Category Archives: Managing time

Why Take a Vacation?

Many Americans don’t use all their vacation days because coming back to piles of work is so stressful—this according to a recent study. The understandable decision not to take a vacation has got me thinking.

  • As a leader, do you model taking time off?
  • Do you unplug or restrict email use when you are on vacation?
  • During the summer months, how can you make work time more seasonally appropriate—stretchier, sunnier—in some way more relaxed?

One of my clients surprised his staff when he stopped the practice of his CEO predecessor, who had sent emails to staff members day and night, year round. As the new CEO, Paul modeled work/life balance by attending his children’s school activities and going on vacation. Staff followed suit, and satisfaction with work/life balance quickly shot up.

Once when I told a client that I’d check email a couple of times a day while I was vacationing in France, my consulting partner spoke up and said, “oh no you don’t; I’m here and working; you are going on vacation.” I needed that curb on my control-freak tendencies.

Whether or not you take time off this summer, here are ways to model making summer stretchier and sunnier. I invite you to post more ideas in the comments section of this blog.

  • At least once a week, invite others to join you outdoors for a bag lunch.
  • Use staff meeting check-in time (5-10 minutes of an hour-long meeting) to share summer memories, like mine below. (Yours don’t have to be poems—but they CAN be. Try haiku!)
  • Bring the outdoors into the office—flowers, homegrown herbs, vegetables and fruits
  • Encourage folks to learn more about each other. What’s a summer activity they enjoy? When they were a kid, what did they most like about summer?

June 30 may be the mad end of your fiscal year. Or maybe it’s hard to divvy up work when people take time off in July and August. At the same time, just as our muscles work at full strength only if they can let go of holding, we have to learn how to relax.

First Fireflies

Early June, and I stare into dark
Wondering where and when they’ll come,
These delightful beacons of summer.

Was it a porch light through a quiver of birch
Or—over there–a trick of the eye?
Another flash, and then a third—

Ah–the tiny fellows have come
To celebrate their love and bring
Me back to nights in Arkansas

When we sat on our grownups’ laps, lulled
By the to and fro of rocking chairs,
The summer heat, and family voices

Lowing, like the cattle beyond the fence.
In the deeper dark, the lightning bugs
Arrive, and we cousins rush among

The stardust to cup them in our small
Hands, so they will make our fingers
Glow and we can feel them tickle

Gently, like my mother’s feathery
Eyelash brushing my kissed cheek.
Opening our hands, we let them go

And spreading my arms like wings, I tilt
My head skyward to the bigger lights
That spin around our haloed heads.

poem ©2013 Merryn Rutledge

Speed Limits and Slow Living

railbed_1893My town recently lowered speed limits from thirty to twenty-five. Adjusting to a slower pace set me thinking about habits, change and slow living.

At first, driving more slowly was an unwanted constraint. Over time, my experience shifted. I brought the shift into clearer focus by reframing, a skill that is useful in coaching and conflict management. To reframe, we put a new frame around an experience in order to shift perception and try on a new reality. For the new speed limit, my new frame is, “I drive more thoughtfully.”

Reframing a negative experience may take effort and seem artificial. This time, however, reframing arose spontaneously from a new internal experience. I noticed myself paying closer attention to driving. As I drove along, I also noticed that spring was coming on, kids were walking to school and the street sweeper had wiped away the winter detritus. I enjoyed being part of the scene instead of racing by it.

Learning #1. Speed is limiting. Like you, I have projects and deadlines that make me speed. Oops, notice how the phrase “make me speed” attributes my behavior to external causes? I bet I have more choice about varying my pace, and I imagine you do, too. How can we deliberately and thoughtfully vary our pace throughout the day and work week?

Learning #2. Only after the town speed limit changed did I notice that driving fast was a habit. By circumventing choice-making, some habits helpfully guide our behavior and simplify life. Habitually pushing the speed limit is not this kind of habit. Pushing the speed limit took me away from being present to safety, responding to the weather, noticing my internal “weather conditions” and much else around and inside me.

Learning #3. Watch the rush: rushing to get there quickly, cover ground and get work done. “Watch the rush” suggests noticing any internal “high” like, “Wow, what a lot I did today!” “Good for me, I beat that deadline!” or even, “Aren’t I valuable. Look at all I do!”

Learning #4. Don’t rush to change. I am inviting us to heighten awareness before making any change. When we rush to change, in this case, hurrying to slow down, we miss information. We rush past “ah-hah’s” that would suggest new behavior to try on. The “ah-hahs” are also valuable because they propel and sustain motivation to change. This “notice more and don’t change anything” dynamic (called the paradoxical theory of change) is a way of thinking about change that is key in my coaching practice.

Learning #5. Learning takes practice. On a recent vacation to Lisbon, I noticed myself rushing around (again.) Over many days, I slowly slowed down. On the last day, I ambled along the riverfront watching fishermen catch blowfish. Even on vacation, I confuse accelerated output with quality results.

I learned to slow down my driving. When I went on vacation, I went back to my speeding habit. I need more practice. So, some tips for you and me.

  • Notice what rushing is like. How and where is the breathing? What is happening in muscles, head, trunk and limbs? Track thoughts. Try exaggerating any one thing, for example, shallow breathing, a tight jaw or a pattern of thought. What is that experience like?
  • Vary the pace of the work day. Take short breaks to get up and stretch.  Breathe slowly for a full minute, focusing only on the breath or on a pleasant experience or loved one.
  • Practice saying no. Start with oneself, saying no to the inner perfectionist or achiever who tempts us to agree to unrealistic tasks and deadlines. Negotiate with these inner drivers.

Take Time to Save Time

Where does all the time go? Not enough of it, too much good work to do, and the pace of change is fast.

shutterstock_207716527With such challenges, can we make space for “think time” so we learn from successes and missteps? Here’s the thing: if we DON’T make this space, we risk working in the same worn grooves and getting stuck in the same ruts.

A paradox: take time to save time

My experience is that making a space for reflection can actually SAVE time. How? Well, first of all, reflecting and analyzing are a practice, like doing yoga or playing an instrument. We get better when we have a disciplined approach.

My colleague Kay Peterson and I teach a framework that helps people:

  • Understand day-to-day work dilemmas, successes, and missteps.
  • Get perspective on one’s actions by seeing how we get stuck, find new choices, and move toward action.
  • Do things better next time–and continually learning over time.

Use a compass to navigate

We use a new version of David and Alice Kolb’s Learning Cycle (2011). We call the Cycle the Learning Compass because it helps us navigate. The Compass helps us quickly locate where we are, on-the-spot, experience by experience. Then it helps us decide which direction to move toward without either idling or racing our motors.

The Learning Compass shows four main directions, North, East, South, and West. These correspond to the four ways we learn, by experiencing reflecting, thinking, and acting. (There are actually nine “styles” or directions embedded in the compass–but that’s for another blog post.)

Compass-4-Modes small image
The Learning Compass

We begin in the North with an experience that is direct and concrete. Moving clockwise to the East, we reflect on this experience, for instance by thinking about our assumptions and how we feel, and noticeing the experience from different perspectives.

When we are ready to use more rational analysis of the experience, we move toward the South. In the southern hemisphere, we form a plan for our next actions. Moving around to the West, we take action, the result of which is a new experience that returns us to the North. A new cycle begins.

How Holly used the Compass

My client Holly recently told me about a perplexing work dilemma. She invited an employee to a planning meeting, and her offer was rebuffed. Because the meeting concerned the employee’s future at the company, Holly wanted to do all she could to lead in the very best way. The Learning Compass gave us a map for working through the situation.

Since the experience with her employee, in the Compass North, Holly had been turning the experience over and over, wondering what to do. She realized that she was getting stuck in the Compass East, in reflection. At the same time, as Holly told her story, I noticed that she kept pushing herself to find a quick solution, in other words, toward action, in the Compass West. Holly knows she is a doer–that’s one of the reasons she’s an effective COO, but in this case she was uncomfortable with the one choice of action she kept coming back to.

I suggested that we move back to the Eastern hemisphere of the Compass, to reflection. She played with looking at her encounter from different perspectives. She got curious about her feelings and indecision. Before long, she began to come up with more choices for what to do. Following her energy, I encouraged Holly to “move South” on the Compass, where she could decide which option made sense. This question resonated: “Going into the next meeting, which choice(s) will give you the greatest satisfaction that you’ve been your best self as a leader?”

Holly decided pretty quickly. She was ready for action, in the Compass West. After trying out this action, Holly can “debrief” the experience on her own because the Compass, with its different ways of learning, is easy to remember and use.