It was the danishes that made me think.

Well, the coffee too. (But mostly the danishes.)

This past winter, my husband and I took a trip to Europe to celebrate our five year anniversary and over the last week of our trip, we developed a morning routine that consisted, quite simply, of danishes and coffee. We’d sit at a nearby European cafe on bar stools facing the window and watch people pass by on the sidewalks. We watched grown men biking to work, children running up the sidewalk, and young teenagers in love. We would sit, enjoy our danishes and people watch. When we returned home after our trip, I realized that even compared to so many great tours and activities, these mornings at the cafe were perhaps my favorite memory of all.  Somewhere between our danishes and the quiet walks in the city – in the middle of my “not doing” – I actually learned how to become better at “doing.”

Three Lessons I Learned in a European Cafe

I gave myself the chance to recharge and I forced myself to get out of my box and see things differently.  And though I was on vacation, there were a few lessons I brought home that I found were directly applicable to our business.  Even if you won’t be enjoying authentic danishes anytime soon, here are a few lessons that are still worth considering.

Get uncomfortable. During our trip to Europe, I noticed that I constantly felt just a little bit uncomfortable.  Not in a negative way certainly, but everything from the language barrier to new cultural customs, to being in a strange city made me constantly feel  a little off balance.  Because I was uncomfortable, I didn’t fall into old routines and the habits I usually default to.  Being out of my comfort zone gave me a new perspective on myself.

Apply it to your business: In business, it’s easy to fall into default patterns of doing things, which can result in becoming stuck in a rut. If you want your business to thrive, it’s almost a requirement that you stay in a perpetual state of feeling a little off balance.  Sometimes, it takes being uncomfortable to motivate necessary changes. It’s amazing how often people complain (and I’m guilty too!) of not being happy with something in their business, and yet they continue doing the same things.  Being uncomfortable is what pushes us to try different strategies and challenge ourselves to continue improving so that we don’t just settle for where we are.  If you want to see your business grow and flourish, force yourself to stay on your toes by trying new ways of doing things. Even if something you try doesn’t work, you’ll stop being complacent and break yourself out of a rut!

Schedule time to reflect. The reason that I was able to enjoy this time away from my usual routine was because I actually scheduled it.  This was of course a vacation I planned in advance, and because of that I didn’t feel guilty about being away from my usual work and life responsibilities since I had tied up loose ends before I left.  I could fully engage in this time for reflection because I’d anticipated it, prepared for it, and I was ready to fully enjoy it.  No matter how good my intentions might be, the minutiae of daily life always gets in the way of taking time off from work if I don’t prepare for it ahead of time and put it on the calendar, just as I would any other appointment.

Apply it to your business: Like anything that’s important, you have to be deliberate in making time to get away so you can reflect and think about your big picture goals and vision.  This means in your own business (and life for that matter) you will have to clear your calendar and set aside specific blocks of time; you can’t just hope that some free time will magically appear on your calendar.  You might take a real retreat where you get away for a few days (a good idea to do at least once a year!) or you perhaps you just schedule shorter blocks of time a few times a month to step out of the office and refocus on the big picture of your business.

Whenever you do schedule time to reflect, go someplace where your phone and email won’t disturb you and where you can force yourself to  turn off these distractions. (Confession: for me, I literally have to leave my phone at home if I don’t want to feel connected to it!)  To make the most of this time, I like to have something to write in so that I can actually make my reflections and ideas actionable. I have a moleskin notebook that I always keep with me and I use it to jot down random thoughts or questions for myself that I think of on a day-to-day basis.  When I take time away, I use this notebook as a starting point for brainstorming and to keep track of new ideas I have.  Though I’m not a “journaler” in the strict sense of the word, I do use the ideas and questions in my notebook as fuel for when I take time away to think about the big picture and reflect on my goals.

Be quiet. If you’re quiet, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll be doing more listening.  Sometimes we get so used to doing all the talking and hearing our own voice, that we aren’t listening closely to what’s going on around us. While I was in Europe, I was simply much quieter than I usually am: we visited art exhibits, went to museums, and took tours, all of which were things that forced me to really quiet my own voice and observe.  Particularly during my mornings as we’d sit and watch people pass on the sidewalk, I found that in my state of quiet I was so much more attentive to the world around me.  Like most people when we work, I do a lot of talking (as those who I work with will attest to!) but when I was quiet, I was able to more clearly hear the voices of others and it gave me room for reflection.  If we’re constantly doing the talking and staying busy with back-to-back activities, it’s difficult to fully engage with the world around us.

Apply it your business: Make a deliberate effort to set aside days where you can engage in activities that involve less talking and more observing.  Try visiting an art exhibit, or set aside some extended time to read or listen to new music.  If you expose yourself to different voices as you quiet your own, not only will you become a better listener but you’ll be filled with new ideas and observations.  Though life and business will always keep us busy with something, remain aware of whether you’re allowing time for being quiet and taking in the wisdom of others.

Written by Katie Humphreys

Photographer and Pictage & ShootQ Community Team Member Katie Humphreys

Katie Humphreys is half of the Chris Humphreys Photography team. For eight years, Katie and her husband Chris have been shooting weddings all over the country. Whether they find themselves in New York City or in the mountains of Colorado, they love every minute they spend documenting the relationships and connections of all the families they work with. Katie is also one fifth of the Pictage and ShootQ Community Team where she oversees theSQUAD program and works on The Photo Life Dispatch to develop business resources for photographers.

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