Retreat Reflect Return

By Mike Maddaloni on Monday, August 24, 2015 at 08:41 PM with 0 comments

photo of The Freedom Principle mural at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

You have certainly heard the expression, “if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Where the idea behind it is that when things are going (or cooking) it can get intense. However I don't think the phrase was to infer you have to spend every waking moment in the thick of it. At least I don't think that.

Early in my career this was something I learned – you need to sometimes get a break from it all – even for a little bit – to be able to keep sharp and focused on the task at hand. Not to forget if you are stuck on something, staring at it all day in itself will not solve it.

Early Lesson Learned

Years ago I was told a story by a manager at the time that really hit home with me, and changed my work habits to include stepping away from it all.

In the story, he was in a distribution center, standing among the racks of palleted merchandise with senior executives of the client. There was a problem and everyone was talking but nobody was really contributing to the situation. In the middle of this, he hopped on a hydraulic scissor lift and went up about 3 levels of the racks. Several minutes later, he lowered the lift and descended, and had the solution to the problem.

Where all of the clients thought he went up on the lift to physically solve the problem, he actually did so to get away! He couldn't think among the bloviating of everybody so he went up the lift, and away from them, to clear his head and logically solve the problem, which he was able to do once free of the clutter. The client was impressed, and in the end had no idea they could have been an impediment to solving the issue at hand.

In short, what he did was retreat, reflect and return.

This is something I have done and continue to do. I touched on this when I wrote how I came up with the name of my Web site assessment checklist. Among some of the ways I have and still do retreat, reflect and return to the workplace include:

  • Penguins – When I worked in downtown Boston I would go to the New England Aquarium and lean over the railing of the penguin pool at the base of the giant tank. I would stand there and watch the penguins for a while. They have such a simple life, and watching their interactions with each other made for a great way to clear my head.
  • Plymouth Rock – When I worked in the town where the Pilgrims from England landed in the New World in 1620, I would occasionally go to a sub shop in the center of Plymouth, Massachusetts, across the street from the infamous rock on which the Pilgrims reportedly were first to step on when descending from their ship. I would take my lunch from said sub shop and eat it while leaning over the railing of the shelter which covers the Rock. Staring at the Rock and Plymouth Bay behind it was a great stress reliever.
  • Modern art – My latest venue is the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, located across the street from my newly-joined workplace. Though said workplace is a great environment to work in and in no way stressful than, say, my last job, it is still nice to recharge my brain a bit on Tuesdays when the museum is free to Illinois residents. I do plan on getting a membership there as I may find the need to think a little differently on another day of the week other than Tuesday.

I am eager to hear if you have any techniques – or destinations – of your own, when you retreat, reflect and return. Please share then in the comments of this post.


This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.


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