ThinkPieces

Crouch, Touch, Pause...Engage!

Is it just me or is time going faster? Every day passes in a blur of activity, punctuated by phone calls, SMSes, e-mails, meetings and appointments. Adrenaline runs our days and ruins our nights. We pride ourselves on how much we manage to cram in. We revere multi-tasking.

We seem to have deluded ourselves into thinking our foot jiggling, finger tapping behaviour (while waiting for someone to make a point),covert watch-checking, e-mail perusing, driving-while-on-the- phone and making- diary- entries behaviour is optimal. This is the best use of our time, isn't it? Being "hectic" means we are valued and valuable. It means the world cannot function without us. Doing something, anything, produces results. Doesn't it?

A few facts should make us stop and think. Firstly multi-tasking is a myth. Recent research has proved that it's not humanly possible to pay the same level of attention to multiple things simultaneously. Multi-tasking is really splitting our focus. By trying to do five things at once, we pay one fifth of our attention to each one. Consistently doing this leads to Attention Deficit Trait, a fancy name for not being able to focus for longer than a few minutes on an idea or person.

Secondly, busyness does not equal impact or productivity. In a ten-year study in the US, researchers investigating the lack of innovation found that only 10% of managers got truly valuable work done. The remaining 90% were spinning their wheels, working 60 hour weeks, literally too busy to innovate and guilty of confusing action with accomplishment.

How does this happen?

Let's compare the difference between time and money and how we treat them. Both are scarce resources. Both are currencies. Yet we treat them vastly differently. Money, we believe is in our control. How much we have, what we spend it on, where we invest it and ultimately in the way we create wealth or how we extract value from it.

In contrast we behave as if time controls us. Our activity-filled diaries run our lives. It's seldom, if ever, that we make a deliberate strategic choice about time investment with a long-term view of "wealth creation" of a different kind (relationships with those close to us, relationships with colleagues or subordinates, our own unfulfilled dreams and ambitions?). How many of us justify hideous working hours and time sacrifices with the rationale that "this is only for a while". The unspoken clincher being "until I get enough money to control my time".

Time has strategic value, it builds relationships. Relationships (between suppliers or colleagues) are in fact a key competitive advantage for any business. The time and attention managers give subordinates have significantly greater sustainable impact on their motivation than a bonus or monetary reward. If you thought spending time engaging with other people was a waste of time - think again!

And yet time runs out. We can always make more money, we can never make more time.

A rethink about how we view and value time is where "crouch, touch, pause, engage" fits in. It refers to the rugby protocol introduced a few years ago aimed at reducing the occurrence of collapsed scrums. It's a powerful analogy of how we plough, headfirst, helter-skelter into life. Perhaps if we were to apply a similar protocol (stop, reflect, choose, engage) in terms of the time available to us, we could reduce the occurrence of "collapsed scrums" in our personal and work lives.

Stop!

We need to stop. Regularly. Once a week if possible. Not after quitting a 15-year job or upon retirement (when the opportunity to communicate wisdom gained from reflection has sadly passed). Busyness prevents us from thinking clearly or thinking at all.

Reflect

Most religions have reflection as an integral part of acquiring wisdom. Christianity even prescribes a day a week for rest! The aim is not to make us slower but to make us wiser, sharper, fresher and more creative. There's a reason the shower is a great place for new crazy off-the-wall ideas or solutions to problems. It is precisely when we are not busy "doing" that the other part of our brain kicks in.

Choose

There's a Taoist saying: "there is so much to do; there is so little time; we must go slowly". Descartes (a clever Frenchman) pointed out the obvious - that everything we do depends on the quality of thinking that precedes it. Busyness is so destructive, primarily because it prevents us from really thinking about what we do, why we do it, what we should choose to do and the trade-offs and implications of those choices.

Engage!

We owe it to one another to stop the mental tickertape - to pay attention. To listen with fascination and respect as we engage. To start using time strategically in order to create the workplaces, families and lives that we really want.

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