In working with leaders, and facilitating leadership programs, one of the key things I am hearing is that leaders are increasingly critically time poor. I had the pleasure of spending 2 days recently with a group of women leaders in a program and the key theme that came out was how valuable it was to take time out to reflect. So what are the key benefits of creating reflective time in your diary?
1 – You can implement and practice new learnings. One of my observations of leaders is they are often keen to learn, and enjoy development, but lack the time to properly implement their learnings. It is a classic story, and we have all done it. We attend an amazing conference or program, and we are excited by all the new things we can put into practice. Back at work the next day, we sit the manual, or folder prominently on our desk, vowing to put the learning into practice immediately. We fire up our computer, and start to wade through the 300 emails that arrived while we were out of the office, the phone starts to ring and people are queuing up to see us. At the end of the day, we dig through our in tray to find the folder and promise that we will do it tomorrow. By the end of the week, the folder is taking up valuable space on the desk, and gets moved to the bookcase. Tomorrow, we promise ourselves, we WILL look at it again. Months go by, and occasionally a situation arises that has us saying to ourselves “I must get that folder out, I am sure we covered that in the program”, but the folder stays on the shelf, gathering dust. We know that it contains absolute gold – ideas, concepts and tools that will help us be better leaders, but we just DONT HAVE TIME to put it into practice! How much more effective would you be, if you made regular time to implement key things you have learned?
2 – You can spend time prioritising and doing what is important, not what is urgent. An exercise I do with leaders is to ask them to define leadership and define management. Then to think about the percentage of time they spend doing each. Then I ask them what percentage of time they should spend doing each to be effective. Rarely, do people say “I have the balance right”. Most agree that they need to change something to be as effective as they could be. Most will say that they spend too much time ‘fighting fires’ and not enough time with the team, doing strategic work, or planning. Taking time out regularly lets you clear the decks mentally and consider your priorities.
3 – Its good for your stress levels. Being a leader is often high stress. We make lots of decisions, often on the run and the pressure of quick decision making can amp up the stress levels. Making space to think slows the pace down and reduces stress. A leader I know takes 30 minutes in her office every day to pause, think and do a short meditation and raves about the benefits.
4 – You become more productive. When we don’t take time out to reflect, prioritise, think and plan, we are reactive not proactive. We all know this to be true. It often takes a leap of faith to book out that time, to commit and to actually follow through, but it WILL pay dividends.
5 – We role model the right behaviours to our team and the rest of the organisation. We know time out to reflect is healthy and makes us more productive. We know that we should do it. But what we often don’t think about is the impact our behaviours have on others. When the boss does something, the team will follow. If we are always going flat out, not taking lunchbreaks, working long hours, our people feel pressured to do the same. By developing a more moderated approach, we are not just doing ourselves a favour, but all the people around us.
So, if we all know the benefits of reflection time, why are we not doing it? What holds us back is the choices we make. Try reframing your beliefs about your time. “I am too busy to take time out” is reframed as “I am making choices that prevent me from taking time out”. Obviously there will be times when deadlines, board papers, requests from the minister and other priorities outside your control will impact your ability to make choices, but a lot of the time it is just about our choice and our habits. If we examine our choices, we often see that we are making choices that are not as effective as they could be. Let me give you a simple example: If you had 100 fewer emails in the week, could you take 2 hours a week out for reflection time? Yes? Look at how many emails you double handle – open more than once. How much time would you free up if you dealt with emails once only? The email comes in, you action it, delegate it, file it or delete it.
I’d love to hear from you – what benefits have you seen in your life from taking reflective time?
Rosalind Cardinal is the Principal Consultant of Shaping Change, a Hobart based consultancy, specialising in improving business outcomes by developing individuals, teams and organisations.
Ros is a solutions and results oriented facilitator and coach, with a career in the Human Resources and Organisational Development field spanning more than 20 years. Ros brings an energetic and proactive approach combined with a wealth of knowledge and experience. Her expertise spans leadership development, organisational culture, team building, change and transition management, organisational behaviour, employee engagement and motivation, strategic direction and management.