The month of May brings us into the annual season of Autumn. The time when Mother Nature slows down; animals prepare for hibernation, trees shed their leaves, days begin to shorten, the light changes… all in preparation for the annual cycle of rest and regeneration. Given how our year started, we are in desperate need of this!

This year we literally burst out of the starting blocks… our first week requiring 7 x 10 hour days in a row to get through many “Mission Critical” activities – many of them arriving suddenly and unexpectedly.

This left us reeling and constantly playing catch up with what we had needed to or “planned” to do. In conversations with others and the answer to “how are you?” … the most common responses were crazy, busy, hectic, overwhelmed, stressed or really tired.

This is not only our experience, but many people that we interact with are finding themselves in similar circumstances. The pace of change, the overwhelming amount of information coming at us, the increasing demands for immediate action and results and dealing with the unexpected, unplanned for events or experiences … all collide and compound into a world of complexity and overwhelm where we seldom feel calm, confident or in control.

Internationally we are bombarded with news of despot leaders, desperate terrorists, economic melt-downs and technological disruption on a massive scale. Locally we are trying to digest the impact of state capture, junk status, marches against the President, service delivery protests and continuing poverty, unemployment and inequality that is not being sufficiently addressed.

Personally, many people are also dealing with loss, trauma, ill-health, burn-out and relationship drama.

Dreams are disturbed, sleep is disrupted, and we wake up with a jolt, remembering all the many things we need to think of or get to or fix up today. Our minds and bodies are on constant alert, being flushed with cortisol and noradrenalin and operating much of the day in “fight or flight” mode… or just paralyzed into freeze mode… reducing our ability to learn, be creative, be flexible, collaborate and make good decisions.

In a session with my coach we explored this phenomenon and after a little frustration and feeling challenged to change my “always busy” reality … I came to the realisation that IT IS UP TO ME! Not only in my own life, but in the way that I show up to or influence others.

Here are some of my revised approaches to take back my time, my peace and my impact which have made a significant difference to my effectiveness, my leadership and my overall health.

7 ways to slow down… to speed it up

  1. Start the day right
  2. Ask the right questions
  3. Work at the right level
  4. Spend your time on the right things
  5. Collaborate in the right way with others
  6. Connect from the right place
  7. Energise with the right stuff

 

1. Start the day right

Setting up your state of mind and body for the day is essential. Although I had intended to do yoga for the last year (in my diary 2 evenings per week), I never quite made it, as there was always something more important as the evening approached. So now I do yoga at 6am 3 x per week, so there is no excuse not to. It has helped me breathe deeper, be more aware of my body, build up my physical strength and connect with my spirit in a way that helps me through the challenges of the day. Whether it is yoga, a run, a walk with your dog, a meditation or any physical and mental practice … start your day with being conscious of your mind, body and spirit and reaffirm your power of choice for how you will respond to anything that comes your way that day.

2. Ask the right questions

I came across this HBR article in January; “Being a strategic leader is about asking the right questions”, which challenged me to think a bit differently about how we were working.

  • What are we doing today?
  • Why are you doing the work you’re doing? Why now?
  • How does what we’re doing today align with the bigger picture?
  • What does success look like for our team?
  • What else could we do to achieve more, better, faster?

In digging a bit deeper into each of the questions I realised that our whole team needed to work together on these questions and prioritise collaboratively and support each other to find that ideal balance of working at the right pace on the right things and being agile when faced with the unexpected. I developed a dashboard for the team with key success metrics, so that we could check-in at our touch base meetings to feedback and re-prioritise based on the changing landscape. For the full blog click here: https://hbr.org/2017/01/being-a-strategic-leader-is-about-asking-the-right-questions

3. Work at the right level

Working in the talent space we often refer to levels of work or stratified systems theory (SST) pioneered by Elliot Jacques. This is all very well applied to other organisations and people AND it can be very useful when applied to yourself or your own company. I realised that if I was to get out of the relentless business of being “busy”, I had to raise my level of work to being more strategic, focusing on the right activities and being patient with a longer-term purpose and intent. I also had to hand over many of my tasks to others and take time to build capability and then trust them to do it in their own unique way. This is not very easy for perfectionists, especially when your way has been the foundation to your success in the past! As each person steps up and operates at the next level of complexity, the whole system needs to step up with them to avoid gaps and tension at other levels in the system. This takes daily mindfulness and coaching to let go of the “old way” of doing it yourself, to empowering others (or using technology) to do it with the right standards of professionalism clearly communicated.

4. Spend your time on the right things

All this thinking about strategic questions, intent and activities, got me reflecting on how we are all spending our time. Over several conversations I realised that many of us could not easily quantify where their time went and what percentage of time they were spending on each key business outcome – me included. Many important activities were giving way to perceived “urgent” activities. We started helping each other with categorising our “to do” lists into urgent vs important and making time each day or at least each week to work on the important stuff. We played with the Stephen Covey Urgent vs Important Matrix, with different colour post-it notes and with diary and task systems to optimise our time, our focus and to minimise distractions. A big lesson was putting all the “to do” activities on one place with a flexible system to prioritise daily, weekly, monthly and annually. A great resource is the book Getting things done by David Allen and his website: http://gettingthingsdone.com/. A quick tool from mindtools.com  https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newHTE_91.htm

5. Collaborate in the right way with others

Deeper reflection led to how we were running meetings and managing interdependent activities between people. We were rushing into meetings with a tight agenda and being very task focused. With a bit of help from Steph Dawson-Cosser, who ran a “Time to Think” workshop for us, we started our meetings with a “round” allowing each person to share something personal before moving to the business at hand. It can be a feeling, something about the weekend, an intent, an insight or anything that makes us acknowledge the person behind the role and exercise our empathy, connection and compassion. We have also been known to start a meeting off with some quiet time to connect with ourselves and calm the mind in readiness for a more effective and balanced meeting. We are also encouraging each other to continuously communicate and contract with each other as roles and priorities shift so as not to drop any balls or leave someone carrying the can.  A great resource is Nancy Kline’s website http://www.timetothink.com
or contact Steph at http://www.timetothink.com/coach/stephanie–j-dawson-cosser/

6. Connect from the right place

When everyone is running hard and fast, it is easy to lose each other along the way. Misunderstandings, frustrations, emails or requests that fall into black holes can cause unnecessary conflict or distance between team members. When we take time to connect from the heart, and sit down with each other outside work, and see each other as real people with real needs and feelings and experiences, there is so much value and perspective gained. We now make an effort to touch base with each other, just to check in and listen or share at a heart level. This requires an open mind, a curiosity, deep listening and a suspension of judgement and work role. No next steps are needed. Somehow, the work stuff seems to sort itself out, when people are feeling heard, understood and acknowledged. Gratitude and appreciation for the little and big things that people do for you and the team are very powerful to pull a team together and energise the team.

7. Energise with the right stuff

Lastly, we cannot maintain a pace of work with a body and mind that is burnt out, sick or tired. To be energised, we need to breathe deeply and regularly, drink plenty of water, eat healthy, energising foods, move our bodies and rest our eyes and brains throughout the day. Neuroscience is bringing us more and more research into the impact of our daily habits on our brains and therefore our capacity for sustained activity. I bought myself a standing desk for Christmas this year and it has made a significant difference to my day as I can choose to sit or stand at my desk. Adding a speaker and Apple music to my options now let’s me move or dance to the music too! Take regular breaks to stand in the sun, walk bare feet on the grass, hug your dog or stroke your cat, lie on the floor to stretch out (take your yoga mat to work!), do a few stretches, stare into the distance, move to some music or talk nonsense to a colleague for a few minutes. Instead of feeling “weird” lead the way at your place of work to make this a productive way of working and energising.  For some amazing input on staying healthy and energised, see http://www.bodybrilliance.co.za/

We wish you well on your journey toward energising yourself and others and being productive, collaborative, calm and balanced for the rest of the year.

We hope that you will join us in slowing down to speed up for a more effective and balanced brain state for greater insight, innovation and impact.

Warm regards

Debbie