The Phases of Our Lives

August 9, 2012

“It’s just a phase,” I would hear my mother say to her friend on the phone. As teenagers, my sister and I had no idea how much we put our mother through and while she says now we were just fabulous, I know the teen years are far from it.

With a teen of my own, I get to experience several phases at once: the remembering phase (“God, was I like that?”); the mothering phase (“Because I said so.”); the daughtering phase (“Mom, I am so sorry if I ever, ever said something like that to you.”); and the mid-life phase (“What do I want out of  life?”).

All that rolled into one makes for some interesting times.

A friend of mine once told me I could choose how to view this phase of parenting: as either a gift or a curse. I have chosen to look at it as an opportunity of self-discovery as I witness my children grow into the people they will become.

Whether you have children or not, we all go through phases in our lives. Sometimes we are up; sometimes we are down. Sometimes we are suspended on a tightrope, daring ourselves not to look down.

While work-life balance experts will tell you that equilibrium is the goal, I disagree. Alignment with your truest purpose, and all the hills and valleys, are what you are here to experience. So what if you topple off that balance beam? Maybe it’s just what you needed to get a different perspective.

When we take back our lives with clarity and vision, those valleys seem less frightening. Grab yourself some sentries in the form of friends and loved ones who will stand by you in stormy times. Reach out when you need it. We all deserve that kind of support.

Do it with love. Do it shamelessly. Hug out the pain until it slides back into the shadows.

We’ve got this life, broken down into units of time. Take it all. It’s yours.

 

Fortune 500 magazine recently reported on research conducted by Harvard Business School, the London School of Economics and others on how much time CEOs spend at work. Entitled CEO Time Use Project, this study is headed by Raffaella Sadun, an Italian academic at Harvard who released the first findings of Italian CEOs in a pool of over 200 from around the world. On average, Italian CEOs work 48 hours a week.

What researchers have found is people themselves tend to stretch the truth about how much time they spend at work, a finding that places John Robinson’s Time Use Survey research into question (the next one is due to be release later this month). While many of his respondentsclaimed to work up to 80 hours, many of them really only worked 60. Even back in 1998, the self-reporting methodology was called into a question.

This finding drives home a point The Power of Slow makes, well, time and again.

Time is a subjective thing.

But the folks at LSE, Harvard and elsewhere believe they can translate time into money by quantifying productivity through hours work and profits made. The point of diminishing returns is an important one to make. And I’m relieved to see they’ve factored that into the equation.

The underlying motivation for looking at how CEOs spend their time (as reported by their assistants who have a stronghold on their calendars) is to find the correlation between how CEOs spend their time and firm performance.

Reconstructed from their time use diary, researchers were able to determine what they did when:

• Activities type (meetings, phone calls, travel)
• People they interact with (e.g. function, links with the firm)
• Physical location (e.g. HQ vs out of firm)
• Scheduling (e.g. planned vs. unplanned)

And they found that there is indeed a point of diminishing return. But for one percentage point rise in work hours translated into a 2.14% increase in productivity (as defined by revenue per employee). Interestingly, however, researchers dissected how they spent their time and the ability to translate that into direct productivity. For instance, meeting with employees brought more productivity than meeting with consultants or other outsourced personnel.

So how you spend your time really does matter.

According to Jason Fried and David Heinemeir, authors of Rework, “[workaholics] don’t save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is already home because she figured out a faster way to get things done. (page 26)”

So there is power in slow. Working less, and smarter, can translate into higher productivity.

The question is where is your pivotal point? Does working 20 additional hours to an already heavy workload really give you 20 hours’ more productivity? I think not.

Throwing money (consulting hours) at a problem won’t necessarily result in a higher return. There is a balance.

And that’s when you need to push yourself away from your computer, take a walk down the hall, snap off the lights and call it a day.

Or go on vacation, like we are tomorrow. How many work hours are enough depends on you. Research shows we all have our pain point.

And remember: there are only 168 hours a week. What will you do with yours?

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A percent sign.
Image via Wikipedia

“I sing to the six percent,” Roseanne Cash told me in an interview this past summer. That is to say she sings to the poets, to the creators who get it.

Whenever I’m off kilter (which, at this time of year, seems to be a lot!), I look at which percentage of myself is being spoken to or ignored. If I were to divide myself into two parts, I would say I’m 80% feminine energy and 20% masculine. In business I tug at every decimal of those 20%; but at times my 80% wants to play, too; she gets in the way when I have to be decisive. She wants to make it alright for everyone and would rather not say ‘no’.

“You don’t ever say ‘no’,” my colleague advised. “You simply tell them what it’s going to cost them. Having clients is like parenting. There are consequences to every decision.”

Wow. I would have toppled from my chair if it didn’t have armrests.

A pretty neat concept. He listened patiently to my 80/20 percent evaluation and then gave me a way to say ‘no’ with kindness.

Aren’t I supposed to be telling him how to do that, according to Chapter Four in The Power of Slow?

When your two halves are out of synch, ask yourself which half is speaking? Then acknowledge its need. Sometimes soothing that part of ourselves that is out of alignment can be just the trick to getting back on the path to slow…and wellness!

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