A young and old lumberjack once had a competition to see who could chop down more trees. At the start of the day, the youth set out swinging his ax with great energy and vigor. The old man worked much more slowly.
As the day wore on, the youth kept swinging, without losing much momentum. But the old man had to stop every hour to take a break.
As the sun started setting, the competition drew to a close. And a judge began counting the number of trees each man had felled. After a short while, he announced the outcome: the old man had won. Shocked, the young man asked his elder how he’d done it.
The old lumberjack explained. “Each time I took a break, I sharpened my ax. Then, when I went back to work, my newly sharpened blade multiplied my efforts.”
As introverts, we’d do well to heed this lesson. If we want to have more energy and be more effective, we need to schedule regular breaks.
Look at your work schedule. Where could you fit in pockets of alone time? Do you have a morning coffee break, a lunch break, or an afternoon break?
Breaks don’t have to last long. If 15 minutes is all you can afford, plan 15 minutes of downtime into your schedule. Sometimes the quality of your alone time is more important than the quantity.
Turn your lights down low. Shut the door, if you have one. And turn off the phone.
I’ve tried to set aside my lunch break, two or three times per week, for some extra alone time. I use the period to catch up on reading and to rejuvenate in silence. While it only lasts about 25 minutes, it makes a big difference in the second half of my day.
It’s wise to plan downtime into your weekly schedule too. Think about your week: Is there a day when you could have several hours alone in the night or in the morning? Try to pick a day and time that you can stick with, and make sure to talk it over with your spouse if you’re married.
Most weeks, Sunday is my down day. After church, I come home and take a nap. Other times I read, write, play guitar, or watch a movie.
Planning rest into your week will give you the chance to recuperate before the next one starts. You’ll feel refreshed, and your work will be more effective.
If your job allows it, take a day-long break each month. Most months, I get a day or two off. I’m fortunate, as a teacher, to enjoy somewhat regular holidays. They give me a chance to retreat from my work, clear my mind, and recharge my batteries. When I return to work, I’m usually a happier person.
Monthly breaks can also help you avoid compassion fatigue. According to Adam McHugh, if your line of work involves helping people, you’re at risk. Constant exposure to the problems and hurts of other people wears on you as an introvert.
Your mind will try to protect itself, and you may suffer from depression or wall yourself off from others. You can prevent this by making time to be alone.
Finally, consider getting away for a week or two each year.
My mentor claims that a two-week vacation is the best way to recharge. This is because it takes him a week to unwind, disconnect, and start to reenergize.
You may not be able to pull away for two weeks. That’s okay. But do be careful to plan a vacation that’s relaxing. Sometimes we come back from vacations more tired than when we left.
If your vacations tend to drain your energy, consider taking a “staycation”. Hang out at home, and do what relaxes you. Take walks. Read books. Enjoy your hobbies. Spend time with family. Or take short day trips.
Use the money you would have spent on lodging to enjoy local cuisine and entertainment. If you live in a beautiful place, sit outside in the sun, and soak up the scenery.
One of my favorite places to recharge is my parents’ backyard. They live in the middle of Amish Country in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I love to sit and take in the view, a patchwork quilt of lush green and brown farmland. Their home is only 10 minutes away, and the getaway doesn’t cost me a cent!
As you strive to make more time to be alone, experiment. Keep what works, and toss what doesn’t. But always make time to sharpen your ax.