John Fitch has started his day with "a nice calm walk with my puppies," he says. He uses his time with his two Australian shepherd/poodle mixes to practice mindfulness.
He was not always this chill guy embracing moments of calm.
Fitch, who hosts the podcast "Time Off," has just published a book he co-wrote with Max Frenzel with illustrations by Mariya Suzuki.
"Time Off: A Practical Guide to Building Your Rest Ethic and Finding Success Without the Stress" offers both a historical sense of our working life and examples of very famous, very effective people who embraced taking time off. People like Aristotle, Beethoven, Albert Einstein. Each section also includes a small box with a practical tip on how to intentionally be less busy to be more effective.
Fitch graduated from the University of Texas and was in Austin for 10 years before a three-year turn in New York and Boston, and then a return to Austin last year.
"I really needed to go away to understand how special it was," he says of Austin. "I told myself I was moving back to Austin to truly appreciate it."
His first experience in Austin saw a very different Fitch. He believed in the Silicon Valley work ethic of burning the midnight oil and doing all he could do. Then his life crashed around him. A long-term relationship ended at the same time he realized his tech business was not going to last.
He moved to New York to start Animal Ventures, but his business partners had done the Silicon Valley work ethic and they wanted to do work differently. They wanted to focus on the culture. They wanted quality of work, not quantity of hours.
Animal Ventures created a culture where you would work for three months and then take a month of sabbatical. There would be a formal reentry period to share with the team what you learned while away as well as a formal handoff of work period so that you could enjoy your time off without worrying about the office.
"I was very dubious," he says. He thought he would hate it, but then he learned "the beauty of having a rest, the power of intentional time off."
He changed. Suddenly he was in Concord, Mass., and enjoying long walks around Walden Pond and thinking deep Henry David Thoreau thoughts.
Both his co-author and illustrator had their own moments of clarity around taking time off.
After getting a doctorate in physics from Imperial College London, Frenzel moved to Tokyo to work and wasn’t feeling so productive, despite working hard. When he reflected on when he was most productive, he realized that it was when he was writing his dissertation and living in Greece. It was a calm time of taking daily time off while completing his doctorate.
For Mariya Suzuki, who also lives in Tokyo, she realized that she had trouble turning down jobs. She no longer enjoyed drawing. She needed to do things like taking long daily walks, doing daily sketches just for herself and taking on new hobbies. She also had to better evaluate jobs and even turn them down if they weren’t going to be right for her.
The book was being finished as the world was being shut down for the coronavirus. It’s not just about this time, but it has good lessons for this time. Some folks now have forced time off because of layoffs or furloughs.
Other people feel like they have no time off because they are working from home and the delineation between work and home doesn’t seem to exist.
"Time Off" is about making the most of the time off you have and about engaging in a daily practice.
Having what Fitch calls a "rest ethic" could be as simple as five minutes or 15 minutes of sitting in stillness with yourself, Fitch says. "Ask what does matter to you," he says.
One of the exercises in the book is making a list of what you want more of and what you want less of in your life.
Ask yourself, "What gives you deep meaning?"
Think of taking time off as the time when you are incubating your next great idea. Time off can be many things: meditation, exercise, napping, vacationing, cooking, gardening.
One example he gives in the book is from Tiffany Shlain, who came up with the idea of taking a weekend break from technology, which means from Friday night to Saturday night, no screens.
He also talks about walking away from a work situation that is stressing you out or a problem that feels too big to solve. Often the answer will come during the act of doing something else or by taking a walk around the block. It’s like how some people get all their best ideas in the shower.
If you have a lot going on, he suggests slow-motion multitasking. You take each item at a time and then switch to another item throughout the day to keep the ideas flowing, or to get un-stuck.
Many people also do this by breaking up the day into work periods and rest periods. And for all of us with our overscheduled calendars, he recommends we put Marie Kondo’s organizational method to our calendars. Does this event bring me joy? No? Then get rid of it.
And then there are full-on periods of rest like a vacation. He gives examples of the virtue of going on a silent retreat in solitude.
Fitch’s hope is that readers will use the microprompts — boxes at the end of each chapter with practical to-dos — to find ways "to cultivate calm and recharge."
"I wish I could eradicate the word ’busy,’" he says. He says we should stop using "busy" as a badge of honor. He’s found "deep meaning" in taking it out of his own vocabulary. Instead, he’ll say his work was "highly focused, meaningful and active."
He’d like there to be industry leaders who focus on bringing calm. "Calm is just as contagious as stress," he says.
For the person now working from home where the day of work stretches into the night of work, how can you schedule in those periods of off time?
For the person who is now on furlough or laid off, how can you use this time to evaluate what you really want or to come up with a new idea or focus?
When you do return to work life, think about how can you build in time off more often to recharge, to be inspired, to be more fulfilled, to do better work.