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?

26 thoughts on “Floating & Productivity”

  1. I admit I need to do this more often if possible. This weekend I did get a bit of downtime just floated yesterday during the rainy stormy weather here. But I do definitely need to remind myself to do just that more often. So, thanks for the reminder here ?

    1. Yesterday in New England we could have literally floated, right? What a couple of days on the weather front! Hope today you can float with a bit of warmer air and sunshine!

  2. I live this Seana. Sounds like a wonderful experience with your daughter. I think the closest I would have to the feeling of floating would be going for a walk or a drive. My favourite is going on an adventure at the beginning of the day and not planning but just embracing whatever comes up. I need to float more.
    Kim recently posted…Change Can Be Hard, But You Got ThisMy Profile

    1. I need to float more myself. Going for a walk is definitely an experience that gets me through sometimes. There is something earthy and granular about walking. A relaxed drive can also be a treat, especially early in the morning as you say, before the crowds are on the right. I also love driving on a summer night with the windows down. That feels like vacation to me!

  3. I float in my hot tub. (I never use the jets.) I’m going nowhere, of course, but it’s relaxing. Although….I also usually have an audio book or podcast with me that precludes beneficial mind wandering. I think it’s time to try without again.

    1. A hot tub sounds divine! My daughter has one at her apartment complex in AZ and they use it all the time. Every time she mentions it, I’m a little jealous. Like you, I usually have a book or podcast going, but it is important to disconnect every now and then and just listen and think.

  4. This is a such great way to reframe relaxation! I’m thinking I could use some floating myself – maybe it shouldn’t be called a “Lazy River”. Maybe, “Reprieve River” or “Thoughtful River”?
    Sara Skillen recently posted…Drawing a BlankMy Profile

  5. Great perspective, Seana. I love lazy rivers! I know exactly what you are talking about because I’ve done this sort of thing at a hotel also. I like to ‘float’ through my days when I am on vacation. Honestly, to do that it’s important for me not to be at home. I can always find something purposeful to do at home. I can relax at home but not float and, I think there is a difference. Floating through vacation days for me means there’s no schedule at all – no dogs to walk, no emails to answer, no place to be at any specific time. I love it but only for a short period of time and then I have a need to get back to my routine. Floating provides a wonderful break and is great (for me) in small doses.

    1. I completely agree that it is hard to float at home, especially in the house. We are just too aware of the “to do” list, and it is all sitting there in plain sight. My friend wisely says we need to “get out of the zip code.” That has stuck with me!

  6. I love the comment – Good floating provides new perspective – I hope to do a bit of “floating” today as I visit the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. Recently had some more worries concerning my husband’s health journey and for a while today we plan just to walk a bit and sit a lot and look at the sky, flowers, and people around us.
    Thank you for your post.

    1. That is a beautiful place to float. I’m so sorry to hear about the health challenges. Issue around our health are unsettling, out of our control, and yet still require we make decisions. So stressful! I’ll pray for you both today, and for complete clarity and healing.

    1. That’s an interesting take on floating. I think for productive people, floating can actually be a bit challenging. But, once we get into the groove, it does feel so good!

  7. I really loved this, Seana. Years ago, I started telling friends who felt pressed to always go forward in their careers “full speed ahead” that I thought that, “Being smart doesn’t obligate you to always be aspirational.” Sometimes, we need to steer the ship, but we need to make times in our lives for floating. In my personal olden days, I never gave myself permission to float; I was always in a race, and I lost the skill of living in the moment. These days, whether working or traveling or just going through life, I’m strengthened those floating muscles, and it means all the difference. Thank you for writing this.
    Julie Bestry recently posted…Noteworthy Notebooks (Part 2): The Big Names in Erasable NotebooksMy Profile

    1. I’m working on strengthening my floating muscle as well. It doesn’t come well to entrepreneurs, does it? There is always so much to do. However, I do think it gives us valuable perspective, and we deserve to enjoy our lives as much as anyone else!

  8. Floating a lazy river has been something I love for a long time! In our community we have a lazy river connected to a water park (also lots of fun to be sliding down those tubes.) It is a chance to relax while connecting to others. It may be hard for some of us to intentionally relax. It might take extra effort to do this. I am so glad you enjoyed this time!

    1. Yes, I think it takes effort to relax – isn’t that crazy? It is definitely true for me. BUT, once I finally get started, I definitely enjoy it:).

  9. Oh my goodness. I love that. And I know you’re not being literal, but I LOVE those lazy river rides at hotels and theme parks. I love that they’re uncontrolled although the one at our Six Flags has places where you can get drenched, so that causes a little anxiety for Des. Otherwise, perfection.
    I’m struggling to come up with specific examples, but I know I have had that feeling, especially during this last trying year.

    1. I definitely are more creative away from devices. Being out in nature feeds and nourishes us in a powerful way, and I find the time quite inspiring. This time of year, I head to the beach whenever I can!

  10. Beautiful! I grew up in England where we use “pottering” to describe a sort of gentle floating like this – some small task occupies us, like checking out the seedlings or turning out a drawer, but without stress or pressure. We move consciously but easily as we take care of a little task without any internal pressure at all. It’s a way to give the mind something to focus on so we can relax. I love my “moving meditation”!

    Congratulations to your daughter on her accomplishment and to your whole family for the support that helped her get there.

    1. Thanks so much, Lucy. I’m so happy for my daughter, and we feel blessed to have had a wonderful time celebrating together. I love the phrase, “pottering.” After a heavy day or week of thinking, having something mindless to do is such a treat!

  11. Great analysis. I think of when I was learning to swim. The teachers would say if you get tired, turn over and float. This allows you to rest and rejuvenate from the physical activities of swimming. I can see how to be most productive you need to “float” on a regular basis to be at your best.

    1. Oh, I totally remember the swim instructors telling me that. What a terrific comment and thought on this topic! We definitely need to rest and float, right?

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