Bob Lieberman's Blog

Tools For Initiating and Managing Change

The Wisdom Of Fallow

What you do when the well (of work) runs dry?

For the typical worker, it doesn't matter because it never happens – there is always more work. But fallow time is a critical element in creativity. Fallow time permits you tune out the world so you can listen to your self. By doing so you become more open to the deep wisdom of your internal landscape. It may be personal – telling you to rebalance life and work or attend to a neglected personal issue. Or it may be commercial – telling you to remember what your company's real priorities should be and to reconsider how your current project fits into them (or doesn't). But it's wisdom, and it's the kind that you can't access without fallow time.

For Michael Jones this inner landscape is the commons of the imagination, from which the important unasked questions emerge. For Ben Zander, it's the long line, the deep theme that is our individual gift, transcending our day-to-day activities.

However one describes it, reaching the inner landscape requires us to let go of the tasks at hand and remember who we are. This act of putting work aside (and appreciating the world as we then find it) is the first step towards getting in touch with our innate creativity. If you can find a way to make it a regular practice, you will begin a personal transformation whose results will astound you.

One easy way to experience your inner landscape is to try this experiment for just one day:
  • Turn off email notification
  • Turn off automatically checking new email, and don't check it yourself
  • Reserve 15 minutes of your day at 10AM, 3PM, and 7PM to read email
  • Set your phone to go to voicemail without ringing
  • Reserve 5 minutes of your day at 9:55, 2:55, and 6:55 to listen to voicemail
  • If someone comes to your desk to talk, ask them if they wouldn't mind coming back at 10:15 or 3:15 because you're right in the middle of something

There is a dynamic tension between the social and the individual at work (as in life). When you direct your attention on another's schedule as opposed to yours (as you do when interrupted), you are honoring the social at the expense of the individual. The effect is similar to that of being awakened every time you enter deep sleep – you lose your clarity and you're irritable all day.

Try this experiment! You will be amazed at the resulting improvement in your work quality, your morale, and your temperament. And the email, the callers, the visitors – they will be fine without your immediate attention.

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