Time Away

Carisa Bianchi said, “When people don’t take time out, they stop being productive.” Do you find the tyranny of the urgent driving you forward, even when you know you need some time out? When that’s the case, creativity, effectiveness and productivity get lost in the shuffle.

What would “time away” look like? And to what ends? 

How could you use some physical “time away”? A friend of mine has the habit 0f, every day, leaving his office and walking to a covered bench outdoors. In the walk and the “bench time” he simply sits, breathes fresh air and gets in 10 or 15 minutes of relaxation. We need physical rest and relaxation as well as exertion and exercise to counteract the tendancy to sit all day. Working out positively impacts the brain as well as the heart; we get de-stressed and a shot of oxygen which we don’t get by sitting. How could you add some physical time out to every hour, to each segment of the day (morning, afternoon, evening) and to your week (month, year)?

How could you use some mental “time away”? Most of us so engage with the “mental” in business and work that we’d rather escape it when we’re “away”. The need here is breadth and variation. So how could you stretch your mind by something different than what occupies it day by day? How about a documentary you’d normally not choose? How about tackling a project outside your expertise? What value would there be in reading and discussing a serious book with your spouse?

How could you use some spiritual “time away”? The spiritual area of life often occupies the bottom of our priority lists because we don’t recognize: we are spiritual creatures. Because that’s true, it stands to reason that ignoring this vital area creates deficits in how we function, relate and live. In what areas of the spiritual life could you get stretched? Are there disciplines you’ve always wanted to pursue (prayer, meditation, reading Scripture daily)? Is there someone with whom you could interact or who might mentor you?

How could you use some relational “time away”? When I think of significant friendships I used to enjoy (ones separated by long distance and time) I realize again the power and value of real friendships. For me (and most men?) they are rare — but all the more necessary. Relationships bring balance into our lives; they are the source of much “added value” to each person. Relationships help us avoid pitfalls and do well in life. So what would time away look like? A long lunch in the middle of a busy week to bounce ideas off a friend? Date time each week with your spouse to communicate, dream and make plans? An annual vacation with close friends you don’t regularly get to see?

How would you benefit if you’d choose one or more of the above and carve out even a bit of time for them? Here’s hoping you get some serious time away this week in one or all of the above categories!

Are you listening to me?

Jim Collins records some profound advice he took to heart, offered by the legendary John Gardner. He told Collins, “It occurs to me, Jim, that you spend too much time trying to be interesting. Why don’t you invest more time being interested?” 

In life, business and relationships, a common temptation of goal-centered individuals is to forget the power of listening, a crucial element in expressing interest. Listening as much as any other skill communicates, “I care.”

Good listening requries that I:

Be quiet. Mark Twain wrote, “If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear.” Yes, as employer, parent or even spouse, maybe you know more or have more information. But, when the other person is talking, just listen. Don’t think about your response, don’t interrupt, talk over them or finish a sentence. When the person is finished ask questions which clarify, say, “tell me more about…” Don’t respond if you don’t hear accurately what’s been said.

Ask questions. Questions which center on, even repeat terms or phrases the speaker has used demonstrate good listening without my own agenda becoming the focus. Ask good questions, and then again, be still!

Put the speaker at ease. Give them full freedom to speak. Focus like a laser on their concerns and issues. Respond with nods, gestures or terms which encourage them to continue. Maintain appropriate eye contact. Actively jettison distractions (close the door, turn off your cell phone). Avoid any indication that says to them: “I’m in a hurry” or “I’ve got more important things to do.” If needed, talk about how much time is available in advance, not during the other person’s communication.

Empathize. Actively look at things from their perspective. Don’t “own” the opposite view or immediately hear them from the idea that your leadership or ideas are being threatened. If you hear something you disagree with, wait to discuss it until you’ve heard the whole of what they’re trying to say. Assume that you don’t know best!

Listen for more than words. Volume, tone, key words and emotion convey the real message as much as the initial few sentences. Ideas get buried with verbosity if a person feels ill at ease or has a hard time talking to you. Realize they may feel the need to cover their message with “acceptable” terms. Observe gestures, facial expressions, and eye-movement that says more than what is expressed.

Who in your sphere needs you to express interest?