After a break that stretched too many years, I have been riding my bike a lot lately. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a preachy post about the value of exercise, or good nutrition. There’s a lot out there on that, and everyone should make their own choices in life. No one who has met me would mistake me for a long-lost Schleck brother, and I’ve got a very long way to go before anyone’s likely to ask me for fitness advice.
However, I have discovered an unanticipated side benefit of spending 4 or 5 hours a week on a bike. It is time during the week that I’m not talking, looking at a computer screen, playing with my Droid, listening to the news, or engaged with one of the 27 other beeping, flashing, ringing, or yelling things trying to get my attention. I focus on the task at hand, and find myself thinking through problems, organizing my day, and coming up with solutions that I might not have found if I wasn’t unplugged.
We’re all busy. Work, family, and a variety of everyday tasks can eat up weeks before we come up for air, but it turns out that taking a step back every once in a while may help me be more effective when I am plugged in. I was talking to a colleague from Italy a few weeks ago who has noticed the same phenomenon when he rides his Harley through the countryside. The concentration it requires forces his brain to start working in ways that it doesn’t get a chance to when he is sitting at his desk. I don’t think everyone should jump on a bike or run out and buy a motorcycle, but my admittedly anectodal study suggests that finding some activity that fully engages your mind will sharpen you and help solve problems even though you’re not staring right at them.
I’m curious what you all do with off time that helps maintain your focus and sanity, and if you have found it has a positive effect on your workday. Drop me a note in the comments, if you can find the time.