I don’t have time to breathe

I don’t have time to breathe

As you know by now, Thoughtful Leadership is a concept we feel strongly about and believe to be a key differentiator of great leaders. Often when we are in front of an audience and share our teachings about incorporating more thinking, reflection, and “being present” time into daily work and life, we get push back. “There’s no time to think,” we hear. “Just time to do.” In one recent program, a participant offered, “I don’t have time to breathe.” Wow, no time to breathe? Really?

Yet, there are many people in your organizations today who are feeling just like that – that they are so busy, they have no time to breathe, much less think. And the consequences of that are all too real – high stress levels, low morale, poor client service, lack of collaboration, nonexistent planning…

We know that one big culprit of the “no time to think and breathe” mentality is an endless calendar of meetings. One coaching client I worked with had consistently double-booked time slots on his calendar. As a senior leader in his organization, he would do his best to attend everything, often running from meeting to meeting, just popping in for the first or last 30 minutes before heading off to the next appointment. His direct reports were frustrated that they had very little one-on-one time with him and that he always seemed distracted and rushed when they did get time with him. My client was in a constant state of overwhelm and stress, trying to meet the demands of multiple daily pressures. And the organization suffered as deadlines were missed, tasks were rushed to completion without sufficient input, and morale plummeted.

A recent study of CEOs’ daily schedules by researchers at London School of Economics and Harvard Business School, the Executive Time Use Project, revealed that even at the highest levels of organizations finding time to think can be elusive. The study found that the average CEO spent one third of their work time in meetings, and wanted more time to think and strategize.

While one CEO wished for more time to “sit back and think,” others created structures to limit time in meetings and open up more thinking time. One CEO aims to devote one-quarter of his workweek to thinking time, another makes his first hour at work his sacred time, and another employs texting, instant messaging, and video chat to reduce his attendance at long face-to-face meetings. You can read more about the study in this Wall Street Journal article, Where’s the Boss? Trapped in a Meeting.

Ultimately, the best way to build more thinking time into your workweek is to schedule it in your calendar and make it untouchable. Do your thinking outside of the office to eliminate the possibilities of distractions, schedule it first before checking email so as not to have your attention diverted, and devote time to focus on long-term goals, which often get put off to deal with more urgent matters. In our blog post, Slow down for better leadership, we offered five other tips for incorporating Thoughtful Leadership into your daily work life.

In the Wall Street Journal article, Robert Steven Kaplan, a Harvard Business School professor, offered another excellent piece of advice – substitute the word “money” for “time” when managing your calendar. We are much more careful and protective or our money than of our time.

How can you build more thinking time into your work week? What tips can you share?

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What People Are Saying

@_environmentor   |   25 October 2016

This is soooooooo true in many ways.

In recent years, I’ve found myself on a number of Boards (unpaid, voluntary positions) and other groups that, whilst personally rewarding and reputation-enhancing, have really sucked-up way too much of my time.

About 4 weeks ago, I realised what a distraction all these extraneous functions had become and decided to exert some control over my time in order to improve my performance and work:life balance. So I stood down from three out of four of my extra-curricular roles.

I now feel much less pressured and better able to ruthlessly focus on the things that really matter to me.

Lessons learned include:

1. Saying “no”

2. Setting time aside to just mull stuff

3. Think of time as money

The last point can really be quite eye-opening: work out roughly what your time is worth per hour (based on salary + oncosts). Then, when you’re next planning a meeting or are invited to one, think about how long it’s going to take and what that time is worth. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that your hourly cost is £45ph, and you’re invited to a 2 hour meeting that involves an hour of travel each way, that means the meeting is going to ‘cost’ 4 x £45 = £180. Now ask yourself “would I still go if I had to literally take £180 out of my wallet/purse and pay for the privilege of attending the meeting?” and if the answer, taking into account the potential ROI from attending is “no”, forget it and do something that adds more value.

Lisa Kohn   |   27 October 2016

Thank you. What a great true-life example and a powerful way to Thoughtfully work it out. Time is money and if we remembered that it might help us put our time, and ourselves, where it matters most.