I know we’re supposed to rise and grind.
Or that we’re supposed to hustle until it hurts.
That the TED Talkers espouse two hours of sleep because that’s what it takes to make it happen.
That productivity is the only true goal and that being productive from before dawn to after dusk is our sacred duty.
But let me tell you about the best hack I’ve discovered.
Instead of launching into work five minutes after I roll out of bed (something I used to do regularly).
Instead of answering emails after dinner (also something I used to do).
Instead of worrying that any message I received that wasn’t responded to immediately indicated I was disloyal and not committed to the job.
For about an hour each morning I sit out in my backyard and slowly, deliberately peel away ribbons of wood from a stick with a small pocket knife.
Then sometimes I do it again in the evening.
When the weather permits I might even take a break in the afternoon and whittle.
Whittling is a great way to not do a blessed thing for a little while.
It’s just you and the knife and the stick and whatever sounds are in the background, whether it’s birds chirping or trains passing by.
Your mind clears of all the accumulated stuff and junk and stress melts away. Or more accurately, stress is carved away with each shaving that hits the ground.
You look down after a while and find your feet surrounded by ribbons of wood of various sizes. And the stick you’re holding is a bit shorter and probably more pointed at one end than it was when you started.
Personally I feel a sense of accomplishment when the stick I’m working on is sharp enough to stick in the ground when I throw it down.
And then I get on with my day with a fresh perspective and all (or at least most) of the bad juju worked and left on the backyard grass.
Occasionally this zoning out, which I’ve often likened to mindfulness meditation, has freed my mind to randomly solve some problem that no amount of fretting and hand-wringing has. So when I go back to work I have something fresh to try because I let my mind wander and decompress for a bit.
I’m the first to admit this solution won’t work for everyone, either because of logistics or some other reason.
It’s a go-to for me because I’ve been whittling essentially my entire life, learning how from my grandfather when I was probably five or six and he sat with me on a bench in his own small backyard, giving me the pocket knife he always carried and showing me how to keep it under control, making long, smooth strokes and how to always hold the sharp end of the blade away from me.
But it doesn’t have to be for you.
The point is not that everyone needs to whittle. It’s that you shouldn’t feel you can’t take a bit of time to straighten out your own mind and refresh your thinking. You should be able to zone out every now and again.
It aids creativity. It reduces stress. And it doesn’t need to be something as intensive as full-body cardio.
It just needs to be as simple as making a stick you found on the ground a little bit smaller.