Work lessons from the back country

A tramping trip (that’s hiking for those of you unfamiliar with our antipodean lingo) doesn’t seem like the most likely place to learn things you can apply in your job.  But I’ve found that you can find lessons in the strangest places, and a 4 day trip along the Heaphy Track over New Years was no exception.

I was a LONG way from the office, enjoying some amazing scenery, and working hard to walk 20 km+ (12.5 miles) per day, but the trip gave me a lot of time to think.  And, being in the process of finding my purpose in life and a job in which I can move towards it, a lot of that thinking came back to work.

The thoughts that just kept on coming back were some great lessons:

  • Switch off to switch on
    Don’t get me wrong, I love the internet and my cell phone and my iPod.  One of my 5 StrengthsFinder strengths is Input, which basically means I love finding things out and accessing new information, so the internet is a wonder for me.  But  in the back country you can’t access the internet, which is a reminder that technology is not the only way to find information (in the current world, it’s easy to forget that fact).Switching off occasionally and forcing yourself to focus on your environment and the people around you really refreshes your mind, and might even give some new perspective on your work.
  • Create a routine
    The first day of our trip, the packing and unpacking was slow, we took a lot of time to find what we needed, and the day was a bit disjointed.  But as we moved on through, we all settled into a routine.  It was little things that changed, like packing things in the same place every day, and leaving the breakfast supplies out the night before so that the first person up could start the porridge (oatmeal), but it made a big difference, and by the last day we were flowing.Simple routines can affect any job.  If you’re doing the same thing day in day out, routine is unavoidable.  But even if your job changes day to day, certain routines shape your day and allow you to be more effective.  Whether it’s checking emails at set times, setting aside 1o minutes at the end of each day to plan the next day, or calendaring time with key people to ensure you catch up regularly, elements of routine can get you in the zone and make you feel a lot more positive about your job.
  • When it gets hard, take a break, but don’t stop for long
    When you’re walking so much, your legs do get tired.  I usually started off fresh and keen in the morning, but by the time I saw the “Hut 1 km” sign, I could not wait for that hut to arrive.  And when it got hard, it was oh so tempting to just have a big rest.  But as soon as we stopped for more than a couple of minutes, legs started to seize up, and it was so hard to get going again.  So we took quick breathers, but mostly pushed on slowly and steadily to the huts.And this lesson is true (sometimes) in work too.  When something gets hard, and you want to give up, a quick break is refreshing, but a long break often means not getting back into it at all.  This is particularly true for tasks with a deadline looming.  Like the hut, you have to get to the deadline, and if you take too long a break, the process of getting back into it takes up precious time.  Usually, pushing slowly and steadily to the end is far more effective.

That is far from all of the things I came up with on the trip.  Solutions to the world’s problems, how to deal with grumpy old men, best card games, how best to make pancakes on the trail were all discussed.  But these were the biggest lessons I’ll be taking back to work when I start.  And to my life in general.

In fact, my monthly theme (my version of resolutions for 2012) for January is ‘Creating Effective Routines’ (lesson 2).  And part of that will be instituting monthly ‘Amish days’, where I’ll be switching right off (lesson 1) and spending time thinking and talking.

Just goes to show that inspiration can come from the most unlikely places, and work can come to mind even when you’re out in the middle of nowhere!

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