Take time away

Sometimes, the best way to get unstuck from a project is to take some time away.

I’m traveling this week, and when doing so, I usually schedule a few posts ahead of time to go live on designated dates. It minimizes the potential risk of internet difficulties that can make it harder to write a post on the run. But one post in particular just didn’t feel right. The clarity of the messaging, the order of the paragraphs, the overall flow–none of it seemed to be coming together. So I forged ahead, saved a workable draft, and then took time away.

Because I’d started early enough, I had the luxury of coming back to the draft the next day with fresh eyes and renewed perspective. I moved a few sentences. Changed a few words. And everything fell into place. Five minutes (plus a previous night of sleep) was all it took.

Sometimes, sleeping on it works the other way—your fresh eyes the next day reveal that something you thought was good isn’t quite what it could be. I wrote about this method back in 2011, and still find it works today. But my experience this week was a timely reminder of just how much good time away can do.

The technology, connectivity, and ever-present buzzing of today’s world has left many of us trying to produce more with less time. But time is a critical ingredient for truly great work. A master craftsperson wants to build something right, not build it fast. An artisan baker can produce a great loaf of bread, but not without enough time to let the ingredients do their work. Athletes, thought leaders, writers, orators, scientists—they all may face deadlines or other real-world realities. But they also need and depend on time to prepare, create, and ultimately deliver work they’re proud of.

I’m a fan of deadlines. I think they motivate us to get started, to push through, and to ship instead of stalling. I’ve even written about the power of creating an artificial deadline to overcome inertia and get you moving. Sometimes sprinting is the antidote for too much standing still.

But if you’re constantly racing from one deadline to the next, and if you feel a pattern developing of repeatedly churning out work before it’s quite what you want it to be, consider building in more time to not work on the project.

Sometimes the surest path towards great work is to take time away from it.