Pause and take time to think and reflect 

Last article I wrote I discussed the issues arising from being too busy, from having too many scheduled meetings in our days and not enough ‘white space’ between appointments. While being busy can be a good thing, sometimes there is a tipping point, where we are too busy to be truly productive.

Science tells us that the times when we are doing ‘nothing’ actually is the time that allows us to explore and expand possibility, to reflect, to imagine and to think of new ideas and better ways of doing things. Intuitively many of us know that when we have enough ‘nothingness’ or white space in our calendars, we have the opportunity to be more productive. 

In her book, “A minute to think” Juliet Funt references four great assets that leaders have and use in their work, which often propel them into leadership roles in the first place.  The leadership qualities are admirable and inspiring, but it is important that the dosage of these attributes or skills is just right because they are also the four attributes that create toxic business.

These attributes are; drive, excellence, information and activity.

When we are too busy and don’t have enough space to be effective in our work, these admired leadership attributes can manifest into more negative states, namely;

  1. Perfectionism (unbalanced excellence)
  2. Overdrive (unbalanced drive) 
  3. Overload (unbalanced information) 
  4. Frenzy (unbalanced activity)

Leaders displaying these attributes are not in the best capacity to lead well and inspire the best in others. These states of being can have a negative trickle-down effect on the whole company culture. 

How do leaders identify the tipping point before they fall into any of these four states? 

So many leaders are hired because of their minds, their ability to think and formulate successful strategies. Ironically though, most leaders say they don’t have enough time to think strategically. Their days are filled with doing things, or action-oriented steps.

Leaders don’t have an awareness or a norm within their corporate culture to fully appreciate that if they let go of some of the doing, space would open up and their mind would be given more time to explore and evaluate and think strategically. 

Leaders today need to firstly recognise that space to think is essential. Leaders need to be reminded of the fact that thinking drives business. Modern workplaces see thinking as ‘doing nothing’, as unproductive. This attitude needs to be addressed first and foremost in organisations and work cultures. 

Secondly, it’s about making incremental small changes to your daily schedules.

Can you make a 500-word email into a 50 word one? Can you change a one-hour meeting into a fifty-minute meeting? Can you replace a meeting into an email? Instead of everyone hitting ‘reply-all’ on an email, encourage your team to ask the question, is it really necessary to loop everyone into my response, or should I just hit reply? Are people within your organisation using instant messaging technology correctly or does it create more noise than is necessary? Do you really need to CC those other people into your email?

All these seemingly minor changes add up to create more lingering space to reflect and think within your day. By communicating these small changes to the communication policy with your team, it makes it easier for everyone to make an effort to make these small changes that all add up to create more time and space and less unnecessary business. 

Thirdly, be aware of which of the four leadership attributes you personally have and which of the four unhelpful states of being you are at risk of slipping into; perfectionism, overdrive, frenzy or overload. Identify what the signals are for you that you may have slipped into one of these states. 

For perfectionists for example, ponder on the question; “when is ‘good enough’ actually good enough?”. Where does the extra effort stop adding to business results?  There is only so much fine-tuning of reports or emails you want to spend time on.

There is a point where the spreadsheet looks ‘good enough’. It has all the information and is satisfying the criteria to relay the information at hand. 

Get into the habit of pausing 

So how do we recognise this in ourselves? Juliet Funt suggests getting into the habit of interjecting pauses into our everyday. When people stop and pause and give themselves permission to think, they have set up a foundational practice that leads to the kind of clarity you need to interrupt you when you are slipping into a state of overdrive, frenzy or perfectionism that is not helpful. This regular pausing creates space to give you a moment of insight to recognise when you are not on the right track. 

As a leader it is also important to help others avoid slipping into their naturally-inclined state of unhelpfulness. If someone in your team has four big projects, rather than allowing them to pour their excellence and make-perfect each and every one, spending hours and hours perfecting them, perhaps let them know that two can be prioritised, that are deserving of their excellence and the others can be delegated to more junior staff, for example, they are not as essential as the other two. 

Creating a culture where thinking and doing nothing is respected is vital to drive business excellence. If you’d like to learn more don’t hesitate to get in touch with me today.

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