Making Time for Space and Reflection

Mar 13, 2019 | Culture, Leadership

Earlier this year Business Insider posted quite the attention-grabbing headline with its article: Burned-out billionaires are taking extended multimillion-dollar ‘sabbaticals’ to recharge, from world tours on private jets to skiing expeditions in Antarctica.

We’ve been hearing a lot about burnout and stress-leaves over the past few years, right alongside the cult of businesses and tied in with the 24/7 business week (this has become such a problem that some countries have started to ban after-hours email).

But the concept of the sabbatical – while a longstanding tradition in academia – is still just starting to work its way into the mainstream.

While sabbaticals are a novel idea worth exploring, the raison d’être for a sabbatical is to take some time away from it all; to recharge. But isn’t there a way for leaders – or their team members – to avoid reaching the burnout point, where a sabbatical becomes the only viable option? And rather than focusing on getting every last ounce of great work out of ourselves, and our employees, shouldn’t we be looking for ways to unleash our thinking without causing undue stress and exhaustion?

Our team often finds ourselves in full-on listening mode when clients and friends of our firm come by to get out of their office, and, more importantly, get out of their heads.

It’s too easy to get caught up in the day-to-day hustle and urgency of our work places, which sacrifices the real think time, focus, and perspective we need to produce breakthrough thinking. When you’re at your desk, everything is often an urgent emergency, and was due yesterday. However, this approach to work not only fails to leverage our deeper thinking brains, but also can lead to stress, burnout, and ultimately bad decisions.

There’s a reason business titans, like Warren Buffet, devote a good portion of their energy to keeping their calendars clear and empty – it affords them the time to think. The more senior your role, the more people will demand your time, thinking, and decisions. All the more reason for leaders to ensure they block time to go for a walk, take time alone, or seek out opportunities to get out of the office and seek outside perspective. It’s this ‘time away’ where some of the best thinking often happens. (Also let’s recall Kahneman; ‘thinking slow’ inherently requires time and focus.

Making time and space for reflection is important for reducing burnout at the individual level, but it is also essential to increasing performance. As the workplace becomes increasingly complicated, it becomes increasingly important to step away, to gain perspective, and to provide yourself with the opportunity to see past all the noise of the day-to-day. Boston Consulting Group conducted a study of CEOs and found that they spend 60% of their time in meetings and 25% on the phone or at public events, leaving little to no time for everything else on their to-do list – from the required regular work, to meaningful reflection time.

Therefore, it’s up to leaders to be deliberate in making time, in finding a partner with which to reflect, and to be able to come to those conversations as a participant, rather than as the decision-maker, and ‘commander-in-chief.’

Our challenge to you is to make time and space for reflection. Consider setting up untouchable time each week – even if it’s just for 15 minutes to start – and find a partner to help you facilitate your reflection, and hold you accountable to your commitments. 

This will help you to unleash your best thinking in a way that is sustainable, and helps to avoid burnout.

By: Jesse Finn



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