Fire-fighting versus Sitting under a Tree

Image Credit: Official U.S. Navy Imagery

I attended a creativity workshop a few weeks ago at work. During a group discussion, we talked about the issue of time pressures as an obstacle to creativity. The busyness of work makes it so easy to fall back on the same mindless habitual patterns instead of coming up with creative and better methods of working. I shared two metaphorical images during the discussion which I will elaborate further in this blog post.

Too much time in life and in the workplace is spent fire-fighting and not enough time is spent sitting under the tree. Fire-fighting is both mentally and physically exhausting. This is because we are always reacting to the situation rather than responding to it. There is a certain adrenaline high when fire-fighting crises and conquering them, but due to it being so energy draining, it reduces the time required to sit under the tree to contemplate and come up with creative responses to our challenging problems.

You don’t have to fight all the fires in your life. Sometimes you have to let some fires burn themselves out. It takes discernment to identify which fires to tackle and which ones to ignore. Busyness doesn’t always result in productivity. Discernment comes from taking regular time-outs to sit under the tree to reflect, recharge, renew, rest and reconnect.

Image Credit: One Tiny Spark

The story goes that Isaac Newton was under an apple tree when he saw an apple fall from the tree. What he witnessed sparked a creative insight which led to his theory of gravity. Taking the time-out to contemplate allowed him to make the creative connection needed to solve a problem which he had. You don’t have to literally sit under a tree, although that is not a bad idea, but you do need regular time-outs from the same environment to contemplate and reflect. You need to sometimes get away from life’s trenches in order to see clearly.

Two benefits of regular time-outs {metaphorically or literally sit under the tree}:

(1) It enables you come up with creative fire-prevention ideas, if you maximise this contemplative sessions. These fire-prevention ideas enable you to spend less time fire-fighting because you move from always being in continuous crisis mode to a more strategic and proactive mode.

(2) it allows you to have the contemplative space to develop better and more effective / creative ways to fire-fight instead of using the same methods that have been unproductive. You can’t always plan for all consequences or outcomes but you can be prepared to cope with the unexpected.

One reply on “Fire-fighting versus Sitting under a Tree”

This is definitely an interesting piece, Prof. I can relate to the frustration of investing so much in trying to fight the fires instead of taking time to sit under the tree. These days I hear myself too often say ‘I don’t have time to stop’ and if I’m being honest with myself, it hasn’t really meant that I’ve been more productive or pleased with my results. I guess the important thing is to strike a balance in how much time to sit versus how much time to fight, and then which ones to fight. Hindsight is always 20/20, and now all I can do is try harder next academic year, but try it in a different way.

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