We've entered a strange, paradoxical season. The world outdoors seems to have gone quiet, with trees dormant, birds on their way out of here, and little furry creatures settling into their burrows—but there you sit at your desk, your brain buzzing and your fingers tap-tapping away in the whirlwind of business leadership that rarely seems to slow down. Maybe the bustle of the holidays is already creeping into your periphery; perhaps you're building momentum into the inevitable landslide of busyness that is the end of your fiscal year.
It might sound impossible to take a lesson from the trees, birds, and squirrels by slowing down right now because your reality—the demands on your time and schedule constraints—can't simply be ignored or transformed. But despite the hubbub, there are ways to find moments of quiet.
Do your planning in slo-mo.
Our work lives are often forced to march to the drumbeat of "do, do, do." Every single responsibility feels urgent and must be addressed immediately because the next decision or challenge will come rolling in before you know it! So we fly from issue to issue and task to task, taking decisive action at breakneck speed.
In reality, we often create our own hurry by failing to slow down during the planning phase of our decision-making and problem-solving. By rushing to action without taking enough deliberate time to understand a situation deeply, we are more prone to make mistakes and misjudgments, ultimately setting up our own little future stumbling blocks that will generate even more urgency and haste later on—or, as Rob Enderle argues in this oldie-but-goodie article, even creating our own more immense, more resounding catastrophes down the line. In Enderle's words:
"If you start running before you determine where the finish line is, you'll likely be running in the wrong direction, and the faster you go, the farther behind you'll be."
So what if you treat your planning processes as moments of quiet this season? Set aside more time for planning than you think you need; think and write calmly, slowly, and silently, or engage in an almost leisurely discussion with the others involved, deliberating in slo-mo as you ensure your understanding of the situation is as deep and wide as can be before any action is agreed upon. Choose to be an Ent from time to time (raise your hand all you Lord of the Rings fans). Let your planning be meditative, appreciative of the people and work involved, and almost restful. In all likelihood, you'll find yourself making better, more informed judgments, saving you time later when you're no longer facing the roadblocks generated by hasty planning!
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi first introduced the concept and theory of flow, or the "flow state," back in the 90s, so it's likely you've heard something about it before. Here's how Greg Smith from Fast Company, Inc. describes it: "Flow is a state of optimal performance during which our creativity, productivity, and mental health are enhanced. To experience it, we need to find a task that is challenging enough to require our full attention but not so overwhelming that we feel defeated." Essentially, it's the opposite of multitasking, that frenzied and unproductive juggling act we often get trapped in. It's a place where creativity and the joy of engaging, just-challenging-enough work can take the reins, leading to complete absorption in the task at hand.
Smith's article breaks down a few essential steps for achieving a flow state: setting a clear vision, removing distractions, refusing to micromanage your own goals, and so on. Can you achieve flow with every one of your daily responsibilities? Probably not. But you can at least give it a try for a chunk of your schedule each day because the more time you spend in this level of deep, focused, and driven work—undistracted by your phone, your other tasks, or even your own performance—the more productive you'll be. With sustainable rhythms of focused, productive work, you can open up more space for those other invaluable things that make life rich and full, like the periods of rest and stillness we need to thrive!
Don't waste your marginal moments.
Margin, as Dr. Richard Swenson defined it in his classic book on the subject, is "the space between our load and our limits… the gap between breathing freely and suffocating." With no truly objective way to gauge our own capacities, we tend to overbook and overfill our days—especially as business leaders. We feel like we have to do it all, and we wind up living lives entirely without those empty margins to rest and run wild in.
A life with margin is one with breathing room, where we aren't putting in 100% because we know we need some of that time and mental and emotional energy for other things.
Margin can be created through intentional scheduling and a workday spent in productive flow (and Swenson's book provides a deeper dive into the choices you can make to free your margins as much as possible). Depending on your constraints, though, you may still only end up with brief moments of free time throughout your day. Whatever amount of margin you manage to create for yourself, how can you ensure you're putting it to good use?
Instead of reaching for your phone or zoning out during those empty moments—during your commute, in the grocery store line, in the quiet of the morning—why not:
- Linger over the little things? Take a walk. Meet up with the friend you rarely get to see. Read some good fiction. Cook your favorite meal. Savor your coffee for longer than is strictly necessary. Take some nice deep breaths.
- Sit quietly with your soul? There are so many meditative spiritual practices out there. We especially recommend the Daily Examen and Lectio Divina.
During this paradoxical season of peace and haste, we pray you'll find new ways to participate in life's slow and restful parts.
Slowing down can also look like taking time to socialize and learn in community. Check out our events page to see what happy hours, webinars, and workshops we have coming up!
November 2, 2023