Over the last few months, I have been writing to you about becoming better and more inspiring leaders, family members, friends and colleagues. To be able to wear these many hats, we need to get more comfortable with who we are as individuals. And identify what it is that really matters the most to us. It is only when we understand and appreciate this, that we will be able to make more meaningful contributions to ourselves and to the people and things around us.
But like someone asked me recently – where, really, is the time to try out all of these things that I suggest we do? We are always so busy. Constant meetings, phone calls, emails, messages, project deadlines, responsibilities at home, the new year resolutions that you promised to stick to etc. Sure, you can try juggling and managing your time better, but to be fair, your time isn’t really always ‘your’ time.
So, my message today is on why and how we need to build pauses in our lives. To step back from the fast-paced humdrum around us and take the time to reflect on what really matters. And how to ring fence this time for ourselves, often enough and for long enough.
I recently watched this great TED talk by the acclaimed travel writer, Pico Iyer, on The Art of Stillness, where he shares how, to his great surprise, he discovered that the only way he could make sense of his life, was to just sit still. ‘Going nowhere’, which could mean anything from taking out a couple of minutes each day or a few weeks in your life, can offer you tremendous clarity. The irony of this is not lost on Iyer, who has built a life around being constantly on the move. But like he says, sometimes you just need to “…sit still long enough to find out what moves you most, to recall where your truest happiness lies and to remember that sometimes making a living and making a life point in opposite directions.”
Do watch his talk when you get a chance: https://www.ted.com/talks/pico_iyer_the_art_of_stillness?language=en
Fifteen years ago, my wife, Roopi, and I decided to take 6 months off from our jobs and backpack around the world. Our bosses told us it was a career limiting move – but we decided that it was still worth it – promotions can get delayed by a few months if needed 🙂 Roopi and I still feel that it was the best thing we have ever done for ourselves. We travelled through 14 countries on a backpackers budget with no set itinerary. We roamed freely meandering through these countries. There are still so many moments in our life where we make connections to something we experienced in our trip.
Of course, we don’t need to necessarily take a sabbatical to pause. While it can be a great experience for some, we need to also find a way to build pauses in our everyday lives – to reflect, learn and course correct.
How pausing can make you a better leader
To become more effective leaders, we need to get better at making choices.
It simply isn’t possible to give everything that comes your way, the same degree of attention or to do everything, all at once.
The more demands there are on your time, the more likely you are to drop the ball if you can’t prioritise and choose between them.
Your tendency will be to micromanage every project, rather than delegate to and empower your team. And that will only result in dissatisfaction among your team members.
The increasing uncertainty around us, only complicates this further. It means that we need to get much more comfortable with flux and become much more agile when it comes to decision making. It means that the best plans too may require rework.
And to manage all of this, we will need to be clearer about what really matters. We need to occasionally step back and see the larger picture, when it is only too easy to get caught up in the multitude of everyday actions.
Ana Dutra, Chief Executive Officer for Leadership and Talent Consulting and Executive Vice President at Korn Ferry International, illustrates this very aptly in her article The Power of Pause:
“Imagine that the issues, challenges and opportunities thrown at us on a minute-by-minute basis are either rubber balls or crystal balls. There are also other team members in the game. If we don’t catch all the rubber balls, they will either bounce or somebody else will catch them for us. If we don’t catch the crystal balls, they will break. The problem is that, the more exhausted, overwhelmed and frustrated we are, the harder it is to distinguish the rubber balls from the crystal balls.
But in the absence of the clarity to separate the balls, all balls look alike and we will tend to try to catch all of them fearing that we might be dropping a crystal ball. Only by allowing (or forcing) ourselves to pause we can ask ourselves which balls are really crystal balls and will, therefore, break if we don’t catch them.”
So, pausing creates a space for reflection that will help you grow personally. As you get better at channelising your time and energy, you will, in turn, be able to enable your team members in a more meaningful way. Recharging – physically and emotionally – will make you more insightful and better equip you to make the complex choices that your role demands.
Taking everyday pauses
I try and start every morning with a simple ten minute meditation. And before I go to bed every night, I try to reflect for a few minutes on how the day went – what I learnt and what I could have done differently. I have found this that these few minutes really help put things in perspective and channel my energies better. I also try and come early to work – it gives some time to plan my day and also introspect on my priorities before the deluge of meetings commences.
So, how can you build pauses in your life? Here are five tips to get you started:
1. Schedule time for it
Treat this like any other business imperative or meeting. Calendar it or set aside definite time for it. It could be even be a few minutes every day. It could be a weekend every month. But be tough with yourself on sticking with it.
2. Keep it simple
Your every day breaks don’t need to be complicated. The easier you make it, the more likely you are to stick to it. It could be a morning yoga session before you start the day, a walk during lunch, a quick break to listen to your favourite music, reading for a bit before you fall asleep at night. It could be pretty much anything, so long as it offers you the space to reflect and recharge.
3. Detail your plans
Often, what we need is a little more commitment towards our pauses. So, plan in advance when you can. It will make you more inclined to not put them off for later.
4. Make better use of time that gets wasted
Look through your schedule. Are you wasting time on unproductive activities? Could you plan things better? I am sure that you can find enough moments in the day that you can utilise better.
5. Switch off
Don’t try to multitask. Make this really ‘your’ time. Train yourself to switch off from everything else around you. Most of us end up trying to find a mid ground – taking smaller breaks (from our break) and reaching for our phones to quickly check on that important email. It doesn’t help. You won’t allow yourself a real break and nor will you get any other work done.
Remember that pausing will become a crucial capability for success. In the past, we had a lot of mechanisms for pauses – time zones, land lines, brick and mortar offices. But slowly, a lot of these pauses are getting wiped out. Which is why we need to find new ways to pause.
So, do create the space in your life to reflect and take the occasional time out. As Umair Haque wrote in a HBR article, reflection will become “the rocket fuel for experimentation, the lifeblood of high-level innovation, the spark of deeper meaning, and the well spring of enduring purpose”.
I look forward to hearing about your pauses.