Work has been a little chaotic lately. Some really interesting projects and a few new clients leave me feeling mostly excited, useful and happy. But there are also things happening in client systems about which I am puzzled. I am spending extra time reflecting, trying to figure out the most effective approach and interventions. The familiarity of the work doesn’t make it any less daunting but having time to reflect, does.
I am noticing that clients are almost all universally trying to do too much. They have too many priorities and seem hesitant to focus on the ones that matter most. This often leaves them feeling less satisfied with the outcomes even though they are working harder, when it might actually be better to stand back from their work. Standing back, or “on the balcony” as Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linksy describe in their book Leadership On The Line (still one of my favorites), is more necessary than ever and notably absent from most of our corporate systems. “I don’t have time to pull back. Where in an 80-hour work week would that fit?”, a client asked me recently. The truth is, I am not sure where it fits in an 80-hour week. But the 80-hour week is just one symptom of a bigger problem.
It’s true our species is built for action, struggle and hard work. We all know that work that involves physical labor requires we take breaks, eat and rest. Work rules on job sites structure this into the day to keep workers safe. If they don’t, they can suffer dire consequences. For my clients, who are all knowledge workers, there are no compelling safety issues that demand breaks. There is no doubt in my mind, however, that doing demanding intellectual, collaborative or creative work requires built-in breaks or pauses to stop the action and reflect. It’s beyond the problem of making mistakes, though this is a part of it because it includes mistakes in relating, communicating and most importantly, judgement. Mistakes like these are actually way more time consuming to fix than prevent. It seems simple. It’s not. We still think that doing things faster and "powering through" is the best way to get things done. It’s not. In fact the busier you are, the more important it is to pause, reflect and integrate.
Repeat. Build it into your processes. Agile and lean practitioners know this and wire it into their daily meetings. But all leaders and their teams would benefit from it. Like any practice, you have to be consistent about using it to make it a habit. Start. Now, let’s talk about your 80-hour work week. . .
Moira Clarke founded Leadership Consulting Partners 18 years ago to help companies advance their leadership and people systems. If you are reading this to the end, and you find value, please say so and share with others on LinkedIn and Twitter. Thank you!
Welcome to Moira's blog. I write about the work of building better work places: people strategies, systems, teams and leaders.