Solve Your Toughest Q4 Challenge This Weekend

By Marc J. Schiller  |  Posted 10-24-2013
Hand, puzzle pieces

Solve Your Toughest Q4 Challenge This Weekend

By Marc J. Schiller

When was the last time you came up with a great idea or solved a big problem while grinding away at work?

It happens sometimes, but not too often.

Now consider where you were and what you were doing the last time you had a stroke of creative genius or came up with the solution to a difficult work problem.

If you’re like most people, the answer is probably something like “in the shower,”  “while I was working out,” or “taking the dog for a walk.” Basically, it happened when you were away from your desk and out of traditional work mode.

What We Can Learn From Archimedes 

It turns out that many of our best work-related ideas come to us when our minds aren’t focused on work, but rather when we are relaxing.

For some people, “relaxing” means intensive sports. For others, it’s gardening, golf or just plain goofing off. Whatever the surface activity may be, what’s happening below the surface is basically the same thing regardless of the specific activity.

When we shift our attention from work-related matters to a relaxing activity, our active foreground mind takes a rest from the rigors of work, but our subconscious mind keeps going, according to neuropsychologists. What’s more, without all of the noise of our foreground mind jackhammering away at the problem, the subconscious mind is more productive. It starts making intuitive connections between ideas, activating pathways to stored experiences, and searching the subconscious mind for pointers to relevant information. In short, when your foreground mind is engaged in a relaxing activity that is unrelated to work, your creative subconscious kicks in. That’s why an idea comes to you literally out of the blue.

What else explains the one of the most famous “Eureka” moments in human history? Archimedes was caught up with a complicated technical problem he couldn’t solve—creating a method to measure the density of gold.

Frustrated with his lack of progress on the solution, he went to the baths. Lounging about, Archimedes noticed how the water rose and fell when people entered and exited the pool. Suddenly, eureka! He had a breakthrough: He could use water to measure gold’s density.

Make Time for Yourself in Q4

Archimedes’ example illustrates a simple idea with an obvious call to action: In order to get through the heavy push of work that always comes in Q4, whether it’s coming up with the presentation that gets funding for your big data initiative, translating your 2014 budget into a workable plan, or designing the new customer notification system, you have to take more time off. In fact, the more you are called upon to provide innovative solutions, the more time you need to free your mind. 

Unfortunately, this advice flies in the face of conventional practice, which is that the more work you have to do and the bigger the problems you have to solve, the less you let yourself step away from them. You are probably caught up in this right now.

It’s Q4. You need to finalize budgets, complete your annual commitments, and reach final approval for your 2014 plans, all while preparing end-of-year reports and juggling your team’s requests. You’re sure as hell not going away now in the heat of the crunch. What’s more, it feels extra strange to even consider doing so when almost everyone around you is in perpetual overdrive.

After all, I’m not talking about sneaking away for an extra 15 minutes for a walk after lunch. Stepping away to gain perspective takes real time. And while it’s hard to say how much time it takes to fully disengage from work and set your subconscious mind free to innovate in the background, it’s clear that available free time is a scarce commodity.  

Where can you find time to disengage if you won’t take time off or abdicate your professional responsibilities?

This answer has its roots in biblical times, when it was first understood that, to be productive and effective, human beings need a day of rest: the Sabbath. We’ve since expanded on this divine innovation and created the two-day weekend.

Solve Your Toughest Q4 Challenge This Weekend

That’s right, the oft-forgotten weekend is the answer. But not your typical weekend of today—one that is filled with catching up with e-mail, instant messages to colleagues who have “a quick question,” and a few hours finishing that special project your boss is waiting for and you never have time for during the week.

I mean a real weekend, like when we were kids and we had no homework. Translation: a weekend as far away from your computer and smartphone as possible, a weekend that isn’t dominated with must-do tasks. Alas, a weekend that’s nearly anathema to our always-on digital culture.

Make no mistake, I’m preaching to myself as well. I know it’s not easy. But I do my best to uphold my weekends. A couple of my colleagues at work unplug entirely from Friday night to Monday morning. This seems to shake out well for them. They spend time with people other than their coworkers. They indulge their hobbies and outside interests. They open their minds to relaxation. And in a couple days they plug back in with fresh insights.

Let me be clear: I’m not telling you to take the weekend off to better your soul. I’m telling you to take the weekend off so you can regularly get those breakthrough ideas you need to increase your professional contributions and advance your career.

Have a “Eureka!” Moment This Weekend

Remember the example of Archimedes? While at rest, he solved a problem he was unable to crack no matter how many hours he spent hunched over his workbench.

Investing time and attention away from work isn’t a waste; it pays dividends for both your mind and body. And by reclaiming the weekend you offer yourself the ideal opportunity to open yourself up to important insights during the busiest time of the year.

About the Author

Marc J. Schiller has spent more than two decades teaching IT strategy and leadership to the world’s top companies. Through online courses, speaking engagements and corporate consulting, his company educates IT pros at all levels on how to be more effective, influential and successful in their IT careers. Get access to free videos and an excerpt from his book, The 11 Secrets of Highly Influential IT Leaders, at www.marcjschiller.com/resources.