It’s about time

March 7, 2021

This note is on time. If it’s not too late.

Time, for me, has never been an ever-expanding universe that I can fill with whatever I like. I suspect time for you may feel much the same.

Time feels like a swirling wind with me trying to chase all of my different priorities, deadlines and ambitions like fallen leaves.

Having too little time, however, is not really the problem. The problem is behaving like a gambler who thinks “one more bet and I can win back my losses”. The time-poor equivalent is “one more task and I will be on top of things”. It would be fine, ish, if there were peaks and troughs, but in the end there just isn’t time to slow down, to think, to pause or to reflect.

On a good day we can leap from task to task like free-runners jumping from obstacle to obstacle and daring not to stop. On a bad day, our online diaries are a computer screen of coloured blocks that we have let others build around us, the meeting details like Times New Roman graffiti on a prison wall of time. Either way, it isn’t sustainable and we need to care to change things for ourselves.

We should not propagate apocryphal stories of people with seemingly mystical powers who can do it all and have it all. The stories that tell of some who walk among us who have mastery of their brief, who know the secrets of high-performance leadership programmes and who live in a bubble of adrenalin where being shouted at in a Californian accent on a Peloton bike is an aspirational mark of success.

My reality is of days that resemble a chaotic slalom down my mountainous to-do list, a catalogue of near misses and the odd crashing fall.

I do not believe there is high performance culture that puts us first; in such worlds we are destined to be masters of exhaustion and black belts in setting unrealistic expectations. I say again that the difference we need is ours to make.

I believe we could do more to make time a gift for others. Most meetings are not important enough to take up so much time. We must break the cycle of spending other people’s time on things we know they would not choose to spend time on. We should only invite people to meetings if we know they will be needed and can make a valuable contribution. Even then, we should only invite them for the minimum time needed. We should be explicit about what they are needed for and give them permission to leave as soon as their contribution is made.

I believe we could do more to make time a gift for our teams. Some meetings should be agenda driven of course, and about business as usual, tasks, priorities, etc. However, some meetings should just be for reflection with no agenda. These meetings are for colleagues to bring things to be discussed that are not urgent, but are important. We should not mix these different approaches as they require a very different energy and mindset. A meeting for reflection is special, and what a gift that would be for hard pressed colleagues.

And I believe we could do more to make time a gift for ourselves. Once a month to set aside a day to pause. We need time to plan and think creatively about our work and our contribution. If we can, we should go off-site, meet people who inspire us, reflect with a mentor and never feel guilty that we made time to think.

I’ll stop now, I know you are busy, but thank you for your time, and for spending the last three minutes with me.

Take care. Paul xx

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