I’m about to share a tool that may at first appear trivial. At least, that’s how it first appeared to me. In a million years, I never would have thought it could have such a profound impact on my life.
The simple technique is… wait for it… to take a pause between tasks.
That’s it. Really.
About two years ago, I was burned out and in dire need of a new approach to my work. On a suggestion from a friend, I signed up for and attended a practical philosophy class.
During that class, this technique was introduced. We were asked by the teacher to neither accept nor deny this practice. They asked only that we try it out. I thought yeah right, I’m too busy. Yet, each week we took a pause before we started class, before and after breaks, and finally at the end of the class. The calm, present demeanor everyone began to exhibit was remarkable. The energy of the room literally altered.
“The Pause”: What is it?
Before I was introduced to meditation, I was introduced to “The Pause.” When I was initially feeling burned out, it was suggested as a way to still the mind between tasks.
My teacher at the time related “The Pause” to the importance of rests and tempo in music. Rests (pauses), along with tempo, are written into music in order to help the listener actually hear and feel the music. A rest in music can be powerful because it allows the listener to interpret what they have just heard or wait in anticipation of what is to come.
Similarly, pauses in our conversations allow for listening to occur. Pausing to allow someone to respond to our questions can be quite powerful. This may seem obvious, or perhaps uncomfortable, but the results can be profound.
Many times we are afraid to take a pause thinking we’ll lose momentum. However, in sales and particularly in closing, the pause is taught as the most important part of the sale.
How and when do I use it?
The pause can work in any situation. The best part? No one else needs to know. You can do it anywhere at any time. It’s almost like taking a timeout during a sporting event. It’s an opportunity for you to readjust to circumstances and reconnect with yourself.
A pause can last anywhere from 10 seconds to 10 minutes. It can be a coffee break or simply a deep breath taken upon finishing a task, allowing for closure from the previous moment.
How or why does this work?
Often, our daily to-do list can feel like a race we rush to complete. In the process, we may not entirely finish one task before moving on to the next. We don’t give our brains a minute to celebrate or acknowledge completion. We immediately shift gears because we are multi-tasking. As a result, anxiety levels can increase because we’re not coming to a full closure.
The pause allows for this closure. It allows for you to let go of the previous conversation, email, text etc. and focus on what comes next. A pause gives you a moment to gather your thoughts before you barrel on through your to-do list.
Why is it useful?
Building a pause into your day will keep you mentally fresh. Buddhist monk Pema Chodron suggests in her book When Things Fall Apart to “slow down enough just to be present, let go of multiple judgements and schemes and stop struggling.” Her reasoning is that being present without distraction will free the mind to focus on the task at hand.
I was surprised how helpful a pause can be during the day or when I’m having trouble coming up with an idea for a project. Taking a pause allows me to refocus and approach a problem from a different angle.
What are the benefits?
The benefit is creativity! It’s not about muscling through the day. It’s the old adage of “less is more.” Additionally, taking a pause supports efficiency over multi-tasking. Taking a pause allows for more quality work to be accomplished.
How can I start?
Take a 30 second pause. Right now.
Take a deep breath in. Let it out.
Now, connect to one of your senses: the sense of touch, smell, taste, sound, or sight.
Often we forget to connect with the world around us. Simply taking the time to taste your sip of coffee, or smell the flowers on your desk, or listen to your air conditioner whir will bring you to the present moment. It is here, in the present moment, that we can be truly productive.
“The Pause” allowed me to slow down and be led by my natural rhythms, rather than by the external forces that tend to dictate us so often. It allowed me to become more focused, and it naturally led me one step further. I adopted a meditation practice.
I’m happy to report that I use “The Pause” every day to help me stay with the task at hand and get more quality work accomplished.