It’s a common dilemma. There never seems to be enough time. In my twenties and well into my thirties this was a frequent complaint of mine. “I just don’t have enough time”! Or “I will when I find the time.” As if time was playing hide and seek with me and I just needed to keep looking for it.
I was obsessed with time. Always wearing a watch, always checking to see where those precious hands were pointing. And scared to waste a mere minute on something trivial or, God forbid, fun. Scheduled to the minute with no breathing room, time was my nemesis.
My relationship with time began to change when I had my first child. Time began to change right in front of my eyes. It became more treasured and precious. But it also changed consistency and become more malleable.
It appeared I could change my perception of time, stretching it out. I couldn’t do the impossible, and add more minutes into my day, but I could slow down the time I had been given.
Unconsciously at first, I began to make small changes that seemed to give me the time I thought was missing. I felt like a child in a candy-shop at first, like I’d uncovered special sci-fi secrets that bent time against its will.
These three changes have stuck with me over the years and are tools I always lean on if I find myself out of time.
Having children meant more to do. More laundry, more mess, more everything. And at first pass, it’s tempting to buy into the illusion that multitasking will help save time. Washing the dishes, while baking the cookies. Hang the washing and pull those weeds that have popped up.
But what I found (aside from burnt cookies), was that rather than helping, multitasking just made me feel chaotic and even more pressed for time.
Instead, what I found was that by doing just one thing at once, and finishing it before starting the next thing, I felt calmer and more relaxed. And it made me feel like I had been gifted a few more minutes!
I have been a chronic over-scheduler my whole life. And when I thought about why I was doing this (and consequently running late, or feeling robbed of time), I realized it was often because I was underestimating how long tasks or appointments would take.
So I started to overestimate. Hair appointment? Three hours. I have very thick hair! Grocery shopping? At least an hour in a small town where I know every third person.
And this overestimating did two things. It automatically reduced the length of my daily to-do’s. With each task taking an average of 30 minutes more, I simply didn’t have space for so many.
And second, it made me feel as though I had the luxury of more time. Sometimes we forget that it’s only ever ourselves in charge of how we spend our time.
I also found myself noticing more. Rather than rushing through each task on autopilot, I found that if I paid closer attention to what I was doing, time seemed to go a little slower.
From little tasks, like watering a plant, to bigger ones like making a meal, I paid deeper attention to the mini-tasks inside each job. I took closer notice of what the plant looked like, and I paid attention to the texture and smell of each vegetable I cut.
This deep noticing, a mindful activity, gave time a sluggish feel. I began to feel a sense of happy meandering instead of thoughtless rushing.
And I began to feel as though I had found more time.
Change your perception. Change your life.
Neuroscientist David Eagleman has called time a ‘rubbery thing’, stating; “It stretches out when you really turn your brain resources on, and when you say, ‘Oh, I got this, everything is as expected,’ it shrinks up.”
Research by Eagleman and others in this field has shown that mindfulness meditation increases the perceived duration of a task. Essentially slowing down the feeling of time.
When we focus our attention on the here and now we can change the way our brain stores information via attentional processes.
For me, this change in perception is life-changing. The freedom that comes with no longer feeling so rushed, busy and out of time is priceless.
Of course, there are still times when I slip back into autopilot, but now that I know the secret to slowing my time, it doesn’t take long to pull out my tools again.
And it’s no longer a secret. Extra time is available to anyone willing to turn off autopilot and try something a little different.
You don’t need to hunt for lost time anymore. Just pay deeper attention to the time you have. It works. I promise.
To find your own personal leadership narrative, figure out and share what great leadership means to you.Great leaders build amazing communities. They do so in a variety of ways and over an extended period of time. One of the most effective tools to accomplish that is to shape and articulate powerful narratives of what’s possible. Effective leaders share stories about what great leadership looks and feels like when individuals come together as teams, and teams come together as communities, with a unifying sense of purpose and collective ambition. This insight has emerged from both survey data and dozens of C-suite-level interviews as part of a major global study, Future of Leadership in the Digital Economy, that MIT Sloan Management Review is conducting with Cognizant. In this new world of work, where being connected and resilient are of paramount importance, 82% of our global survey respondents and virtually all of those interviewed indicated that an individual in the digital world would need a certain level of digital savviness to be an effective leader. Yet, when asked what skill or behavior was the most important to leadership effectiveness, the answer was being able to articulate a clear sense of purpose, vision, and strategy. What at first seems old is new again: Clarity of communication in a hyper-speed world is a key difference maker in the eyes of current managers and leaders from around the world.To gain a better feeling of the texture that forms the fabric of this insight, consider this comment from Susan Sobbott, former president of American Express Global Commercial Services: “In the digital economy, physical presence can’t be mandatory to be an effective leader. You have to be able to lead people from many different cultures, in many different locations, and often with imperfect information because things are moving so fast,” she says. Her simple and elegant solution to this decades-old challenge reflects the power of a clear leadership narrative. “You have to be able to see a story emerging and to articulate that story in a way that has meaning and inspiration for a wide range of people. You have to convey your passion and beliefs through a powerful narrative.”
Why Finding Your Leadership Narrative Is Important
We analyzed our survey responses from more than 120 countries and conducted a sentiment analysis and heat-mapping exercise to identify the most important leadership behaviors in this new economy. The traits that emerged were authenticity, transparency, trust, inspiration, the ability to connect and invest in others, analytical capability, curiosity, and courage, among others. Few would argue that these behaviors and attributes are necessary, yet by themselves, standing independently, without the context needed to create meaning or catalyze change, they run the risk of being considered buzzwords. Stories help prevent that from happening, and that’s where the power of creating your leadership narrative comes into play. Developing a powerful narrative demands that you, the leader, take a stand on what you believe in, what you are about, and what impact you hope to create as you set out to form teams and build communities. The leader behaviors and attributes listed earlier become your means of communicating to others who you are, as well as your expectations for others concerning how you will lead together in your organization. It’s about finding and sharing your voice.In a recent interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, late-night comedian Stephen Colbert talked about his search to “find his show.” For months his show struggled in the ratings, not because it lacked comedic appeal or impact, but because it had no thesis or arc that held it together. Once he and his writing team took a stand on what they believed in and followed through on those beliefs transparently, authentically, and courageously, Colbert believes they found their show, and since then he has commanded the No. 1 slot in the ratings. To find your personal leadership narrative, you need to figure out what great leadership means to you. David Schmittlein, dean of MIT’s Sloan School of Management, made a similar point while being interviewed for this study. “A great leader must be willing and able to display the courage it sometimes takes to stand by well-founded convictions — to take a stand on a decision that may be unpopular,” Schmittlein states. “It is about finding your narrative — what you believe in — and not being a willow in the wind. A well-thought-out leadership narrative helps create meaning and motivation for others.”
Getting Started: Finding Your Leadership Narrative
I spend a good deal of my time coaching senior executives to shape and tell their leadership stories in leader-led development initiatives around the world. When crafted well, and integrated with important conceptual content, engaging senior leaders to share their perspectives can be a powerful learning experience. Years ago, I was coaching a vice-chairman of a large global financial services company to share his story on what it meant to be a great leader in a changing world. He looked at me, almost with a sense of embarrassment, and said, “I’ve been in leadership roles for 35 years, and this is the first time I have ever been asked to share what I actually believe to be the essential ingredients of great leadership.” My response: “Well then, let’s get started!”Follow these simple steps to find your leadership narrative:
No matter how busy you are, how many deadlines you are facing, or how many people are vying for your time, give yourself permission to reflect on what being a great leader means to you. Don’t think about it for five minutes and consider the job done. Take a day or chunks of several days away from the office to seriously reflect on this. After you do that, write those thoughts down as a draft narrative. It might start out as a series of bullet points, and that’s completely fine to get you started. But make sure it begins to take shape as a story.
Share your draft narrative with one person, or several people, you trust. By trust, I mean that you trust that they will be honest with you concerning how authentic your narrative feels. Does the narrative describe you? Have they seen you behave this way over time? Have they witnessed you trying to cultivate those behaviors in others? You are trying to discover whether you are an authentic role model for your own narrative.
When your narrative is refined enough, try it out. Tell your story transparently and with authenticity. Your leadership narrative should not be seen as a war story, simply recounting something you did. Work on it so that others can learn from it. At the right time and with the right people, seek feedback on the impact your narrative is having and ask how your story can have greater impact.
How we work is changing, but why we work and what we hope to achieve through our work remain largely the same. We want to be part of something larger, something special, something that helps make this world we live in a better place. Your leadership narrative can motivate others in important ways. Finding your narrative — one that expresses authentically, transparently, and courageously what you believe in as a leader, what you are about, and indeed what you are willing to fight for — will let you begin to unite individuals into teams, and teams into amazing communities.
About the Author
LDouglas A. Ready is a senior lecturer in organizational effectiveness at the MIT Sloan School of Management, founder and CEO of the International Consortium for Executive Development Research, and MIT SMR guest editor. He tweets @doug_ready.
The more conscious we become, the more we deepen our relationship to the words we choose to use.Words carry energy and this gives language its power and its potential to heal or hurt. Most of us can remember a time that someone sent a word our way, and it stuck with us. It may have been the first time we received a truly accurate compliment, or the time a friend or sibling called us a name, but either way it stuck. This experience reminds us that what we say has weight and power and that being conscious means being aware of how we use words.
The more conscious we become, the more we deepen our relationship to the words we use so that we speak from a place of actually feeling what we are saying. We begin to recognize that words are not abstract, disconnected entities used only to convey meaning; they are powerful transmitters of feeling. For the next few days, you might want to practice noticing how the words you say and hear affect your body and your emotional state. Notice how the different communication styles of the people in your life make you feel. Also, watch closely to see how your own words come out and what affect they have on the people around you.
You may notice that when we speak quickly, without thinking, or rush to get our ideas across, our words don’t carry the same power as when we speak slowly and confidently, allowing those receiving our words time and space to take them in. When we carefully listen to others before we speak, our words have more integrity, and when we take time to center ourselves before speaking, we truly begin to harness the power of speech. Then our words can be intelligent messengers of healing and light, transmitting deep and positive feelings to those who receive them.
Sarina, a high-level executive, recently left me an urgent voicemail message, “I am utterly exhausted and yet I wake up at 3 a.m. every night. My head starts spinning through my ‘to do’ list or the things I didn’t do well or the things I wish I had said. I try to go back to sleep but it’s a useless effort. I finally give up and get up, but it means another day of feeling tired. And I know I’m not doing my best work. Can mindful leadership training help?”
Sarina was suffering from what I call the 3 a.m. Wake-up Call from her brain. And she was asking if there was a way that mindful leadership training could “block the call.” Does this sound familiar to you? It certainly was something I struggled with for many years. No matter how hard I tried, I simply couldn’t make myself go back to sleep when my mind started racing. Little by little, my resiliency was lessening until it felt that I was using every bit of my energy just to make it through the day. I was always feeling tired. When I did manage a good night’s sleep, it was striking how much it changed my experience of the next day. I was not only more alert, I was more patient, clear and creative.
Learning to sleep well moved to the top of my list. I did not want to take sleeping pills. I needed a healthy, long-term solution. Thankfully, by this time I was deeply involved with the development of mindful leadership training, so I began to experiment with a simple practice each night. Little by little, I began to sleep more restfully and for longer periods of time. There are still times when that 3 a.m. call rings but I now know how to answer it in a healthy way.
If you are ready to sleep better, try these simple steps:
3 Mindful Steps to Better Sleep
1. Remove all smart phones, tablets and computers from your bedroom. They don’t belong there. Seeing an email or social media post just before bed, or knowing that distractions are only inches from your head, can fuel the busyness of your mind.
2. When you settle into bed, bring your attention to the feeling of your breath. Feel your breath stretching the muscles in your chest or belly, feel the release. This is not an invitation to think about your breath or control it. Just feel the sensations.
3. When your mind starts to get busy, bring your attention back to the sensations. Let the thought that pulled you away go for now and redirect your attention back to the gentle movements and sensations of your breath. It is important that you be patient with yourself. Redirecting your attention is simply part of the practice and it does not matter how often you need to redirect your attention. Just be intentional about letting the thinking go (for now). It is as if you are saying ‘not now’ to your thoughts and worries. Now is a time to sleep.
Be consistent with this practice, using it each night that your sleep is interrupted. It may take some time to train your mind in this way but the benefits for your health and happiness are worth it. Happy dreams!
An estimated 3.8 billion email accounts worldwide fire off more than a quarter of a trillion messages each day, some of them not even spam. Out of this staggering sum, some will be sent outside of typical working hours and the controlled environment of the workplace.
Such was the case for Sam Hagerman, founder and owner of a boutique building company in Portland, Oregon. He had just returned from a festive holiday party at his alma mater, shed his tuxedo, brushed his teeth, and crawled into bed. Work still weighed on him, though, so he snatched his laptop to check email. The only light in the room shone from the laptop’s backlit screen, which he had darkened so as not to disturb his wife. There he found a message from a client he had spent countless hours wooing. This, he hoped, would be the news he had been waiting for.
Hagerman did not like what he read. The client complained that his firm was making the process too difficult for her. Too difficult for her? Hagerman thought, remembering the two years he had put into the deal. Perhaps deft diplomacy would salvage things, but Hagerman lost his patience and replied to his team: “I think this fish is rotten at the head. Let’s cut bait.” Then he shut his laptop and went to sleep—not realizing he had hit “reply all.”
The deal, of course, was over by the time the client saw the email the next morning.
Possibly, the late hour affected his judgment. But Hagerman had sent the email in the dark, and studies show that we humans act differently in low light than we do in the light of day. When the lights are dim, humans tend to feel less connected to others. In the shadows we care less about what others think of us. One theory is that ambient darkness lowers a person’s visual acuity and makes him feel hidden from others. So we let down our guard and are more apt to make more hedonistic (read: authentic) choices.
For Hagerman, this may have meant letting off steam instead of managing the client.
Light in the Workplace
To thrive in today’s globally competitive environment, companies at the top of their game expend great effort toward giving their workers any edge. In addition to generous compensation packages, they provide perks and benefits that range from health club memberships to on-site laundry facilities to stress-busting programs. But there’s also a critical link hiding in plain sight that helps people function at their very best. We are talking about light.
Vision comprises 80 to 85 percent of our perception of the world around us. So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that lighting can act on people in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. It can affect how we feel, what we do, and how well (or poorly) we do it. The right light can wake us up in the morning—as much as a strong cup of coffee—or help us wind down for a blissful night’s sleep. It can coax greater productivity, concentration, and creativity out of workers.
Lighting can be designed to change throughout the day, mimicking the movement of the sun and helping us keep our bodies and minds in sync. Or it can be used to help shift the mood in the evening, making it ideal for a networking event. Coupled with decent ventilation, studies show that good lighting can improve employee job satisfaction by almost 25 percent, increase productivity by 16 percent, and lower absenteeism. And it can minimize mistakes, too: an associate professor at Harvard University reportedly reduced errors at NASA Mission Control by switching to rich blue lighting, which could also be applied to healthcare settings to reduce medical errors.
Equally true, however, the wrong lighting can be harmful. A study at Cornell University found that people working in offices with poor lighting saw a 15 percent drop in their creativity while having a 6.5 percent higher likelihood of falling sick. Artificial light such as the kind emitted by fluorescent and halogen bulbs has been connected to disruptions in our internal body clocks, which causes the light-triggered release of hormones that regulate bodily function.
To some degree, businesses have long understood the importance of good lighting. They employ lighting designers and other experts who know what sparks our brains and what doesn’t. They choose the kinds of lights they believe will yield the best results—when to turn up the lights or tune their color spectrum to increase concentration and coax greater productivity from workers. Over at WeWork, there’s even a 14-person team dubbed “The Dream Squad” tasked with designing the ideal lighting for co-working spaces.
But the obvious question is, what about all the legions of people who don’t work in company offices or special co-working spaces? They take their work home with them, or are the harried folks you see typing reports and holding videoconferences on the run, or replying to texts and emails in coffee shops, airports, and aboard airplanes at all hours of the day and night. These digital doers aren’t getting much guidance, yet their performance can obviously have a great impact on an organization’s performance.
For his part, Eric Higgs, founder of Florida-based LumaStream, suggests that these people seek cooler lighting “while they are maximizing productivity and warmer light into the evening.” Of course, this is easier said than done for the business warrior who’s checking into a hotel at 2 a.m., waiting for a flight to Newark, typing an email on a mobile phone in the back of a taxi—or accidentally hitting “reply all” to a client’s email in bed after a long day.
What Businesses Do
Offices typically employ three basic types of lighting applications: general lighting for open spaces, task lighting for desks and focused work, and videoconference lighting. But they all have one thing in common: they utilize blue light, which tends to energize us humans.
That’s because of the way we process light, which potentially can cover the spectrum of colors. It comes down to nature. The sun, which is the ultimate lighting source, provides full spectrum light—light that not only spans the entire visual spectrum, it also has colors we can’t even perceive. When the sun rises it gives off warm colors like orange and red, which suffuse us with calm. At the height of the day, with the sun overhead, the light is cooler, which means it’s sharper and enriched with more white and blue hues. As the sun heads toward the horizon, the colors become warmer again, until nightfall. That’s nature’s way of telling us it’s time to sleep.
“A lot of our body chemistry is based on the day-night cycle, which we refer to as the circadian rhythm,” says Stan Walerczyk, principal of Lighting Wizards and chair of the Human Centric Lighting Society. “If you do not get sufficient exposure to sunlight, your circadian rhythm gets messed up and that, in turn, messes up your hormones—and then you’re all screwed up.”
But there is nothing natural about working inside in an office: “We spend 90 percent of our time indoors,” Higgs says. “Our biological clocks are out of sync from work and life conditions.”
That’s why companies have to give lighting some serious thought, especially if workspaces are in windowless settings. People who work in such conditions report lower scores on quality-of-life measures, while studies show those with windows in their workplaces received 173 percent more white light exposure during work hours. They then slept an average of 46 minutes more per night.
It isn’t just the existence of light that affects workers, it’s also the type and quality of light. “There’s no question different spectrums of light can cause different effects,” Higgs says. Cooler lighting is more typical in a workspace than in the home since it is perceived as more energizing, while warmer light, with its red and orange hues, settles you down.
Until recently, many companies opted for florescent lights in offices because it was cheaper in the short term through energy savings. But such artificial light has been connected to disruptions in our internal body clocks. The good news: as the cost of LED lighting has dropped, there’s been a movement among companies for more “human-centric lighting.”
The experimentation, though, has only begun. For instance, for the 2015 season, the Seattle Mariners hired Walerczyk to design and implement an LED lighting strategy in the home team’s locker room. The goal was to design the lights to intensify the players’ moods, increase energy levels, and improve their on-the-field performance.
“We tuned it so that before a game the players were exposed to blue-enriched light and after the game they received a warmer light, so they could eventually go to sleep easier,” Walerczyk says. (The team’s record improved, although with players regularly switching teams it’s hard to track the lighting’s role.)
What About Those Outside the Office?
Millions of Americans work outside the office. One poll found that 43 percent of employed Americans spend at least some time working remotely. Companies, meanwhile, are finding that allowing their workers to telecommute is simply good business, saving millions of dollars in office space (and expensive lighting designs), raising morale and loyalty, and meeting the demands of younger job seekers—i.e., millennials—who prefer it.
Obviously, organizations can’t come into people’s homes, but experts think guidelines for remote workers might help in a number of ways, such as reminding workers about the pitfalls of communicating with staff, vendors, and customers late in the evening or in places with poor lighting. Raising awareness is half the battle.
For his part, Walerczyk advises investing in a tunable lamp in homes and home offices, which can be adjusted to emit more blue light to energize, and more red or orange light when it’s time to wind down. Being near natural light always helps, so put your office desk near a window, and ditch any fluorescent or halogen lamps you might have. Above all, “email and text should be turned off while people are sleeping or resting,” he says.
Not one to lack ingenuity, Sam Hagerman, the construction firm owner who accidentally hit “reply all” on a message his client wasn’t supposed to see, came up with his own proactive, foolproof steps to prevent anything like that from happening again. He had an assistant set up a passcode on his mobile phone so he couldn’t respond between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
“I made her promise not to tell me the code,” Hagerman says.