How do you fill the little gaps in your day?
Those few minutes that you have while you are waiting for your tea or coffee to brew. Or those longer moments, when you are waiting for a bus or standing in a line at a busy store.
Maybe you’re checking your emails or the breaking news? Perhaps you’re writing a shopping list, or planning a birthday party?
Our days are made up of a series of tasks and activities. Some of these are fun, some not so much. Some are necessary, and others we choose to do.
As we go about our day, and as we transition from one activity to another, it can be easy to skip over those little spaces between tasks. Filling them up, perhaps not even noticing that they are there at all.
And the result of filling up all these little gaps? We feel pressed for time. Too busy. As if we don’t have a minute to spare.
What if, instead of filling up the gaps with tasks, you used those little moments to take a pause.
What does it mean to pause?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines taking a pause as:
- to stop temporarily
- to linger for a time
Essentially, I look at a pause as taking a moment…or longer, to just be.
To think, to contemplate, to reflect, or to consider. Rather than to do.
A pause gives us time and space.
Both of which can feel very rare in today’s always-on world.
Feel too busy to pause?
Here’s the thing. As well as helping you feel less busy, less stressed, and less overwhelmed, taking a pause will ultimately give you more time.
A pause will help you to stop wasting time on things that aren’t important.
Often our feelings of busyness come not from what’s on our to-do list, but from the expectations we have of ourselves about these things.
There’s often a mismatch between what we think we should be doing, and what we can realistically deal with in the time we have.
In trying to be as efficient as possible in getting through our to-do lists – in trying to utilize ALL the time – we can lose sight of what it is we are trying to achieve.
When we Pause, we give ourselves time to think and space to breathe so that we can explore how we make our decisions, and ask whether we would like to make some new ones.Danielle Marchant, Pause: How to Press Pause Before Life Does it For You
A pause takes us out of autopilot mode.
It helps us see clearly what it is we are doing.
It helps us reflect, and then consider, with the knowledge that we can’t do everything, whether we are doing the important things.
…when people don’t pause to reflect on their lives, they just move from thing to thing and don’t notice how much time they have.Laura Vanderkam, Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done
Studies have also found that it’s not the length of our to-do list that causes us to feel overwhelmed, but our time perception.
Time perception determines whether we feel time-rich or time-poor.
Low time perception – where you don’t have a clear understanding of how your spend your time – can create a vicious circle of stress and overwhelm.
Having no clear understanding of how your spend your time… can cause you to make decisions that lead to more stress and anxiety, which feed the sense that you’re pressed for time, and you end up feeling more overwhelmed than necessary.Celeste Headlee, Do Nothing: Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing and Underliving
Believing you are short on time can also make you less compassionate, and less likely to make rational decisions.
When you are attuned to how you are spending your time – when you are aware of your schedule – the little spaces and transitions, as well the tasks and activities – you increase your time perception.
People who have high time perception – people who know how they spend their time and are very aware of their schedule – are less likely to feel too busy or overwhelmed.
They are more likely to set aside more time for leisure and hobbies.
People who have high time perception report feeling more satisfied, and make time for breaks, rest, leisure, and hobbies.
This downtime, this time for rest and relaxation gives them time to contemplate and reflect.
This in turn gives them a feeling of having enough time for both the things they need to do and the things they want to do.
Laura Vanderkam, a best-selling author and time-management researcher recommends time tracking to help you to change your time perception.
Take a look at Laura Vanderkam’s website for some great tips on how to do this.
Why can it feel difficult to pause?
Stopping, or even slowing, down can be challenging.
In a society that sees speed, efficiency, and productivity as desirable, taking a pause can seem like procrastination, or delay rather than deliberation or wisdom.
Women, in particular, can feel a weight of expectation to juggle the needs of work, household, and family. Not utilizing every moment can feel uncomfortable – as if we are being lazy, inefficient, or wasting time.
We’re conditioned to think that we should be busy, or at least use our time in the most effective way possible.
We are driven, but we long ago lost sight of what we were driving toward. We judge our days based on how efficient they are, not how fulfilling.Celeste Headlee, Do Nothing: Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing and Underliving
Yes, the idea of “doing nothing” can feel difficult, but it’s important to recognize that a pause isn’t “doing nothing”.
There is always something happening when you pause – whether that’s taking some breaths, reflecting on what’s just happened, or pondering what’s ahead.
A pause, rather than being nothing, is a switch of attention and activity, from one thing to another.Robert Poynton, Do Pause: You are not a To Do list
Other benefits of taking a pause
As well as helping you to feel less frantic, overwhelmed, or pressed for time, taking a pause will also help you:
(i) Spark creativity
The creative process follows patterns, and people who study these patterns have observed that there is always a gap or a delay, or disconnection (in other words, a pause) in the process.
Steven Johnson author of Where Good Ideas Come From explains how new ideas are “easily get lost to the more pressing needs of day-to-day issues”.
A pause gives the seeds of new creative ideas a chance to take root and grow.
(ii) Problem solve
How often have you sought answers to a problem then found that the solution came to you when you weren’t consciously thinking about it? Perhaps while you were taking a shower or enjoying a walk?
A pause frees up your consciousness to deliver insight and answers to the questions you’ve been pondering.
(iii) Make Progress
Though it may seem paradoxical, taking a pause is much more effective than perpetual busyness when working towards goals. Because being busy doesn’t always mean making progress.
I like the way Robert Poynton (in his insightful book, Do Pause: You are not a To Do List) demonstrates the difference between busyness and progress by using a theatre analogy.
He describes how improv actors need to distinguish between action and activity on stage to tell a story effectively.
Action is needed to create the story – a simple line such as “I killed him” or “It was me” is an action, and it changes our understanding of what has happened in the story.
Activity is different. It’s movement around the stage, for example running or being chased. It may be fast and frenetic but it doesn’t change the story, and you can’t create an engaging story with just activity.
If you want action, i.e. if you want to do something that is going to make a difference, you need to interrupt these patterns of activity, which means finding a way to pause.Robert Poynton, Do Pause: You are not a To Do List
In other words, stopping the busyness and taking a pause is a sign of effectiveness.
It stops you from heading off in the wrong direction.
It lets you see where you are, and then gives you space to consider the next best steps to take you forward.
(iv) Appreciate the good
When we move speedily through our day, it can be easy to miss the good things.
Taking a pause gives us a little moment to reflect on what’s good in our life, what’s working, and what we are grateful for.
In general, we don’t pay much attention or give much importance to the spaces in-between all the tasks. I think we should. In life, as in art, you need to step back to see that. The ‘negative space’, which lies around or between objects or events, gives shape to the whole.Robert Poynton, Do Pause: You Are Not a To Do List
Using the white space – the moments of transition in our days as an opportunity to pause, rather than an opportunity to do, will have a positive impact on your life.
Whether you want to feel less frantic, make better decisions, be more creative, make progress on your goals, or appreciate what you have, taking time in your day to pause will help you get you there.
Is taking a pause self-care?
Here’s how I see it…
I consider self-care to be the specific actions and activities you incorporate into your life to support and improve your well-being.
Taking a pause could certainly be considered an action that improves your well-being. However, I see it as a complement to self-care.
Take a pause before you begin your self-care.
Contemplate why you are doing this activity. Is it just because it’s on your to-do list or because you know it will benefit you? Think about what you will achieve and how it will make you feel.
Take a pause after your self-care.
Before rushing to the next thing on your list think about how you feel right now. Was the self-care activity helpful to you? Reflect on the outcome of taking some time to care for yourself.