Have you ever found yourself working on a task, only to realize you’re becoming more and more frustrated as you focus on completing the task? Have you found yourself needing to finish quickly, and the more and more intently you worked on it, the less and less productive you became? I have this happen from time to time. One of my hobbies is jigsaw puzzles. I mean relatively large puzzles with many, many pieces. I spread the pieces out all over the table. My wife is usually ok with this hobby as long as I finish it before it’s time for us to use the table again for something more important. You know, like eating dinner or something like that. If one of my puzzles is on the table for too long, I will sometimes find it back in the box, where it will likely stay for a long time because I don’t want to start it all over again. But this is only if I leave it there for a number of days and she has seen no progress on it. As long as I’m working on it, she graciously lets me slide. And just about every time I’m working on a puzzle, there comes a point when I realize I’m no longer finding any pieces. I stare and gaze and look, only to come up short. Sometimes I’ll reach a time when I have to go do something else. Interestingly enough, when I come back, I often find a few pieces right away. Time and time again, I’ve discovered that in order to be truly successful at a task, I need to step away from the project.

               When we follow social media, we might reach the conclusion that the best and brightest people out there never take breaks. We see many people who are successful and we feel like we need to be just like them. But it’s important to remember that most people only talk about things online when they are going well. For example, I’m much more likely to post photos and status updates about my health when I’ve lost weight, and much less likely to share with the world when I’ve gained weight. I’m much more likely to post photos of a fun vacation with my wife than I am to post a status update about a martial spat we’ve had. Just because I don’t post about the bad times doesn’t mean they don’t happen, and I assume this is likely true for most people. Where I’m going with this is that people need time to have a break and recharge, whether you know they’re taking that time or not. If you follow them on social media, they’re probably not going to share a status update every time they need to take a step back. They’re only going to talk about it once the task is complete.

               There are a number of reasons it’s good to step away for a short time. One is that we sometimes develop tunnel vision. We become too focused, to the point where we’re unable to recognize subtle nuances. When I’ve stepped away from a puzzle, for example, my vision is much more broad when I return. This is why I can often find several pieces after I’ve stepped away for a short break. It’s also important to avoid burnout and stress. We also can spend our time on other tasks that are also important, knowing we’ll come back with a fresh view at a later time. Our minds need stimulation, and they can become bored easily when we’re overly focused on something that has become mundane. Perhaps we will discover the task brings us more joy when we step away and return later. Very likely, we will have greater success.

               Lent is a great time to step away from a project that consumes too much of our attention. I hear many people step away from social media or other types of communication during Lent. These practices don’t necessarily work for me, but I’ve heard people say they’ve enhanced their lives by stepping back. But I am a proponent of taking breaks and resetting my brain (and my heart!). If you’ve been by my office for a conversation then you’ve likely noticed I have a number of string instruments near my desk. Sometimes when we’re working on something important and I notice I’m feeling a little stuck, I grab my guitar or ukulele and invite the office staff to sing a song or two with me. While we’re singing, we’re stimulating a piece of our brains that lets us regain our focus and we’re able to work more efficiently when we return to whatever we’re working on. I encourage you to take some time during Lent to step away from projects you are working on and do something creative, fun, or playful. When you return to the projects, don’t be surprised if you find yourself enjoying them a little more and maybe even completing them with a little more pep in your step. Sometimes it’s important to simply step away from the project.

Take Five