What I Learned Away from the Office

“I’m in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love. And it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.”
― John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

OK – I’ve had a couple of weeks in “God’s Country” – Montana and, yes, I am in love with Montana too.  My hubby and I needed to help his Mom (she’s almost 91) and as part of this fall trek, we traveled up for a cattle drive to the Northeast part of Montana, to a little town called Saco.  It’s about 25 miles south of the Canadian Border, and consists of predominately dry-land farming/ranching, and we have some really good friends there.  There is just about no cell phone reception, and Internet access is 40 miles due west, so you really do unplug.   Below are pictures of ranch views and the ‘thriving metropolis of Saco. The hottest place in town in OB’s Café.


saco3 saco4

My best thinking and best ideas have always come while I’m ‘away from the office’.  The daily prep, grading, emails, phone calls, self-created silos, and just the chaos of being at the office detracts from true thinking and letting my brain come up with better solutions to things – new ideas of how to improve things – reflecting on systems and solutions.  Having the space to just ‘be’ is, for me, critical.

I don’t have to tell any of you (and it’s been proven many times) that we are more productive if we can relax and get away once in a while.  According to a survey by Harris Interactive, Americans left an average of 9.2 vacation days unused in 2012 — up from 6.2 days in 2011.

Think about your days and tasks.  How many days do you wake up already tired? Check email before you even get to your office (most days)?  Yep, I’ve gotten emails from some of you at 5:30 am.  You eat breakfast and lunch at your desk (most days)?  Run from meeting to meeting – class to class; responding to a meeting – running to another class – grade – grade some more.  What’s really being accomplished?  How is this constant pace affecting you?  Your teaching?  Your class? More?

So what did have time to think about?  I thought and wrote a new story board for a class – it’s in need of a real re-do to make it bitstripmore interactive.   I took Ruth Alsobrook-Hurich’s info on Bitstrips and created some fun announcements.  I also rewrote the welcome letter – boy was it stale.

Then I new syllabusre-did my syllabus to look more like a Newsletter (another Ruth tip).

Here’s what else I learned away from the office:

  • Breathe – it’s healthy & opens your brain to new ideas
  • Walk More – get fresh air at least once a day!
  • Sleep – Going to bed at 8:30 pm is really okay!  A 10-minute power nap works too
  • Read – something totally outside of any subject you teach   (I like historical fiction)
  • Try something totally new – I fed baby lambs – Adorable
  • Appreciate Balance – what and where & family and friends
  • Be in Awe – The Northern Lights really are a marvel.  Learning is like that too.

So, in just a few weeks all of us will have some time “away”.  What will you do?


4 thoughts on “What I Learned Away from the Office

  1. Hello! The office distracts from true thinking, you say. Perhaps it distracts from a particular kind of thinking – the kind that supports rumination, creativity and new perspectives. You are not alone thinking this. I work in the area of creative thinking in business environments as well as educational ones and there is much to support your view that ideas come from anywhere but the office! I read a research report a while back that asked ‘Where do directors get their ideas from?’ The answer was: in the bath, at the opera, running, walking the dog…never the office.

    I went looking for something that your post reminded me of. One of my favourite books about the whole area of implicit learning and thinking. Hare Brain and Tortoise mind by Guy Claxton. I used to use a video by actor John Cleese which summed up the book in a fun way. The video is expensive, but I hoped to find a review copy for you on the web. I did. I hope you enjoy it: http://www.trainingabc.com/the-hidden-mind/

    • Hi – thanks – sorry to not get back to you sooner. It’s been a crazy time since I came ‘back to the office’. I actually get my best ideas when I’m walking the dog, as you say. I appreciated the link too! I have used John Cleese too! He’s so fun. I’m ordering the book you suggested; looks interesting.

  2. Wonderful story, Chris. Back in my early 20s, I lived for a year at Rocky Boy Chippewa-Cree Reservation and commuted to work in Havre (I was the drive-in teller at Bank of Montana). I cherish those memories and your photos warmed my heart. I relished the landscape and opportunities at my doorstep to be close to nature and down-to-earth folks. Windchill? Now that is another story 🙂

    • Wow – winters were fun in Havre, huh?! Not too many other places that 40 degrees can equal 10, depending on the wind! I just love the people and the country so much- nothing like anywhere else. It’s austere and beautiful at the same time. I love the mountains of western Montana, but there really is something about the high-line.

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