People hiking the length of the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail regularly log 10 to 20 miles daily. The only way to accomplish the feat is to keep at it.
Now and then, though, hikers take what is called a “zero day” – when they take a break and don't hike, making no progress on the trail.
Zero days are necessary for several reasons. They give the body time to recharge and rest and to accomplish tasks that enable them to continue hiking, such as restocking supplies, grabbing a home-cooked meal and doing laundry.
These zero days are essential to the mental and physical health of the hiker.
This philosophy also applies to professionals. Though you may not necessarily take a zero day, it is vital to your physical and mental health to step away from your job for a bit to do the things that enable you to continue your work when you return.
The late Stephen R. Covey, in his seminal work, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” referred to this as “sharpening the saw” or working for continuous improvement.
Whatever you do in your daily work or practice, it is essential to continue learning about it. The pace of change is ever increasing, and being a lifelong learner will allow you to stay current with your business and be able to change as the markets change.
They say if you are not moving, you get left behind. This is true to what we do daily. Strive to be a lifelong learner and continually work to hone your craft.
This can be done in many ways. It can be reading books on your profession, attending conferences, listening to podcasts or getting a degree.
For me, writing columns and articles helps me stay current, as I research and stay engaged in my profession.
Another way to improve your craft is to get away from it for a while.
While it is important to stay current and involved, sometimes it is equally beneficial to remove yourself from the noise of life.
This is often why we get our best ideas in the middle of the night.
Or why, when doing something totally unrelated to work, we get inspiration or discover a new viewpoint.
It reminds me of a story about changing your perspective.
A farmer lost his beloved pocket watch in his barn. He looked frantically through the hay bales and on the floor, but could not find it.
Despondent, he left the barn thinking he would never again see his watch.
His young son asked to search for the watch and entered the barn. Five minutes later, he walked out, clutching the watch.
The farmer was astonished. He asked how he found it so easily.
“While you noisily looked for the watch as you normally look for things, I sat in the middle of the barn and was totally quiet,” the boy said. “I heard the ticking and found the watch.”
From this story, we learn that removing ourselves from the situation is sometimes the way to get more done. It allows us to see things from a different perspective, opening new possibilities.
It is one thing to say you are going to do these things, but to really be beneficial, you need to hold yourself accountable. On paper, write specific action items related to your zero day attempt to sharpen your saw:
PHYSICAL: List what you are going to do to promote better physical health.
It could be promising to take the stairs instead of the elevator, running a 5K or cutting alcohol or carbs from your diet.
EMOTIONAL: What will you do to promote better emotional health? What can you do to improve something that will lead to better emotional health?
This can include yoga or meditation, attending a spiritual service or reconnecting with old friends and colleagues.
INTELLECTUAL: What can you do to work your mind and improve yourself from an intellectual perspective? Read a book, return to college or take a class?
It doesn't necessarily have to be specifically related to your craft. Reading an intellectually stimulating book or novel can work just as well as reading a trade journal, perhaps even more so.
If you do these exercises and post this where you can see it daily and hold yourself accountable, you will see the value of working to improve yourself.
It will make your work life much more fulfilling and help improve your overall physical, mental and emotional health.
Tom Bux is the director of the Center for Leadership and Workforce Development (workforce.lccc.edu) at Lehigh Carbon Community College, Schnecksville. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.