Sprint, rest, repeat

There is no growth without downtime

I remember holding him in my arms and bouncing up and down on that exercise ball.

Up and down, up and down, for hours on end.

My firstborn was a colicky baby and could be soothed only by motion.

Constant motion.

I recently purchased a set of rocking chairs for my back patio. After nine years in North Carolina, maybe I’m finally becoming a Southerner.

My wife and I have since notched a couple of wonderful dates on said chairs. Kids asleep (well, in bed), great conversation, decent wine, and motion.

Back and forth, back and forth.

There is something soothing about motion.

Surely, it starts in the womb, but we gain comfort from movement throughout our entire lives.

And in addition to its soothing effects, motion can also help us to remove mental roadblocks. I wrote about how my own best ideas almost always arrive in the same setting—right after I've worked out intensely.

After I've moved.

This week, when I was sitting idly at my desk thinking about what to write, I saw this tweet from famed pollster, Nate Silver:

It inspired me to take a twenty-minute walk down the street—not even wearing Airpods, mind you. It reminded me of this tweet (especially when a perplexed friend driving by stopped his car to understand what exactly I was doing).

And as I was playing the role of neighborhood psychopath, I got to thinking not only about all the wonderful side effects of motion, but also about how motion can sometimes be a crutch—how we often confuse busy-ness with business and think that just by being in motion we're actually making progress.

But that isn't always the case.

In fact, being in constant motion is a great way to run ourselves into the ground.

I'm as guilty as anyone. Virtually every minute of my week is scheduled in advance. With a demanding full-time job, three kids and side projects like this newsletter, there really isn't anything that resembles truly idle time. Or basically doing nothing for the sake of doing nothing.

And that may be a mistake. I saw this tweet this week and I was reminded of the importance of downtime. (Okay, the deeper I get into this article, it is becoming increasingly clear that I may be filling what should be my idle time with ‘Twitter time.’ Might have to write a thread on that.)

The reality is that motion and rest are two equal sides of the same coin. Yin and yang. They are both equally important for growth. And this is true in every part of our lives.

In some areas, it's more obvious—like in our physical fitness. If you lift weights, you know that only by allowing ample time for rest do your muscles have a chance to repair themselves and grow. If you've ever done a HIIT workout (high-intensity interval training), you'll know that the rest in between spurts of activity is as important as the exertion.

But there are other places in our lives where the importance of rest is not so obvious.

Many high-achieving professionals, for instance, will see no irony in completing a HIIT workout in the morning only to schedule themselves back-to-back meetings for the next 10 hours with no breaks in between.

And it’s not just over short periods of time that we need rest. The length of exertion should be matched with an equal period of rest. This can be minutes in the case of HIIT workouts, or it can be hours in the course of a typical workday.

On the latter, I’ve become increasingly convinced that the highest-quality—and in fact, most personally rewarding—work that we do occurs when we are in flow states, or deep, extended periods of concentration.

But like an intense physical workout, we need to come up for air after such periods of exertion. The opposite of this, which I would argue is the least productive way to work, would be constantly switching from concentration to distraction, which, at least pre-pandemic, had become the de facto corporate model given the widespread proliferation of open floor plans.

Even zooming out more, we can see that months and even years of our lives can be particularly intense, and by necessity, others will have to be less so. Up and down, up and down—from minute to minute, hour to hour, and even year to year. We need to match the high performance with periods of recuperation.

Of course, this is all easier said than done. For the high achievers among us, there is a very real pressure to stay at peak performance levels at all times—never coming down.

There's a FOMO that if we are not doing something productive, then we must be falling behind. The 'always on' culture enabled by those supercomputers in our pockets puts this on steroids.

But we need to remember that our bodies and our minds need downtime.

That is often the time when the actual growth occurs. When our brains and bodies are free from constant inputs and stresses, they can do their real magic. They can make those subconscious connections. They can surface ideas or new perspectives. And importantly, they can heal and grow, so that we’re energized when it is time to sprint again.

So go hard, and then go easy.

Give your brain and body a chance to recharge. Take a load off and relax in a rocking chair.

Or go for a walk. Without your phone. Like a damn psychopath.

You might be surprised by the result.


That’s it for this week. I have a rocking chair calling my name.

Have a great week. — Greg


Photo credit: Joshua Sukoff @ Unsplash.com

Extra credit: Last week, for the crypto curious, I recommended Chris Dixon's recent appearance on Invest Like the Best, even after only having listened to the first 15 minutes. Well, not only did I finish it since then (and even more highly recommend it now) but I also happened to write a 27-tweet thread on the key conclusions because... well, clearly, I wasn't focusing enough on idle time. For those interested, you can enjoy the fruits of my constant motion here:

Have a great week!