Brett Wood explores the relationship between inner work, performance and wellbeing.
LOST IN TIME
We don’t see the world as it is. We see the world as we are.
Well, as the end of the year fast approaches, once again I’m hearing myself and others saying “Can you believe it’s only 2 weeks to Christmas? Yeah, this year has flown by. Each year seems to fly by faster”. Of course, in measureable terms, it’s the same amount as any year. So something else is going on here. I read an article some years ago which got me thinking about time (unfortunately I can’t find the article to cite, and hell, I don’t have the time to keep looking). The article quoted some computer experts from the early sixties predicting a future where computers and technology would free up our time. There was a picture of a city with parks full of people enjoying leisure time. And the scientists wrote “Computers and robots will enable us to do 50 times more than we can with our type writers and manual labour”. They said we’d all work about 1/50th of the time for the same output and spend the rest of the time swanning about on lawns, being creative, enjoying family etc.
But something interesting happened. The time saved by computers and robots was immediately filled up with the pursuit of greater output. Technology got better and saved even more time which got filled with even more activity. And in commercial terms, to remain competitive, we all had to keep up with each other. And time flies by. The treadmill speeds up. There was an idealistic little fad in the 90’s called “work life balance” but nothing much came of it. I worked with a company recently who said “we don’t call it work-life balance anymore because people are too cynical, so we call it ‘competing priorities’”. So something in the inner life is going on. “Not enough time” is a story we tell ourselves. We have all the time we have. It occurs to us as ‘not enough’ in relation to our achievement ambitions. Looked at through a positive lens, it’s about creative appetite and energy which can bring us great levels of prosperity and fulfilment. Looked at through a negative lens it’s about greed and addiction which will burn us out and exploit the earth leaving a wasteland for our children. I think both lenses are important to acknowledge. Most important is that we are conscious of the issue and are talking about it to make sure our productivity is healthy. But many of us are not having this important conversation. We don’t have the time.
I’m fortunate to work for a company that does keep work life balance alive and makes the time for the important conversations. We are far from perfect. Balance by nature is a moveable feast after all, it’s never fixed. And it is learnt by falling over again and again. To be honest our company is most of the time leaning over to the side of crazy busy. But time and time again I have seen the willingness to stop and invest that valuable, precious, flying-by time to discuss what’s important. And this brings me to my point. The importance of being willing to invest time in quality conversation; to share perspective, to really listen, to hang out with confusion and conflict without bulldozing each other into submission. When this quality time happens, time seems to slow down. And the return on that investment of time is huge. Answers do come. Not just the ‘let’s rearrange the furniture’ kind of answers, but the answers that shift us to a whole new room on a new floor. Such transformation is rare and unlikely, yet always possible and we can learn how to do it. And yet still, these quality conversations are difficult to find time for. When interpersonal conflict arises it’s easier to talk about someone instead of to someone. And when we do talk to them, it takes time to move beyond “talking nice” or “talking tough” and into actually “talking together” (to borrow from Otto Scharmer). This takes skill which in itself takes an investment of time to develop. I’m happy to work in a company that helps people to develop those skills- to understand the correlation between performance, well-being and communication. To learn this and to practice this requires prioritisation. It requires a refusal of the great lie; “I don’t have the time”. Better to fess up. “I have the time, I’m just not willing to spend it talking with you to resolve this, though by the look on your face, perhaps I should re-consider my priorities…”
If you like this post; You may also enjoy reading Inner Life, Outer Results (October Edition)