What if it was the other way around?

What if it was the other way around?

I have been on leave without pay, from work, for a month now and I have to admit that this has been one of the greatest decisions of my life. After raising my kids as a single parent, while juggling a successful professional career and all the curveballs life throws at you, having the time and space to do what I want, when I want, is bringing me an immense sense of gratitude and freedom. I am sure that for those who are retired and reading this, you will think “well yes, that’s the definition of being retired”, but in my mind, I am far from being retired. I am in fact, shifting towards new directions and projects.
I am shifting in my art - still creating a lot but also thinking about where I want to go next. I am taking a class on silk screening at the Ottawa School of Art and I am loving it. I love being back in school and learning something completely new and I am loving how it is. generating so many creative ideas.  As you can see from the work in progress below, leadership and work hasn't completely left my brain :).

I am also increasingly appreciating silence. Or downtime.  As a classical type A personality, my inclination is to always do, do, do. Let’s get results!  As an artist, the downtime is particularly important because you need to create the space within you to be inspired and create.  While before, I would cram this process in the little time I had in my busy schedule, I am now finding the need to purposely make it happen.  This by no means implies that my type A personality has vanished, rather I now have a better comprehension of the need to slow down, replenish myself and then create the space for ideas to come to the fore which tends to lead to better results.

For me, this whole process very much relates to the topic of leadership.  With the fast pace that stems from our modern world and the expectation of fast delivery and outcomes bolstered by technology and experience during the COVID pandemic in many workplaces, there are no longer peaks and valleys in the work.  Rather, it seems that leaders are successfully climbing taller and taller mountains without proper respite in between.  Leaders I talk to say that they are stretched to their limit and have no time to plan and think.  They feel when they are in the office they are not accomplishing much, and in that respect, they have to work at night or put in long hours on the days they work at home to compensate and get things done.  Most of their thinking time (and I was at times the culprit of this), is in the shower and on the drive to and from work.  No time to think during office hours, there is just too much to do!

Since when is a leader's job to produce outputs?   Leaders should be focused on outcomes and enabling those working for them to deliver the required work.  What if, what seems to be ‘unproductive’ time in the office is the most productive time for your team and the organisation?  

By no means, are I blaming the leaders in the way they view their productivity and the value of their work.  The culprit is the system that has generated a distorted view of what is success and expected outcomes. There is a need to slow down the machine (and people) to re-introduce time to think and generate ideas.  This is the only way to succeed while at the same time, slowing down the hamster wheel that most people find themselves on. 

Now you might be thinking "she's has been out of the game for a month and you have forgotten about how it really works!".  Not so much.  I have come to the conclusion that in many cases, such as creating space, your work-life balance, these are things that you do not wait for the organisation to give you permission to do, but that you need to create for yourself.   Given the state of some workplaces, doing the right things almost feels like acting like a rebel in your milieu.  Being a rebel to do the right thing, who knew this is what it would come to.   And to be frank, it is a great way to see what are the values and quality of the leadership fibre of your superiors.  

How can a leader do this? No doubt, that is the question for many of us.  Here are some of my thoughts…

Start by valuing thinking time as much as productive time: this is the first step. If you don’t fundamentally believe that creating space for thinking, reflecting and visioning will improve your work and that of your team, you will remain on the hamster wheel without any breaks.

Block some time in your calendar and make yourself unavailable - if you stay by your computer/phone or in your office, distractions and the pile of outstanding work and emails will get to you.  Go for a walk, go hide in a boardroom, brainstorm with a colleague and a white board - try different things and figure out what works for for you.  Advise your colleagues and employees that you are in a meeting where you cannot be disturbed - a very important meeting with yourself (although you do not have to tell them that!).  

Are you leveraging your time working from home the right way?  As it become solely about pumping outputs or you are taking some of the time away from the office disturbances to think, plan and vision?

Create space - I can already hear people say ‘but I don’t have enough time to do my work, how can I make time for this?’.  We all know that in most cases, this does not hold water.  Ask yourself about the ‘doing’ you undertake every day and whether this work should be done by you or someone else in your team?  One of the lasting effects of the pandemic is that the varying tasks required to be done have moved up the hierarchy.  In times of crisis, executives tend to play the roles of analyst, manager and leader given the urgency of the situation and at times the sensitivity of the work. However, when the crisis is over, the work often does not go back to where it belongs. I have seen leaders of organisations making edits on documents without providing any strategy or value added content.  It is time to focus more on the forest than the trees.

Train your teams to think - One of the things I worry most about is how the younger generations will be trained and developed in a hybrid world.  Given that our collective attention is down to mere seconds, thinking, strategizing, visioning will require conscious efforts by organisations.  This can be easily done by having brainstorming sessions, simply asking employees questions and making comments on their work; all will lead them to find the answer as opposed to you providing it to them.

Reap the benefits - notice how slowing down for a few hours, or even minutes,  a week can help improve your wellbeing and lead to ideas that will ultimately improve your work and that of others.

These are ways to help you start but there are more ways to generate this productive thinking time.   Your personality, type of work, what else is going on in your life and how you think will also determine what approach is best for you.  Just keep trying different things - all is learning and nothing is lost.

What else do you do to create space in your life to think, and just be?


Upcoming Art Shows 

I am excited to be participating in the following art shows - come visit if you can!

June 4th to 23rd, Group Exhibition at the Foyer Gallery, 1701 Woodroffe, Ottawa

June 22nd, 2024 - Art Lending of Ottawa, Jim Durrell Center, 1265 Walkley Road (New location!) Ottawa

June 29-July 1st, 2024 - Artfest Ontario, City Park, Kingston Ontario

July 6-7, 2024 - Glebe Art and Garden Tour, Ottawa



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