The Productivity of Stillness

I’m leaving the cabin for the season tomorrow. Always a bittersweet day. I’m flying to Minneapolis for my annual one-on-one session with my business coach and then on to deliver two days of patient service and leadership communication training for a pediatric group practice. Tom will wrap things up at the cabin and make sure it will be strong and secure to withstand the harsh winter ahead and meet me at the Ranch next Saturday. Preparing for all of that, you can just imagine the To-Do List we have. There really is no end to that darn thing, no matter where I go: Airplanes, cars, cabin or home… it’s always there, impatiently tapping its foot at me.

And yet, this morning, we decided to take a walk through the forest. It snowed an early Fall snow last night and we awoke to a blanket of white as far as we could see. It was magical. There is something about a snowy landscape that is, well, quiet. Magnificently quiet and still. Like Mother Nature has put her finger to her lips and demanded all the creatures walking will do so quietly… hushed and reverent.

I usually take my I-Pod when I walk because I love music and there are always, of course, a long list of podcasts to be absorbed. But today, I left it at home and walked for the most part in silence through the snowy mountain landscape.

I’m a speaker. I talk for a living. According to my father and my husband, I talk even when I’m not making a living. I’m busy. I run a growing company. I manage a home on acreage and a cabin in the mountains. I have animals and friends. I’m writing a book. There is rarely a moment when I am still and quiet. But today I was reminded of the value of it.

We are multi-tasking, productivity machines. Our technology allows us to blast through loads of emails, texts, calls, and meetings and get much more work done in much less time than in my mother’s or grandmother’s generation. Why, then, do we always seem to feel starved for time?

We’ve gotten really bad at doing nothing. There is constant stimulus around us… video billboards, TV on demand, laptops, social media, music plays everywhere. We are constantly experiencing what scientists call “cognitive overload.” I saw a woman hurt herself recently falling off an escalator because she couldn’t ride down the thing without checking her cell phone and totally missed the step to get off. Whether we are standing in an elevator, waiting in a queue to board a plane, or riding on an escalator or in our car… we find it very hard to simply be still with just our own thoughts.

Rumi once said, “Never give from the depths of your well, but from your overflow.” To have overflow, we must fill the depths of our well. To do that, we must be quiet and still. Humans need stillness to recharge our batteries. Scientists have discovered that being in this “cognitive overload” impairs our ability to be creative, solve problems, learn new things easily, make decisions, resist temptations, remember things, and control our emotions. Their studies also suggest that being busy keeps us from feeling the sometimes uncomfortable feelings that can easily erupt when we are quiet and still. But when we avoid feeling the hard feelings, we also numb ourselves to the good ones.

Here’s my takeaway: If we want to be productive, balanced and happy, we need to re-learn how to be still. We need to re-train ourselves that when we are feeling pressed for time and feel like we need more hours in the day… we don’t. We wouldn’t get them anyway. What we need is more stillness. It’s in the stillness that we can make better choices about priorities. It’s in the stillness that our creativity helps us find better ways of working and living. It’s in the stillness that we remember we are already enough.

I’m not talking about tolerating stillness. I’m talking about honoring, valuing, and cultivating it. More productivity and happiness doesn’t come from working harder or faster or multi-taking better. It comes from getting still and quiet just a little bit more so that we can hear the right answers and refill our own well.

This week, when you find yourself driving in your car, riding in an elevator, eating a meal, or walking down the street… before you reach for your cell phone… take the moment to cultivate some quiet and stillness for yourself. Breathe deeply, relax your shoulders, and open your heart. Refill the depths of your well so that you can remember the important things, identify solutions, manage priorities, create ideas, and offer your best self from the overflow.


“Learning how to be still, to really be still and allow that inner
voice to speak to you – that stillness becomes a radiance. “
~~ Morgan Freeman