The Power of the Pause

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“I must be up and doing!”

I don’t remember the name of the character who said that as he sprang from bed. I don’t remember the name of the novel he was in or the author of that novel. But that phrase has stayed with me since a course in Victorian literature back in college.

That character would fit right in today. Today, the world moves fast. Today, the world is always on. Today, he’d spring from bed reaching for his smart phone to check emails and texts.

We love movement. We praise “a bias for action.” We want to be agile and nimble, constantly making progress. That’s great. But how about taking a pause now and then?

Pause to Refresh

The Coca-Cola Company has used some variation of the slogan “The pause that refreshes” since 1929. We human beings are just not set up to go full speed all the time. We need to pause now and then. Whether we do it with a fizzy, sugary drink is not important.

The real pause that refreshes is the pause that helps us regain energy and freshness. Without those pauses, we grow stale and tired.

Take breaks during the day. You’ll be most productive if you work on a project for a while, then take a break to refresh. Most people will work about fifty minutes to an hour and then naturally need a break.

Take regular time off. Spend that time with people you love, doing things that you’re passionate about. Spend that time relaxing. The research that I’ve seen indicates that beyond 50-55 hours in a week more work is counterproductive. The same seems to be true for most people if they work more than about 10 hours a day. We do our best work over the long-term when we take time off to refresh. That includes regular, scheduled vacations.

Pause to Process

It’s easy to get hooked by emotion. Someone says something and you get angry. You want something so badly that you rush right past the danger signs. That’s when you can get in real trouble and a pause can save you.

Your mother may have advised you that when you were angry you should “count to 10” before you acted. That’s good advice. Let’s extend it a little bit. If you’re in a group setting, press pause before you act. It doesn’t take much time for you to become aware of dynamics that may suggest a different way to act.

Several states have 3-day waiting periods for certain kinds of financial decisions. If you feel emotions sweeping you toward a yes or a no, pause. Wait a couple of days. Then reconsider.

Pause to Reflect

The biggest challenge for leaders today is making time to reflect. It won’t happen automatically or by accident. You should turn off your phone. Find a place where you won’t be disturbed. Then, you can reflect.

Reflection is thinking about things. Think about your behavior, what’s working and what isn’t. Think about possibilities and opportunities to get a clear view of the opportunities you want to seize. Think about relationships. Relationships are the great sustainers in life.

Many people find committing their thoughts to writing helps them reflect more effectively. You can keep a journal, or just grab a pen and a piece of paper.


Take breaks during the day.

Take time off.

Take time to let emotion subside before you decide.

Take time to reflect.

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