I was introduced to the work of Marilyn Paul when my friend and co-author, Peaco Todd, gave me a copy of Marilyn’s bestseller, It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys. In this interview, Marilyn reveals that she did little promotion for that book since she adopted her baby son at a day old the same week that the paperback came out. She credits the book’s success to its timeliness and the need for it.
I can’t help thinking that her new book, An Oasis in Time, is at least as timely and important and I wouldn’t be surprised if this book is even more popular than her first. I was so excited to read it and am inspired to put it into action in my life as a mother, author and a bit of a workaholic at times.
I later met Marilyn in person at the Harvard Medical School CME Publishing Course and was surprised and thrilled when Marilyn joined my Writing in the Zone program a couple of years later.
In this interview, I ask Marilyn to share specifically how creating “an oasis in time” benefits authors and how we can especially benefit from the message and tools in this book.
Lisa: What is an “Oasis in Time”?
Marilyn: It’s a time when we just stop. We put down our to do lists, our action items, our desire to achieve and we spent a designation amount of time “off the clock and off the hook.” It’s based on the idea of a Sabbath which has its roots in Jewish tradition. The word Sabbath comes from the Hebrew and means “stop.” That’s it. Stop.
Lisa: What inspired you to write An Oasis in Time?
Marilyn: I initially wanted to write a booklet explaining to friends why our family takes a day off every week. We turn off our digital devices, we don’t shop, we don’t discuss work issues. I wanted a way to explain to our friends (and our extended family) why we do this.
Lisa: Was it an idea you’d been contemplating for a long time or was there a more sudden inspiration?
Marilyn: I’ve been thinking about this for about twenty years.
Lisa: What’s the cost to a writer or author of our current lifestyle—life without much “down time”?
Marilyn: Modern life is hectic. Much creativity comes from marinating in other people ideas, their art, and their perspectives. Also, unwinding every week is very helpful for our own creativity. Sometimes we don’t even know what we are thinking and perceiving until we slow down and give ourselves some room to breathe and to stop trying to create.
Lisa: Why is the idea of “an oasis in time” or Sabbath so helpful to anyone, as well as particularly for authors?
Marilyn: Oasis time gives us a chance to connect with ourselves without the pressure to do anything other than be. It gives us time to play and to reflect. It gives us time to sit together at a meal and have an extended conversation with time to allow different viewpoints to emerge.
Lisa: Are there times in your writing career you did not have your oasis in time or are you always firm to find that time? If there were times, can you say how not having that oasis time affected your life and your writing?
Marilyn: I never give up my oasis time. I have learned that I depend on that rest and renewal. I count on it absolutely. I am so much more productive and creative on my Sundays than on my Saturdays. I actually dread considering what my life would be like without it.
Lisa: In An Oasis in Time, you share how you came to value rest time, specifically the Sabbath. Can you share a bit here for our readers about your journey?
Marilyn: I’m a workaholic. Maybe that’s why I need such a commitment to my oasis in time. I learned about Shabbat when I was a graduate student at Yale. A friend of mine invited me to a traditional Friday night meal several times. I turned him down, of course, I was busy!! I finally went with him and I loved the sense of peace, congeniality and joy in the room. Even though I am Jewish I did not know any of the prayers or rituals. I had never lit candles for Shabbat in my adult life, so I didn’t really know what was going on. But I liked it, and since it was a group that met regularly, I went back. That first night I went home and worked more, but I learned, slowly, to let go of working on Friday nights and then, slowly, on Saturdays.
Lisa: You make a distinction about the debate about reasons for the Sabbath. Can you say more?
Marilyn: Many people hold the opinion that we rest on a Sabbath so that we can be more productive. Other people say we rest because our hearts, minds and souls need the liberation from all manner of obligations. I think both are true.
Lisa: I love your metaphor of “The Escape from Pharaoh” and the “dictators” of our age. Can you share how you view those modern dictators and the importance of not getting caught up in them?
Marilyn: One of the main “dictators” of our age is that we need more. And we need to be more. We are always pushing for something else, something different, something novel. I notice in myself an extreme difficulty with just settling down and being at peace. That’s why I love our 24 hour respite. I finally settle down around hour 18 and I treasure that feeling.
Lisa: I can so relate to that idea of needing to be more. Pushing. As humans, we need to give ourselves a break and as writers it’s crucial for our work.
You teach 5 gateways to prepare for one’s oasis in time and structure the journey. Can you share briefly what these are?
- Plan, protect and prepare for it. Set aside the time and protect it. Don’t do work or errands.
- Begin and end it consciously. Name your beginning and name your ending time.
- Disconnect to connect. Unplug your devices so that you can plug into your natural sources of energy.
- Slow down to savor. Slow your movement. Slow down your thoughts. Eat more slowly.
- Let go of achieving to rest, reflect and play. Stop trying to get anything done. Don’t achieve anything for this set amount of time. Yup, take a breath, look around, and follow your nose. See what happens. Don’t make anything happen. Just like beach time, enjoy the treasures of life that are in front of you.
Lisa: Beautiful! Did you find yourself thinking about the book on your days off, on the Sabbath?
Marilyn: Yes, for sure. At times I regretted writing a book that refers to Shabbat, because now my blessed down time is about my work. But that feeling has died down lately.
Lisa: Did you need to detach from the book during Shabbat, then? To make it truly down time?
Marilyn: Yes, absolutely. It is good practice to be in the present.
Lisa: What were the results? What’s the value of resting and not thinking about your book?
Marilyn: So much value. I have come to believe that we are made for a subtle pervasive joy. When we slow down and become more mindful and stop obsessing about anything, there we are, breathing, moving, living life, thinking, and it is very generative.
Lisa: Was it hard to let go?
Marilyn: My life seems to be all about learning to let go.
Lisa: Did you feel guilty or unproductive? If so, how did you process those feelings and take the time anyway?
Marilyn: I have to say I have a completely different idea about productivity now. If I don’t take time off I am very unproductive. I never think, oh let me work all weekend. I know for sure that that is a recipe for low productivity.
Lisa: That’s such a good reminder that we are not more productive by pushing through and working all the time. Any advice for writers who may feel guilty or unproductive about taking time off?
Marilyn: Yes, be very realistic about what productivity is for you. Notice when you are productive and when you are spinning your wheels. I noticed that knowing I had a day off completely helped me get more down. Then, when I am off the clock, I am really off. I’ve stopped and I can feel myself regenerating.
Lisa: What are one or two practices you recommend our readers might start with?
Marilyn: I suggest a practice of paying attention to how you work right now. You might begin to be convinced that an hour, a half day or a day off each week will help with your creativity and productivity.
Lisa: For someone who feels overwhelmed with the idea of taking off a whole day for Sabbath or rest, is there a way to start small? Where would you recommend starting?
Marilyn: Yes, absolutely, start with an hour. Start with half an hour. The only reason I can do this now is that I started very slowly. I never imagined that I would end up taking a whole day off each week and loving it. Always start small and think about experiments.
Lisa: And readers can find those experiments in the book. How can families create meaningful sabbath time together in a way that kids are excited (particularly if they have not been brought up with much religion)?
Marilyn: I think it is really helpful to focus on fun, on hanging around, on letting go of expectations, on doing things the kids want to do. An oasis in time is not religious and it is a time of inquiry, adventure, and playfulness. Maybe go somewhere new together, maybe learn a new game together. The idea is shared pleasurable down time.
Lisa: Can you share a story or two about the effect of taking a day of rest, in your own life or in that of a client or friend?
Marilyn: Just last Saturday, which is the day we take off each week, I ended up sitting with our thirteen year old son. Neither of us had anything to do. No screens, no social engagements, no homework….So, we chatted for a bit. And then we told a couple of jokes. And, then we reflected on the current political situation. It was a moment of heaven for me, since during the week we are on the go. This kind of loving connection helps me relate optimistically and creatively to life. And, believe me, a lot of my interactions with my son are quite difficult.
Lisa: What other practices do you have as a writer that help you write in the flow or write from an inspired state?
Marilyn: I walk around a lot. I sit down and get up a lot. I use my recording device on my cellphone. I record conversations that I have with others. I’ve had to let go of the idea of sitting down and writing for hours. It just doesn’t happen that way for me at all.
Lisa: You are also the author of It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys. Any specific organizing tips that are especially helpful to authors?
Marilyn: The book isn’t really about organizing tips, it’s about using disorganization as a path to growth. I’m chronically disorganized and realizing that this could help me change and grow was very helpful. That being said, I find it very helpful to put my work away completely at the end of each week. It may take several hours, but I find places for all of the loose detritus and clear off my desk. It is so wonderful to come back to my clear desk after a day off.
Lisa: That skill could take me a lifetime to master! The book did unusually well—you’ve sold more than 175,000 copies. What are some of the things you did that supported such significant sales?
Marilyn: I actually didn’t do much at all. We adopted our son at a day old the same week that the paperback came out and I paid full attention to our beautiful baby and my client work. Book promotion went out the window. It sold well because it is a needed book with a different point of view.
Lisa: Wow. That’s an unusual and amazing story! Given your timeliness of the first book, perhaps you’ll have a similar experience with this one, as I think it’s at least as timely and needed as It’s Hard to Make a Difference… What are some of your plans for launching and sharing An Oasis in Time?
Marilyn: I plan to give lots of talks and hope to host a free webinar soon. I just love this topic and can’t wait to talk to people who share this interest.
Lisa: Definitely let me know about the webinar and I’ll spread the word. Perhaps readers can also let you know of their interest in an upcoming webinar. What can readers do to support your book launch?
Marilyn: Well, if would be wonderful if they would buy the book and tell others about it.
Lisa: That would be a service to themselves, their families and anyone they share the book with, as well!
Dr. Marilyn Paul is a management consultant and well being expert who has helped organizations develop a culture of “sustainable productivity” through reducing the substantial costs of work overload – crisis management, failed communication, missed deadlines, poor quality, extensive rework, low morale, stress related illness and burnout.
With a Ph.D. from the Yale School of Management and an M.B.A. from Cornell, Dr. Paul takes a creative, integrative approach that blends practical skills training with inner work. As a senior consultant with Bridgeway Partners, an organizational consulting group based in the San Francisco Bay Area, she has worked with a wide range of companies, non-profits, religious organizations and educational institutions. In addition to her consulting work, she has taught on the faculties of Yale University School of Medicine, the Hebrew University School of Public Health and Colby College in Waterville Maine.
In her new book, An Oasis in Time: How a Day of Rest Can Save Your Life (Rodale, 2017), Dr. Paul shows that a solution for the modern sense of relentless pressure can be found in the ancient tradition of the Sabbath. Among the many profound benefits of taking a day off each week are renewed perspective, enhanced creativity and a refreshed outlook on life.
Readers, please share your comments and questions. And you may be interested in this article on self-care for writers, as well.