriveTime,” a half or whole day off to recover from a spurt of intense work, which doesn’t count toward regular vacations.

Ms. Astorino points out recovery is not just for weekends or 10-day retreats. Oscillation should occur every day – during the day. She says senior executives are typically in performance mode 85 per cent of the time while professional athletes are in that state only about 20 per cent. She suggests experimenting with scheduling 45-minute meetings instead of the default of one hour and using the time freed up to de-stress by deep breathing, getting out into nature or otherwise enjoying movement, or simply writing down what you are grateful for, which research shows counters anxiety.

Learn to sit still.

Quick hits

  • Procrastination is not a time-management problem. It’s actually about mood management, says Fast Company’s Anisa Purbasari Horton.
  • It’s possible that you no longer need to get better at your craft to succeed but need to be braver instead, says entrepreneur Seth Godin.
  • To improve your public speaking, presentations coach Nick Morgan suggests speaking louder, learning to pause, and varying the pitch of your voice.
  • When you walk in the door at work, career coach Dan Rockwell urges you to be your best self. Choose to be open, curious, decisive, kind and/or candid.
  • Tina Nicolai, founder of the Resume Writers’ Ink service, who has reviewed over 50,000 resumes, says summaries are often too long – too formal and too many adjectives – and time is wasted saying “references are available upon request” since employers assume that.

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