3 Types of Time Critical to Mindful Leadership Success
By Martin Boroson and Carmel Moore
Looking at your calendar can be soul-destroying.
Sadly, we do it many times a day.
If you believe your calendar, life is a grid. And time is not a flow of experience, but a stack of blocks—equal, interchangeable, and soulless.
The way we actually experience time, however, is neither regular nor mechanical. It is subjective, depending on factors such as mood, stage of life, and whatever we’re doing. For example, time flies when you’re having fun, and a watched pot never boils.
And yet, rather than designing each day with a personal view of time, or seeing our calendar as a canvas of playful possibility, we fall victim to the calendar’s rigidity, as if each day were an assembly line and each experience just a “unit of production.”
No wonder we get burned out.
No wonder time marches on, and at the end of that long march, we question if we used it well: how we experience each day is how we live our lives.
The One Moment Company takes a new approach to time, an approach that is based in mindfulness. To distinguish this from time management, we call it time mastery.
In the programs we run for leaders, the starting thesis is that time is mostly in the mind and that dealing effectively with time is more an art than a science. This helps our participants unhook from mindless obedience to clock time. Listening deeply to themselves, they discover the specific types of time they most need and want—for their health, happiness, and success. Based on these insights, we coach each person to redesign their days.
The result is a calendar—or better still, a life—that expresses who they are and what they want. Each day becomes a manifestation of mindful choice.
What’s so special about a ‘Type’ of Time?
Having brought hundreds of leaders through this process, we have identified over three hundred different--and valuable--types of time.
In our model, however, the term “type of time” does not generally refer to an activity. It has more to do with the essence of an experience—more the ‘why’ or ‘how’ than the ‘what’.
To illustrate this concept, let’s look at the seemingly simple activity of going for a walk. Our research reveals that even this everyday activity can be experienced in different ways. A walk is not a walk is not a walk.
For one person, “going for a walk” might mean getting vigorous exercise. For another, finding quiet, private time to reflect. For another, adventurously exploring a new neighbourhood or trail. For another, immersing herself in a forest. And for someone else, it might mean spending quality time with a dear friend.
Each kind of walk therefore begins with a different intention, requires different equipment, has a different feeling, and requires different support. For example, if you wanted vigorous exercise, you’d bring your music player, heart rate monitor, and water bottle, but if you wanted reflection, you’d bring a notebook and pen.
Importantly, each kind of walk also has a different metric of success. For example, when your intention is to exercise, your heart should be pumping. When your intention is to connect with a friend, your heart should be opening.
Paying attention to these differences is transformational. In our research, it is where mindfulness truly comes to life.
What leaders tell us
The leaders who have attended our programs have identified three types of time as most critical to their success and growth: Recovery Time, Learning Time, and Celebration. Here is a brief introduction to them:
1. Recovery Time
In the good old days, everyone, no matter what their position, had formal or at least frequent times off: tea breaks, lunch breaks, three-martini-lunch breaks, cigarette breaks—and of course, evenings and weekends.
Nowadays, formal, ritualized breaks—even evenings and weekends—have almost vanished.
The result is that we are always on—zooming from one meeting to the next. We forget to move our body. We forget to eat. And most of all, we fail to recover, process, and assimilate. This means we are living with a constant deficit. If we have not recovered from that meeting, we cannot be present in this one.
Recovery Time is a period of time that you formally dedicate to recovering. It doesn’t have to take long and can be used in different ways, but it must be fit for purpose. In Recovery Time, you could rest, reflect, meditate, summarize your notes, identify action steps, express your feelings, dance, exercise. The purpose is to integrate what happened, release what happened, or simply replenish your body and soul.
Think about it: There is no good reason for anyone--no matter how important you are--to go through a single day without Recovery Time. And as failure to take Recovery Time can seriously diminish your performance, you can consider it vital to your leadership.
Strange as this may seem, we recommend that you formally schedule Recovery Time—otherwise, it may not happen. To do this, take an honest look at your calendar. Too many back-to-back meetings? Cancel one—or make them shorter—and block out some time for recovery. Too much sitting? Ring fence some Stretch Time. Facing a difficult conversation? Build in time afterward to reflect. A time of day when your energy typically drops? Make an appointment for Nap Time or Fresh Air Time. Busy week ahead? Schedule some Catch-Up Time on Friday.
Sometimes Recovery Time does happen spontaneously; after all, as an animal, you do have an instinct to rest and recover. You may find yourself heedlessly rushing to the bathroom, grabbing a quick coffee, or burying your head in your hands. It is helpful to pause in these spontaneous times of recovery to become conscious that you’re doing it. Being intentional about your recovery seems to boost its benefit. Simply acknowledge that you needed, deserve, and indeed, are able to take this time.
2. Learning Time
In this fast-changing world, leaders face a paradox: People expect you to “know it all” but you don’t have the bandwidth to keep learning or even find out what you really should know. Simply keeping up with your present responsibilities is insufficient: you have to stay abreast of change, improve your skills, and keep growing.
That’s why leaders tell us they desperately need Learning Time.
Learning Time could be used to learn practical skills, such as new software. It could mean putting yourself in an environment where a stimulating group of people will provoke new ideas. It could mean getting a coach to help you reach the next level of performance (and challenge those stale assumptions). And for the most enlightened leaders we work with, Learning Time is a chance to do something even more radical—to try something completely different and get outside the limitations of the known.
Of course, being a leader is a lifelong journey of learning. The environment incessantly sends signals to leaders about their strengths and weaknesses, their limiting beliefs, and their impact on others. But leaders don’t always get the message. So, Learning Time could also mean the time you set aside simply to review, assimilate, distill, or just acknowledge this data that you already have. In recent months, the need for Learning Time has taken on new relevance and urgency. Many of our clients now specifically allocate time in their day to learn about diversity and inclusion—not just in “diversity training” but by creating dedicated time to listen. This is often done through “reverse mentoring”—honoring the expertise and lived experience of more junior colleagues from different backgrounds.
3. Celebration Time
The lifecycle of a typical project goes through these stages: plan, check, act—and then it starts again. Some leaders add a stage for ‘reflection’. But what is almost always overlooked is celebration.
Celebration Time is a way to experience and appreciate the phase of finishing, of knowing that it’s over. After all, no one can be in peak mode all the time. Taking time for celebration shows that a leader is sensitive to rhythm and tempo, to noticing when energy is on the rise, when energy is falling, and when we need to let our hair down and say ‘well done’.
Celebration Time provides more than punctuation, however; it is also an opportunity to praise and acknowledge.
When organizations fail to celebrate success, the likelihood is that people feel chronically unappreciated and undervalued, contributing to burnout and high turnover.
Celebration Time is particularly important for professionals, such as accountants, lawyers, and engineers, who are risk-focused—those required to scan for hazards and notice what’s wrong. These members of your team need help to balance this by pausing for a moment to say “We averted that problem” or “You know, we’re doing well.”
In our consulting engagements, though we advise leaders to plan for Celebration Time, we also remind them that it should never feel inauthentic or contrived. Celebration works best when it is heartfelt and relatively spontaneous, and when it occurs pretty quickly after completion. In other words, Celebration Time is not about an annual meeting, a toast at the holiday party, or even “Employee of the Month.” It is about making celebration part of the way you work.
How to Find the Times You Need
The process of identifying the types of time you most need can be surprisingly transformational—a mindfulness training in itself. Here is a condensed version of the process we teach:
- Step One: Listen to Yourself. Reflect on the types of time you really need. Release what other people think you should do with your time. And try to avoid cliches about time—such as “Me Time”—unless you truly connect with them.
- Step Two: Get Clear. Once you have identified a type of time that you want to introduce into your life or organization, look at it even more closely to discern what you most want from that time. Drill down. Be specific. Describe it in terms that are personal and even colorful. What would this time mean to you? What itch would it scratch? And how would you know for sure that it’s happening?
- Step Three: Get Support. Adding a new type of time to your life, as with any new habit, may be challenging until it becomes second nature, so it helps to enroll people to support you. A conversation with your teams, gatekeepers, assistant, or life partner is often essential. You may also need to take specific actions in order to defend this time from time marauders—those people who assume that you’re available in the way you used to be.
The Joy of Absorption
As you begin to redesign your calendar through this process, the transformation can be powerful.
Rather than seeing your schedule as imposed on you, determined by forces “out there,” you see it as an expression of you; you are living from the inside out. This works even in a corporate environment.
You feel liberated, as a leader, to finally do the work that only you can do. You start taking the time you need to truly lead. You may even find time to enjoy the fruits of your success.
And those once-soulless boxes of time on your calendar become portals to adventure.
You become less a consumer of time and more of a connoisseur of time. You savor time, knowing how to give each activity the attention, care, and space it merits. (You may even learn to accept, more graciously, some of those things you “have” to do.)
Perhaps best of all, you are more likely to experience the joy of absorption—that highly mindful state in which your intention is fully aligned with your action. In that state, you are not just doing something—you are being what you’re doing.
And in the ecstasy of absorption, you lose track of time completely.
You are truly off the clock.
Martin Boroson is a leadership coach and author of One-Moment Meditation.
Carmel Moore is a director of The One Moment Company, and a former partner at EY, and Tax Director at Pfizer and Deloitte.
For more on this topic, The New Rules of Time: a masterclass for leaders starting January 19, 2021. As a special offer to Mindful Leader Readers, 10% OFF with discount code: MINDFULTIME. Also available: Exchange Economy Pricing. Click here to learn more.
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