Intensives go like hell and then rest like the dead. Sometimes we go like hell and then… just stop. Let’s talk about that.

The Nap Ministry:

Madeline Pendleton:

Transcript and notes:

Recorded 29 January 2023.


Hi, everyone. Thanks for tuning in.

You know, one of the questions that I get the most when I talk about intensives and expansives, is: intensive stop. So if you've been around for a minute, you know that I talk about how intensives have phasic work cycles, we work like hell, and then we rest like the dead. That's just how we are. That's just how we do things. And that's all well and good when we're in the GO phase, when we're in the intensive go phase. Right?

We're go, go, go, go, we're really into it, we're really excited about whatever we're working on, we're engaged by the projects we have, we're inspired we're in flow, we are making connections that nobody else is making. We're understanding things that nobody else is understanding. Sometimes we're even able to convey them effectively. That's a whole other topic.

But that energy sustains us, it motivates us, it nourishes us, it- for many of us, it gives us a sense of value, a sense of purpose, a sense of place in the world. And then it stops. And there's really nothing else to say because it's such a complete stop. One day, it's all right there, we've got all this energy. And maybe we get warning in the form of like one denouement day. One day, when it's kind of on the downhill.

And then it's just gone, it's gone. We don't care about it, we don't want to engage with it, we don't want to look at it. And for many of us, there's a physical discomfort that comes with engaging with the thing after the stop happens. So trying to work when we're not able to engage can make us feel nauseous, it can make us feel like itchy on the inside of our skin, it can make our muscles feel weird. Like three's a physiological sense for many of us. Not all of us. But many of us, when we hit this intensive stop. It's a very complete full body, "you cannot do this anymore" message.

Unfortunately, we don't live in a culture, here in, you know, late-stage-capitalism-driven North America, most of us don't live in a culture where that's acceptable, or whether it's even explicable. People just don't comprehend it. You can't just say, "Oh, well, I'm not able to do any work." "Well, for how long?" "I don't know, until my body decides I'm ready, until my mind decides it's ready, until I've had enough rest." Right?

And I think this is a very healthy thing for us in kind of an abstract way, such that we cannot work when we are overtaxed. And if we do, we burn out so completely and so rapidly, that we literally will become ill. Obviously, that's not the best way to stay alive in this cultural moment. But it does keep us from pushing ourselves the way that an expansive might, pushing, pushing, pushing, pushing- When we try to push like that, we get a very clear set of pieces of feedback from our systems. And then we know that we are self destructing. It's like knowing that you're eating your own flesh, while you're still trying to walk around.

And I believe that this was probably really effective in ancient times when somebody had to be a hunter. And hunting is go-go-go. Sometimes you have to push. But almost always, if you're persistent enough, if you're smart enough, if you have those intuitive senses that nobody else has, you can find the thing that you need. And you can, you can finish your task, and then rest. Eat and rest.

This is not as much an agricultural cycle as it is a hunter cycle, as it is a gatherer cycle, right? It's "okay, it's time to gather the whatever, guess we better all take our baskets and bags and go out and gather it and then come home and rest." Go and then rest, go and then rest. Ebb and flow. It's a very natural cycle.

But the problem is that, in this cultural context, in this space, and especially as leaders, there's not a lot of room made or left for us to do the resting. And in fact, one of the big problems that we have, when we're interacting with expansives is that expansives expect us to perform at that same level that we were performing at, over and over and over again, right every day, same amount of performance every day, same amount of energy without fail without break without pause. And that's not how it works.

We have a similar amount of energy to somebody who only works a couple hours a day we just jam it all into a few days or a few hours. And then we need to rest. We need a huge amount of rest and it needs to be a very deep and complete kind of rest. So what does it look like when we hit that need in the middle of... this? In the middle of late stage capitalism, in the middle of racism and sexism and homophobia, and all these other things that demand of us extra. That demand of us that we ignore injustice just to get up in the morning just to eat our breakfast, just to heat our homes. What does that do? It's very taxing.

Moral injury, I would argue, is much more taxing for intensives than it is for a lot of other people. We have a very strong sense of morality. Most of the time, we have a very strong sense of morality. And we'd like to apply it everywhere all the time. We don't like exceptions to that. Obviously, there are intensives, who learn to ignore it, or who twist it so that they can do immoral things consistently. There are a number of world leaders throughout history that I would argue who were intensives. And they did really horrifying things.

So I'm not saying that intensives have cornered the market on, on good ethics or good morals. Simply that when we have them, we are kind of compelled to apply them, we can't have them and not apply them.

So then what? So we go, we go, we go. And then we hit this wall, and we stop and what happens? There are some pragmatic suggestions I have, obviously. If you're running your own business, or if you're a leader, having a stack of low octane tasks that maybe aren't that appealing, or aren't that engaging, when you're in that high energy, highly creative go mode.

Saving those tasks for these moments can be really helpful can be really useful. So if you have a list or a project management tool, like clickup, or notion, or any of the other ones out there, having just a section where you put things that are kind of boring tasks, little mundane tasks, tasks that have the qualities of expensiveness, or the demand the qualities of expansiveness, sometimes those are things you can do in these moments.

This morning, I got up and I, I applied by hand, gathering stitches to several panels of a skirt that I'm working on. It's possible to gather things by machine, people do it all the time. But for a variety of reasons I wanted hand stitching for these particular skirt panels. And usually it's something I chafe at, but my brain was so tired, I was in such a slow, deep place. And for me, this is a combination of intensive stop and depression, which have visited me simultaneously.

I was able to just sit in a sunbeam, listen to a podcast that I really wanted to listen to, and put these stitches in. And that was obviously a personal thing. It was, you know, today's Sunday. But even being able to do that, with my business, being able to say, oh, today is a day that I could, I could pull all the data out of my bank account and go through and make sure that all the personal expenditures from the business account are marked, so that I don't mess that up when I do my taxes. Like that's something that requires some concentration. So I won't necessarily be able to do that with depression. But in straight up intensive stop, it's not so bad.

So you can set yourself up, to have things that you can do, knowing that intensive stuff is coming. But the most important thing is not to sit there and flog yourself for not being able to do the big inspired things, to not pressure yourself to show up in the way that you show up when you're in intensive go mode. When you're in intensive stop mode. You can't do it. And insisting that you should, is only going to make things worse.

Because what you need during intensive stop is this complete rest, this complete release of all of the work tasks, of all of the demanding creative tasks. It's almost- it's not burnout, but it's but it's got some of the some of the similar qualities to burnout in that you cannot focus on anything. And anytime you try to focus on something, it extends this stop phase. You haven't done anything wrong. This is just how we operate. We go and then we stop. It's not something that we can prevent.

But it is something that we can allow to have its natural cycle. If we recognize that that's what's happening. And we allow ourselves to put down this intense creativity when the stop arrives. Now, as a manager, you may have deadlines that you need to work around. As a founder, you may have deadlines that you need people to work around. As an employee you may need to show up in particular ways.

So when you're working- when you're in a work context, and you're working with people and external systems and things that have deadlines- Like, you know, in my life as a parish Minister, I used to have to preach three times a month, that wasn't something I could reschedule.

What I could do is have different ways of presenting a sermon, have different ways of creating a sermon, have different tones, and attitudes and energy levels for the sermon. You know, tuck away little contemplative pieces of writing throughout the week, if I was writing in intensive stop mode. I couldn't stop creating entirely. But I could, I could stash material when I was in go mode for go mode. I could decide I was going to do a sermon that was all reading other people's poetry, which is nourishing.

There were options. But in order to use those options, I had to recognize that it was okay for me to use those options. And that that was what was necessary in that moment. As a manager, the best thing you can do is let people know what the big picture deadline is, and discourage people from taking on a lot, even though they look like they can handle it.

Like if they're three weeks, and they have a project that should take half of three weeks, maybe give them a couple of little projects rather than another three week big project. Because that other three week big project is the thing that's gonna put the pressure on, right. And if, if they're okay, if they don't hit intensives, stop during those three weeks, it'll be fine. But if they do hit intensive stop during those three weeks, then what's going to happen is, they're not going to have the capacity to do everything they said they were going to do, and then they're going to feel bad about it. And then they're not going to know what to do next.

So if you can make the space for them, to flex their own schedule, and then- coach and support them to flex their own schedule, to plan for the times of higher energy and plan for the times of lower energy, and expect that. And make accommodations for that. If you can let them work from home when they need to work from home- it may be that slicing the commute time energy-focus off the ends of their day is what's necessary to give them the space they need, to be able to stay in this very lightweight engagement. And still get the work done, still tie up the loose ends.

Making sure that they have enough support, making sure that if there are administrative tasks that you can take off someone's plate- If you can see they're going into intensive stop, see if you can redistribute the tasks, take things off their plate. Make sure they have administrative or other kinds of- expansive support is really what I mean when I say administrative support, support for things that whatever it is that doesn't come easily to them. Because ideally, that's what we do for everyone. Right?

The more I think about this work and the more I work with this work, the clearer it becomes to me that what this is really about Is everybody getting their needs met all the time. Which is disability justice. Which is racial justice. Which is justice. Justice, it's justice work.

Which you know- who's surprised that I'm doing justice work? If you're surprised you haven't been here very long. Welcome. It's not surprising that I do justice work, that I developed another angle, another form of justice work, in the course of trying to enact a better workplace. A more supportive life for people, more joy, less pain, more pleasure, less pain.

So it looks like knowing what tasks you can do when you're in intensive stop. It looks like offering your people as much support as they need when they're in intensive stop. Offering yourself as much support as you need when you're in intensive stop. It means cutting everything you possibly can off your calendar. It means listening to your intuition when your intuition says "ech, I don't really want to do anything on Tuesday, and there's nothing on my calendar. But technically I'm supposed to leave that time open so people can make appointments."

It means blocking the calendar because you don't know whether you're going into intensive stop. You can always fill it up the day of. There's always plenty to do. We all know that. But you don't have to fill it up. You can just leave it spacious and open and soft.

It means allowing yourself to do something that doesn't look work-related, even in the middle of your work day. Because that's probably going to free up the brain cells. It's going to give you that nourishment, that replenishment, that space that you need to ease back out of intensive stop.

But the thing is, there's nothing wrong with intensive stop. Right? The thing that makes it challenging or difficult is the environment we live, in the society we live in, the demands that are put on us externally. But there's nothing morally wrong with stopping. There's nothing morally wrong with resting. And of course, this dovetails brilliantly with the Nap Ministry and other people calling for a culture of persistent rest. A culture that elevates rest, especially for leaders.

Often we say, "Okay, well, you know, rank and file folks need a break every so often. But leadership is expected to be able to be on call." And that's part of how we justify the amount of money that we sometimes pay high level leaders. Honestly, I think we should pay everybody more. And I think that high level leaders do take on a level of responsibility and attention, persistent attention, to whatever they're doing. That explains some of the salary differences.

But I can also absolutely see the argument for you know, Madeline Pendleton's method. She's very well known on TikTok, if you haven't seen her TikToks about running her business in LA, it's absolutely worth spending some time watching them. She runs her business with a level pay scale. She, the owner, and everybody else, everybody earns the same. They divide the profits evenly. And that makes a lot of sense.

But, you know, business, equitable business models aside, I think the most important thing that we can consider- I think that money is very important. Don't get me wrong. But I think that we also have to consider equity of dignity, equity of grace, equity of support. And when we start to look at those things, those things often cost little or nothing for the business to do. If you're already justice oriented.

If you're not already justice oriented, they might change your bottom line. But when you're thinking about doing things in a fair way, in a healthy way, in a supportive way, that makes a difference. And that's what this work is about is making sure that even in your moments of pause, even in your moments of rest, that no matter what is happening, you and all of the people who are with you are well-supported.

And that means that when there's an intensive stop, you have to make space for stopping. Which means buffers, which means not as much commitment. Which means not driving as hard. Which means taking a breather. Which means little things, like not caring if somebody's knitting in a Zoom meeting. It doesn't matter if someone's knitting in a Zoom meeting.

And it means nourishing people with work that is appropriate to their current mental state, as well as their overall capacity.

Thanks for listening. Talk to you soon.