by Leon Rosenshein

The Importance Of (down) Time

Time passes. Even if nothing else changes, time passes. That’s the same for everyone and you have no control over it. What you do have control over is what you do with your time.

How you use your time has a huge impact on your impact. At one of the highest levels there’s work-life balance and how getting that wrong leads to burnout and having no impact. One level deeper on the work side is managing work in progress (WIP). Just being busy is NOT the way to have the most impact.

One way to make sure your time has impact is to use it to prepare for the future. To be learning ideas and new approaches. Taking the time to explore and add a new tool to your toolbox or be able to use your existing tools better.

Which brings us to the most tactical of levels. How you learn. Learning is different for everyone. What’s best for one person is not going be be best for another. Some like to read in silence. Some like demonstrations and examples. Others, like me, do best with hands-on experience in a group. Knowing what works for you and taking that into account is important.

One thing that seems to be important for everyone though is down time. You can’t keep stuffing knowledge into your head for 8 hours straight and expect it all to stick. Periods of intense learning/studying/training followed by periods of “idle” time so that you can process those learnings and make them stick.

I have no idea if this is actually the mechanism, but the way I think of it is that there’s an inbound queue of knowledge. As you’re learning/experiencing things get pushed onto that queue. At the other end of the queue is a process that takes those things, stores them somewhere, and associates them with everything else you already have stored. As long as the incoming rate is below the acceptance rate of the queue everything is fine. If the incoming rate is too high things get dropped on the floor, never to be seen again.

At least that things are OK until the queue fills up. When the queue is full the acceptance rate drops to the processing rate at the other end and everything falls to the floor. There are lots of things you can do at that point. You can (to a certain extent) make the queue bigger or (somewhat) turn up the processing rate. You can make the queue deeper by recording the input and then replaying it later when the queue is empty. You might even be able to slow down the incoming rate. Good teachers, knowing about the limitations, will do that for you.

The other thing you can do, especially at work, is take a break. Not just a break from learning, but a break from concentrating. Doing something that doesn’t use the same part of the brain as the thing you’re learning, but keeps the body busy. The classic example of that kind of break is thinking in shower, but that’s not practical during the work day. Which is why you’ll sometimes find me walking in circles around the office. Sometimes just listening to music, sometimes playing solitaire, sometimes just walking. It gives the processing end of the queue time to catch up and drain the queue. So you can keep learning. Which is what you wanted to be doing with your time in the first place.