Does this sound familiar to you? In many of my consultations and coaching sessions, I hear people say this exact thing. Some claim that they don't have any time to change or add any more tasks to their already overflowing list. Others say they are so stressed out as it is that they don't see how they can afford to pause without running the risk to miss a step, make a big mistake, or a project running into trouble.
Are you one of these individuals or a leader of a team in this situation? Are you maybe even a person who suffers from both, no time and loads of stress?
If so, let me thank you right away for taking some of your precious time to read this article.
In case you are not one of these people, but you know some or feel you could be pretty soon, I hope you will gain some perspective and motivation to reflect and maybe change what you are doing.
First of all, there is really no secret to time. It is something we all have the same amount of. Each day has 24 hours, a week has 7 days, an hour has 60 minutes (please don't argue about other systems of measurement). We all work in a global system of time. What we can do is decide what to do with the time available to us. We can determine how much we want to use for sleep, knowing that that keeps us healthy and allows us to continue for prolonged periods of time.
The other thing we can do is determine what we do with the time we don't sleep, play, or use for things other than what we consider work. You might say that most of this time is planned out by the organization you work for, and that is probably true. Question is: Does this have to be this way and is the process really optimized towards the goals you and your organization want to achieve?
The core question here is: Are you ‘Downloading’ or are you ‘Seeing'?
You might have heard it in school ‘ or you might have never realized: of all the data that our sensors detect at any given time, only about 1% is actually used to make decisions or and recognized at any given time. Our brain can't use all this information, so 99% is discarded.
The remaining 1% is used for decision making. Before we actually decide on anything, our brain does one other thing for us, unconsciously: it looks for similarities in our memory. If it finds them it suggests to apply the behavior or reaction we used in the past, thereby expediting the process very much. All that is very good and efficient, but it also means that a very small fraction of the opportunities in our lives receive real attention and reflection and cause us to possible do something new, react in a different way. This process of selection and referencing can be called ‘downloading’.
In our work life, especially in larger organizations, this downloading also determines what we do. If the pattern in the company is to keep your insights to yourself and not disclosing much info to the customers or the media, this behavior turns into a pattern that spreads through to organization like a virus. Departments don't share, divisions don't share, regional offices or even country offices all do their own thing. This increases stress for those in charge as you might never know what might lurk in the shadows and how it might hurt your own career. With nobody to talk to, you try to impress by doing as much as you can. I call this “face time".
Nobody I know can do new, innovative, top level stuff all the time. So, how do we cope, still have lots of face time (and stress)? We structure the time we have available with many meetings and sessions. Most of these include minor updates and reports on activities, but for the most part, they are times to spend together in groups, providing attention. Those in charge see that you are doing things, that you must be important because you have tons of meetings to go to, and your schedule looks full to the point of bursting.
With that much on your plate, there is no room or time for change. If the organization is half-way successful, it even appears that there is no need for change. Is it fun? Did you achieve what you envisioned when you first got the job? Does it do all the tings for you that you know it could? Probably not, but it pays the bills ‘ right? Who are you to change this machinery?
I recommend to change from “Downloading" to “Seeing" (terms developed by Otto Scharmer, 2007)
In a nutshell, ‘Seeing’ means you can look at the situation, the process, the problem, the issue from the place of the observer as well as form the place of the participant. Ron Heifetz calls this process: Observing the play of life from the balcony of the opera house.
The important aspects to learn ‘Seeing" are:
- Identify the goals and the problem you intent to solve ‘ similar to good research, you need to narrow down what you want to study, what the exact research question is, and which population to select to get usable results.
- Be open to discover the unexpected ‘ Otto Scharmer writes about Charles Darwin, saying: “The father of modern evolutionary theory was known to keep a notebook with him to capture observations and data that contradicted his theories and expectations. He was well aware that the human mind tends to quickly forget what does not fit into familiar frameworks. " (Scharmer, 2007, p. 133) He calls the suspension of judgement the only thing that can allow us to open our minds and ourselves to the wonders of something new ‘ beyond the patterns we are used to from Downloading
- Communicate and collaborate ‘ When observing the reality (like from a balcony) and then reflecting upon it, ways to change become obvious. Discussing how the actions to achieve the changes can actually look like and what steps in a sequence can be will allow people to come along on the path of Seeing and actually become open to change.
For all three of these parts of successful ‘Seeing', good leadership is required. Otto Scharmer had an interesting new view on this form of leadership. He states:
"The primary job of leadership, I have come to believe through my work with Edgar Schein, is to enhance the individual and systematic capacity to see, to deeply attend to the reality that people face and enact. Thus the leader's real work is to help people discover the power of seeing and seeing together. " (Scharmer, 2007, p.136)
One part of the discovery of Seeing is for you to discover how you can best spend the time you actually have. It is equal for all of us ‘ the difference is what you do with it, how you spend it and how careful you use it to do things that actually get you ahead, instead of Downloading the same old, same old and fill your day with face time.
The other part is to overcome your stress by being a good leader, communicating the discoveries of seeing and how they can enhance the life of everybody in the organization, or even everybody you touch. If you focus on discovering what you can do to achieve the overarching goals of your life, your family, and your organization, you will not feel stressed or out of time, but energized, motivated, and driven. No longer will you experience work, but you will experience joy, energy, and satisfaction.
By learning how to move form Downloading to Seeing, you will learn to do what you are best at and what you enjoy most. You might learn that the job you are in is not the right one for you anymore. You might find new things that are better and more motivating for you. You will discover your passion ‘ and when you do, nothing is work anymore, and everything is play, joy, and a step towards the achievement of the goals you set for yourself and your life.
Axel Meierhoefer is an experienced performance coach, author, educator, consultant, and the founder of Axel Meierhoefer Consulting LLC (AMC LLC). His motto is" Helping others help themselves achieve success". If you like to get on his VIP E-mail list to receive more articles, or if you like to receive his FREE special report, go to http://www.meierhoefer.net/special or email AM@Meierhoefer.net