Floating & Productivity

Women floating in a pool. Being productive and achieving success: floating.

When it comes to productivity, phrases such as “be intentional,” “set and pursue your goals,” “plan your work and work your plan,” and “never give up” are commonly tossed around. Living in coastal Connecticut, I’ve also noticed the popularity of nautical metaphors to describe productive people, such as those who “chart their own course,” and “row downstream.” A couple of weeks ago I joined in on this trend, blogging about the importance of having an “anchor” in life to help us keep going when times gets rough. Nevertheless, there is one water-related word that rarely gets mentioned in conversations about being productive and achieving success: floating.

In my experience, floating is rarely held aloft as a desirable behavior. The very word suggests a lack of direction, control, and efficiency. The idea of floating is generally frowned upon. After all, successful people don’t float through life. They set a plan, determine their steps, and move purposefully forward.

As a productivity consultant, I completely agree that we have a role to play in how our lives progress. I am a big fan of clarifying goals and crafting strategies for achieving our dreams. I love to-do lists, calendars, PERT charts, accountability partners, time management apps, reminder alerts, and all such related tools. At the same time, I recently had an experience that gave me a new perspective on the concept of floating.

Last week I visited Tucson, AZ to celebrate my daughter’s graduation with a master’s degree in Speech & Language Pathology from the University of AZ. My husband and I decided to spend the week since it is a long journey from CT to AZ, and while we were there we were able to enjoy some of the local activities. One such opportunity was to float in an inner tube along a “lazy river” that had been built at our hotel. It was a hot day, and my daughter and I hopped into large, inflated tubes and began a ride around the loop. We had such a delightful experience that each time we neared our point of entry/exit, we decided to just “go around one more time.” After four cycles, we conceded that it was time to get out and dry off, but we did so reluctantly.

As we sat on chairs, we found ourselves reflecting on why the float had been so pleasant. Here are a few of our observations:

  • Floating is relaxing. The water moved at a leisurely pace.
  • Floating fosters reflection. Since we weren’t “driving,” we had time to look around, consider the clouds, notice other people, listen to the birds, and let our minds wander.
  • Floating is cooling. Floating along the river cooled us off physically, but it also slowed us down emotionally. We had been running full steam ahead with the excitement and activity of the graduation ceremonies, and this ride was soothing to our minds.
  • Floating can be social. As we floated along, legs and arms dangling in the water, we had a great conversation. There were no phones ringing, no texts coming in, no one needing us, and no alarms going off. We had the breathing room to give one another our full attention.
  • Floating is uncontrolled. The river-shaped pool had built-in propulsion to keep the tubes and their occupants moving smoothly and safely. We didn’t need to steer, or make sure the water was properly chlorinated, or watch to see that everyone was safe. The hotel and their systems did those things. We were simply able to put our heads back and ride.

This “lazy river float” reminded me of the importance of setting aside time in our busy, structured, productive lives to let go and truly relax. Every now and then, and especially during particularly hectic and stressful seasons, we need to break away from our frenetic “doing” and do a little floating.

What does “good floating” look like? Here are a few ideas.

=> Good floating takes place within boundaries.

The reason my daughter and I were able to relax was because we felt safe within the walls of the loop-shaped pool. We didn’t need to make decisions about where to go, and we weren’t fearful of encountering obstacles or rapids, the way we might have been on a real river. Floating experiences are best when they don’t feel risky.

=> Good floating is periodic.

As much as we loved the lazy river, my daughter and I would not have wanted to stay there forever. In fact, the excursion was valuable because it was special. It represented a break from our otherwise demanding – yet purposeful – routines.

=> Good floating provides new perspective.

While my daughter and I floated along, we sometimes laid our heads back and looked up at the sky. Looking at the world upside down made all kinds of thoughts pop into my head that I don’t usually have. Good floating fosters creativity and challenges our traditional thought patterns.

=> Good floating does not foster competition – with other people or with ourselves.

There is no way to “win” or “improve” in a lazy river. There is no beginning, and therefore no finish line. There is no practicing or progressing. Floating should be a release from the need to achieve and improve.

=> Good floating welcomes blank space.

It is hard to float along when the pool is jammed with people. That is more like “bumper boats,” which, while fun, is a completely different experience. Floating should allow us to exhale, to move and breathe without hindrance, and to be unprogrammed. It is a reminder that we don’t need to fill every moment (or every shelf, every container, every hour…).

*     *     *

Floating is a reprieve from our normal responsibilities and pressures. We don’t want to spend our lives floating, but every now and then, it can enrich our thinking and hence our choices.

When was the last time you “floated?” How did you feel after that experience?