Why You Need a “Deloading” Phase in Life

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deloading phase

I’ve written about my morning journaling routine once before.

But my journaling–think of it as freezing thinking on paper–isn’t limited to mornings. I use it as a tool to clarify my thinking and goals, much as Kevin Kelly (one of my favorite humans) does. The paper is like a photography darkroom for my mind.

Below is a scan of a real page. Both entries are from October 2015.

The first entry (top half) is simply a list of “fun” things I felt compelled to schedule after the unexpected death of a close friend. Since I’ve ticked all of the bullets off. You’ll notice that I blurred out a few sensitive bits, and I won’t spend time on this entry in this post.

The second entry (bottom half) was written in Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco after a two-hour walk. The gestation period during walking and subsequent entry lead me to re-incorporate “deloading” phases in my life. “Deloading” is a term often used in strength and athletic training, but it’s a concept that can be applied to many areas. Let’s look at the sports definition, here from T Nation:

A back-off week, or deload, is a planned reduction in exercise volume or intensity. In collegiate strength-training circles, it’s referred to as the unloading week, and is often inserted between phases or periods. Quoting from Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning: “The purpose of this unloading week is to prepare the body for the increased demand of the next phase or period,” and to mitigate the risk of overtraining.

So, how does this relate to creativity, productivity, or quality of life?

First, I’ll give a personal outcome — In the last 12 months, I’ve used “deloading” outside of sports to decrease my anxiety at least 50% while simultaneously doubling my income.

Deloading for business, in my case, consists of strategically taking my foot off the gas. I alternate intense periods of batching similar tasks (recording podcasts, clearing the inbox, writing blog posts, handling accounting, etc.) with extended periods of — for lack of poetic description — unplugging and fucking around.  Oddly enough, I find both the batching and unplugging to free up bandwidth and be restorative.

The unplug can still be intense (here’s a personal example in Bali), but you shouldn’t be working on “work.”

Let’s dig into the journal entry, as it provides much of the reasoning.

I’ve provided the scan (click to enlarge) and transcribed the entry below it, including many additional thoughts. The journal itself (Morning Pages Workbook) I explain here:

IMG_5998_V2

Now, the transcription with revisions and additional thoughts:

– TUES – SAMOVAR @ 5:40PM –

The great “deloading” phase.

This is what I’m experiencing this afternoon, and it makes a Tuesday feel like a lazy Sunday morning. This is when the muse is most likely to visit.

I need to get back to the slack.

To the pregnant void of infinite possibilities, only possible with a lack of obligation, or at least, no compulsive reactivity. Perhaps this is only possible with the negative space to–as Kurt Vonnegut put it–fart around? To do things for the hell of it? For no damn good reason at all?

I feel that the big ideas come from these periods. It’s the silence between the notes that makes the music.

If you want to create or be anything lateral, bigger, better, or truly different, you need room to ask “what if?” without a conference call in 15 minutes.  The aha moments rarely come from the incremental inbox-clearing mentality of, “Oh, fuck… I forgot to… Please remind me to… Shouldn’t I?…I must remember to…”

That is the land of the lost, and we all become lost.

My Tuesday experience reinforced, for me, the importance of creating large uninterrupted blocks of time (a la maker’s schedule versus manager’s schedule), in which your mind can wander, ponder, and find the signal amidst the noise. If you’re lucky, it might even create a signal, or connect two signals (core ideas) that have never shaken hands before.

For me, I’ve scheduled “deloading” phases in a few ways: roughly 8am-9am daily for journaling, tea routines, etc.; 9am-1pm every Wednesday for creative output (i.e. writing, interviewing for the podcast); and “screen-free Saturdays,” when I use no laptops and only use my phone for maps and coordinating with friends via text (no apps).  Of course, I also use mini-retirements a few time a year.

“Deloading” blocks must be scheduled and defended as strongly as–actually, more strongly than–your business commitments. The former can be a force multiplier for the latter, but not vice-versa.

So, how can one throttle back the reactive living that has them following everyone’s agenda except their own?

Create slack, as no one will give it to you. This is the only way to swim forward instead of treading water.

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Did you enjoy this? Please let me know in the comments.  I’d also love to hear of how you “deload,” if you do.

If you’d like more on my morning routines, here are five habits that help me tremendously.

As always, thanks for reading.

Posted on: March 29, 2016.

Please check out Tools of Titans, my new book, which shares the tactics, routines, and habits of billionaires, icons, and world-class performers. It was distilled from more than 10,000 pages of notes, and everything has been vetted and tested in my own life in some fashion. The tips and tricks in Tools of Titans changed my life, and I hope the same for you. Click here for sample chapters, full details, and a Foreword from Arnold Schwarzenegger!

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143 comments on “Why You Need a “Deloading” Phase in Life

  1. Trusting yourself is difficult.
    I need to deload every week at least. I’m a small scale farmer and have a somewhat endless list of to-dos and sometimes when they are all present in my head at the same time, I crack under the pressure.
    But of course I wouldn’t show that outwardly. I appreciate this post as a demonstration of the cracks in the armor.
    One thing I have come to terms with in the last few years is that just as there is no one, other then your self, that can help you forward to pursue your dreams, there is also no one other then yourself who knows exactly what you need to do to manage your life and all of it’s stresses.

    I trust my inner sensei, he seems to know the path forward.

    Like

  2. You know what I like about you? Would love to meet you, but I DON’T need to. You put it all out there, and for those that are listening…it is loud and clear. It’s fun being LUCID with you Tim. Much Love, maybe see you, maybe not…time will tell. PS How is your Wood Stove treating you?!?! Is it Legit?

    Like

  3. I seem to be doing the opposite of deloading and cannot figurecout why. These are choices, no doubt. But what’s good, such as buying a house on the river ultimately adfs to my stress. And it’s just me and the dog. So there’s that.

    Like

  4. Tis better to do them on your own schedule than to burn out and be forced to… Deload as you call it. I wore myself to the bone and life has handed me a reload phase.

    I think I will use this philosophy moving forward as a way to “get back to work” in a manageable way.

    Thank you for sharing. This is such an important concept to retain sanity in this whirling world.

    Like

  5. Hi Tim,

    What a great article. The value you share has made such an impact on me throughout the last couple years, I must show my appreciation, so I’ll start here. It’s interesting that a simple practice of “deloading” can catalyze creativity in such a natural way and you make it make perfect sense. I’ve recently began to practice a similar concept but haven’t been sure of its affectiveness or how to refer to it. Now it’s clear. Thanks for once again bringing clarity to my cloudy and sometimes unclear intuitions. You do this for me more than anyone I know. Your fuckin awesome! Keep making great work.

    Quinton

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  6. Tim, This is answering some of my own questions. I take off 24 hours a week from the grind and I find that my creative brain turns on even more when I step away. I step away for spiritual reasons and now I can feel less guilty because of what you have shared!

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  7. Right,
    Your creativity heals you and the others.
    It’s really good to listen about this loading phase concept to prepare the body for the increased demand of the next phase. Really encouraging that decoding may be intentional or unintentional. So, you have talked about a tool of motivation for the unintentional loading phase, like someone got injured, or women in pregnancy, consider this period of recovery as the developing phase waiting and preparing themselves for the motivational move of the next phase.

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  8. Hey, Tim!

    Really interesting idea – I do something similar myself by ‘vanishing’ from time to time. Calms the mind; clears the head. More recently, I suggested it as a wellness tactic to a chap who works with me. He’s suffered with a very long period of ill health, but no diagnosis. Deloading helped him – he’s a lot better physically, but his mental state is incredible! Really creative. Proof that a busy-ness culture really is counter productive.

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  9. Funny you talk about deloading. I have worked this way most of my life and for many years would be like “why can’t I simply balance my life? And try to force a more regimented thought process into my work habits which simply backfired as my Aaah hah moments were fewer and farther in between. I have recently come to embrace the deloading period as much good comes from giving the opportunity to let the mind be free And puzzles get solved and new initiatives take place after. Hey thanks for all your insight I love reading your stuff!

    Like

  10. Great post! Deloading works, sometimes even unplanned, it’s as if your life makes you take the time off to get ready for something new. I am listening to your podcasts and read your books. However, is there like a step-by-step approach, which would include all these different tools? Thank you!

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  11. I think of it in terms of being a sabbatical. In my case I left a stressful and dissapointing job after nine years. I needed time to just sit and write and doodle in order to let the dust settle, or clear the cob webs, or sweat it out, or whatever metaphor floats the boat. This also came after a period of losing several dear people in my life and it absolutely caused me to think about what I want to spent my time on. It was not a three hour commute and working with the public.
    A year and a half later I am still afloat and convinced I never did a more important thing. I do not know what is next but I am sure i will be fully present for it.

    Like

  12. Justification for deloading is incredibly helpful, especially when it comes to defending — and demonstrating the benefits of — mini-retirements to one’s boss. Blog posts on the latter topic would be very much appreciated.

    Like

  13. Thanks for this post and explaining it so well. I try to do this on a regular basis. To have little oasis all the time instead of one big chunk of time off, a long holiday or whatever. I find myself not even wanting a long holiday and not needing it, I love my work so much. Instead always making time to recharge in between, that is so helpful, it works wonders.

    Like

  14. Great article (TF – your output has been my most trusted / most used source of advice for years. Inspired.)
    Rob Bell’s recent podcast speaks to this same theme. I’m paraphrasing but – ‘we are designed to follow a sine curve of natural rhythms – night/day, up/down, summer/winter, etc.’ To be always on, always ‘more’ denies this natural rhythm. It’s hardly surprising that the result of such a high-octane lifestyle is often physical or mental destruction.

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  15. Hi Tim, love the post. Currently in quite a lengthy deloading phase after competing in the Paralympics. At times I feel guilty that I should be doing more but when I think about the 5 years straight of travel and tournaments I just lean into my chair a little deeper and get comfy. Meanwhile I am looking forward to getting back into training and business soon. All the best, love everything you do. A

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  16. Great way to spend your time Tim.

    I usually think of the time I spend like this as a “stay cation” stay home not work and do non carrier related things. Where I might go out of the way to hike somewhere new, eat somewhere different and certainly catch up on sleep. It’s a great way to take the time to do things you always wanted to do in your own city that you normally say “that will always be there, I can do it later” then later becomes never.

    Stay frosty Tim.

    2

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  17. Hey man, I always appreciate the advice you give. I also love how you write it exactly how you’d say it. Without a filter, and not too serious, yet serious lol. The podcast is freaking awesome too Tim. Keep it going brother.

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  18. Well said Tim! I couldn’t have said it better myself. Morning Journaling seems to provide a great deal of clarity. Going with your deloading concept, I’ve had something similar, it’s important to map things out and play with your thoughts; to reassess your goal and purpose and just figure out what you want to do at a given time! I don’t work in a high-stress business, but I’m studying chemistry and balancing life. You have to find a system that works for you!

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  19. I loved this article! My best ideas come when I am away from all commitments and can let my mind wander and do its work.

    I like to start my day with scheduled downtime and I find amazing things happen when I do.

    Thank you Tim for all you do! You have a high purpose here!

    Like

  20. This is pretty great. It has dawned on me recently, (why just recently???) that, since I’ve been a self employed graphic and web designer for the past 15 years, there’s NEVER a time in my life where I can completely feel free of that ‘something’ I have to do for a client, for tax purposes, or for my business. True relaxation seems just out of reach, and it’s exhausting. I’m going to build in some deloading time, thank you!

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  21. You put into words exactly what my husband and I are experiencing right now!

    In the early part of last year, we felt like we were stagnant. We had all of these ideas floating around, but no connections being made between them, no time to riff, no time for the “muse to visit” as you say. So we took off. We left our home town and temporarily moved across the country. We were craving that SPACE. It was a big jump and IT HAS WORKED! Why? We’ve decreased our obligations significantly. That part of your post resonated with me.. huge. We are working remotely (big thanks to 4HWW!), so we do have some obligations obviously, but we’re doing things on our schedule way more often than we were before.

    My creativity is pumping, my motivation is back, I’m working out more, taking care of myself, my business is getting back on track, I feel HAPPIER, less stressed, less anxious, etc., etc., the list goes on. I’m now a true believer in “deloading” – thanks so much for articulating what my husband and I have been feeling. We are MASSIVE fans of yours. I’m finishing up Chris Hadfield’s book and then going to dive nose deep into Tools of Titans. MUCH LOVE!!!!!

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  22. I’ve taken mini-retirements for the past 10 years, although I’d never heard it referred to this way. When I finish teaching this April, I’m about to take another 4 months off. And you’re so right! Those are the times that I’m most creative and open to learning and creating! Love your work!

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