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The Power of Pause & How To *Actually* Rest and Reflect In The New Year

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As 2022 is right on the horizon, I’m busier than ever. And chances are, so are you! Ending a year is a milestone moment, but to get there we are often in a rushed frenzy and end up leaving no space for rest. In fact, there is a term psychologists have coined to define this particular time – “End Of Year Burnout,” exhibited by increased fatigue, restlessness, and stress in the later months. Exacerbated by the uncertainty of navigating life in a pandemic and not having defined work and life boundaries, most people tend to burn the candle at both ends.

“End of year burnout is fatigue that manifests itself towards the end of the year. It is as a direct result of being overworked and stressed," counseling psychologist Dr. Kgomotso Masokoane told Sowetan.

Despite the bustle of the holidays and the mad rush to tie up loose ends before the year is up, I believe that you can still ring in the new year with rest and reflection in order to tackle your next goals. I know you might be thinking, “There’s literally no way. I’m too busy and there’s simply too much to be done to do the basics  – get enough sleep, eat proper meals, reflect.” And I hear you – I’ve told that story to myself a hundred times. But I’m also here to tell you that there is ALWAYS a reason and a way to rest.

The problem is, when we’re busy, we’re so focused on what's in front of us that we forget the big picture - We’re human beings.

And if we don’t treat ourselves well, we’re putting ourselves at risk to do less quality work and live less happy and healthy lives. In fact, those who work long hours all the time have a much higher risk of developing heart-related problems than those who do work less overtime. Not to mention, it just puts us in a crabby mood!

As executives, entrepreneurs and innovators, we often want to be on the go-go-go all the time. In fact, we prefer it that way! But resting and reflecting is one of THE best things we can do not just for ourselves, but for our business. The book, “Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less,” outlines all the scientifically-proven ways that even SHORT breaks can improve productivity and creativity. 

As Founder & CEO of InnovatorsBox, I’m not only responsible for serving my clients but also running a global team in producing all of our resources, music, games, podcasts, and more! Others may see me always “on the run,” but what they don’t see is the time that I’ve intentionally carved out for rest. And by “rest”, I mean active reflection time where I can pause and check-in with myself. After all, if we don’t allow time to check in with ourselves, we could be actively ignoring signs that we need a break.

And I know, taking proper rest is easier said than done. So I’ve compiled some actionable ways I’ve been able to successfully build reflection and rest into my routine – especially during my busiest times.

How To Actually Build Reflection And Pause Into The New Year:

1. Practicing Self-Awareness

In order to give myself time to rest, I need to first be aware of why I feel what I feel – the excitement, fear, stress, tiredness, etc. And then I ask myself, “Why am I feeling this, and how would I want to recharge?” 

We all require different amounts of rest time and different types of rest and reflection. 

For example, some people need complete silence to actually stop their brains from working. And for others, silence is literally their worst enemy for rest as it makes their brain buzzing with ideas. So in short – you need to know yourself and treat yourself accordingly. 

For instance, if the week is an especially busy delivery time, then I ensure that my weekends are extra quiet – no deliveries or deadlines. For me personally, a lot of my work requires speaking, listening, and actively problem-solving. So my best rest time requires alone-time and giving my mind/voice a rest. I look forward to sleeping in and then watching the latest TV shows and movies and snacking on some favorite food. That’s how I relax and treat myself!

I would have never made that time for myself if I didn’t start practicing assessing how I feel, what I’m wanting to understand, and how I want to make space to process. Just like a yoga practice, practicing self-awareness takes time. You have to make it a daily practice until it becomes more routine. 

Action Step: Take time out of your day (Set a phone alarm if you have to) to ask yourself – 

2. Put Rest & Reflection in Your Calendar (Literally!)

We’re so busy that it’s true – you have to actively plan and prepare to rest and reflect. The best way to do it is to start backward and broad:

  • How do you want to feel this year based on what you know? 
  • How does the upcoming quarter look?
  • What are the major deadlines of the year?
  • Are there certain weekdays you are the most productive / least productive?

Asking these questions helps me assess each time period by how my energy, workload, and projects are. It not only helps me plan out the best times for me to take off or block out rest, but also makes me much more effective in preparing project deadlines that need to be done in advance, or blocking out editing times so things aren’t going out last minute. 

And one important key to doing this – Always leave room for flexibility! 

It’s obviously impossible to plan the year everything on the dot (which I have done before and it was no fun indeed). 

So you have to be intentional with mapping your time out broadly, and then creating consistent check-points: 

  • What does this month look like? Why?
  • What does this week look like? Why?
  • What does my day look like? Why?
  • What are my deadlines and milestone goals? Why?
  • What do I want to celebrate? Why?
  • What do I need to do more?

I have a daily list of items – prioritized order – that I cross off. It doesn’t hurt to reward yourself throughout the day and the week…even with the smallest things. For instance, I like to do anything from treating myself to my favorite Japanese milk tea, to catching up on my favorite K-drama, to reading a fun children’s book. Some of these things take less than 30 minutes, but I come back from it feeling refreshed and much more productive. 

I also have time aside at least once a week to review my weekly goals and see if I’m on track, behind, or ahead. And then I adjust as needed! It’s always good to have one, consistent place where you prioritize your time and tasks as well. There are plenty of calendar/task systems on the market, but often a calendar app and the notes app can do just fine!

Again – you will have to schedule a time to schedule, prioritize, and reflect. Intentionality is key! 

Action Step: Plan out your 2022 using the questions above and then schedule a consistent time to reanalyze and reprioritize. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to plan a few treats for yourself as well!

4. Don’t Forget To Have Fun & Be Flexible!

Intention and structure are there to help, but you also want to be flexible and have fun! Have a day where you TRULY aren’t feeling it? Take a cheat day! Go see a movie, walk in the park, phone an old friend. 

One of my favorite books, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad One, shares that building the habit of reflection has to feel rewarding and fun to want to do it no matter how busy you are. So in short, if your reflection/rest time feels like work, then you aren’t doing it right, and you likely won’t stick with it.

Action Step: I highly recommend you use one of your first reflection times to give Atomic Habits a read to find out more actionable ways to build habits and flows. Then start brainstorming the fun!

Time is a non-negotiable and non-renewable resource, and it’s your responsibility to allocate it wisely. 

Taking care of your organization and team effectively means you need to take care of yourself. And oftentimes, we don’t even realize we’ve exhausted ourselves until we look back on the pile of rushed projects and look into the mirror and see one too many dark circles. As a fellow innovator I’m here to tell you – you are human and you sometimes, you just can’t do it all. Time is a non-negotiable and non-renewable resource, and it’s your responsibility to allocate it wisely. And you can do that with intentional systemizing! 

And remember – when you’re feeling overwhelmed, the best thing to do is stop. Reflect on how you’re feeling, prioritize what needs to be done first, rest when you need it, and then as always, don’t forget to treat yourself.

About the Author

Monica H. Kang

Monica H. Kang

Monica H. Kang, Founder, and CEO of InnovatorsBox® and Author of Rethink Creativity is transforming today’s workforce through the power of creativity. She helps companies rethink culture, leadership, and team development by making creativity practical and relatable regardless of industry or job title. She has worked with clients worldwide including Fortune 500 companies, higher education, government, and nonprofits. Monica’s work has been recognized by The White House, Ashoka Changemakers, National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), and Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). Prior to InnovatorsBox®, Monica was a nuclear nonproliferation policy expert. She holds an M.A. from SAIS Johns Hopkins University in Strategic Studies and International Economics and a B.A. from Boston University.

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