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Chris Bailey was struggling a year ago, so busy trying to keep up that he couldn’t focus on how to get ahead. He’s a productivity expert, so he knew that wasn’t good – busyness is not productivity. And since he loves to experiment on himself for the benefit of his readers and clients – as in his first book, The Productivity Project – The Kingston-based consultant decided to take a week at a resort in Jamaica to read and think.

His inspiration was Bill Gates, whose Think Weeks as head of Microsoft were legendary, notably when he went off one time to ponder and came back refocusing the company, somewhat late but crucially, on the internet. Mr. Bailey brought along a lot of books and a portable whiteboard with markers. “It was not a working vacation. It was a chance for internal organization – to organize myself. It was one of the most fruitful weeks in a long time,” he says in an interview.

And you can do it as well. Yes, his job is unique in the freedom it offers to run such experiments in productivity. But unless you’re working on a production line with no chance of advancement or switching jobs he feels a Think Week or a shorter variant can be a rocket propellant.

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Here are five lessons drawn from that week and a subsequent one, near Quebec City, a couple of months ago, that he shared on his blog:

  • The more time you spend keeping up the less time you spend getting ahead: There’s nothing wrong with keeping up – people expect that of you. But you can lose sight of your most important tasks in the scramble. Reflection is important if you have some autonomy in your job, allowing you to unearth new opportunities, process your challenges, and question what you could be doing differently.
  • We need to strike a balance between reflecting and doing: What’s the proper balance in your life? If a Think Week is impossible or overdoing it, maybe a Think Afternoon will do the trick. Or a two-hour solo retreat.
  • Stepping back can reveal everything you are underappreciating: “When you step back from your life, you reflect on it. This helps you note what’s truly important and what affects your happiness the most. You also get to see how the different elements of your life are interconnected. There is immense beauty in this gratitude if you take the time to see it,” he writes.
  • Our lives need more solitude: By solitude he means a state in which your mind is free from input from other minds, a notion taken from Raymond Kethledge and Michael Erwin’s book Lead Yourself First. That’s where his first Think Week failed, he noted in the interview – the resort with its all-you-can-eat food, limitless alcohol, and revellers playing music loudly on the beach was not free from others’ minds. His second effort in Quebec City – a room with nearby restaurants – was even more productive, allowing him to map out his third book.
  • We need Think Breaks more often: “Unless you have an insane amount of flexibility in your schedule, your think breaks probably won’t be a week long … It’s still possible to take one, even if you have a busy life at work and at home. In fact, this is when you’re likely to find the most value in it,” he writes.

So look for chances to step back from the merry-go-round, even if for short periods. Opportunities for such a break may increase with current social distancing. Disconnect from the internet, read something stimulating, enjoy fresh air – find the solitude and reflection that can recharge your batteries.

Quick hits

  • In that vein, Arianna Huffington, founder of Huffington Post and Thrive Global, offers this reminder: “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes … including you. Unplug and recharge.”
  • And entrepreneur Seth Godin presents this chilling thought: “When you bought your first smartphone did you know you would spend more than 1,000 hours a year looking at it? Months later, can you remember how you spent those hours? If we wasted money the way we wasted time, we’d all be bankrupt.”
  • Consultant David Dye shares three important leadership skills that senior executives expect if you are to rise in the ranks: Time management; accountability and ability to handle tough conversations; and working from the why – understanding what matters to clients and the organization.
  • Presentations coach Gary Genard says you can improve your voice on the telephone by taking time to breathe, speaking from the belly; smiling (perhaps keep a mirror by your phone); moving around and gesturing to amplify your energy; and speaking “s-l-o-w-l-y” (including when leaving your name and phone number on a voice message).
  • Customer service tip from author Paul Timm: Instead of asking “how was everything?” or “was everything satisfactory?” focus on what else the person might want with phrases like “what else can I do for you?”; “what else can I get for you?” or “how else can we be of help?”

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