Isn’t it interesting how our pace of life and wanes in cycles like the moon in its passage around the earth. Lately it seems to me like there isn’t enough time to fit everything in. As a rule we always seem to have some time pressure with work, home duties and other events.
But it seems right now that the demands are particularly high. I think what fuels that is that they are demands. While I’m perfectly okay with doing these things, in fact looking forward to some of them, I think the challenge is that I don’t feel I’m choosing to do them. Work travel, family events, school commitments, etc. They are things with schedules outside my control so it feels like they are “consuming my time” instead of me “giving them time”.
I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on how we relate to time in our life.
Sometimes we just don’t seem to have enough of it. When asked by others “how are you?”, how often do we answer “I’m so busy! There aren’t enough hours in the day!” In fact, I would say “busy” is the most common answer I get to the question “how are you?” Sometimes when we feel busy it is a great thing … we’re occupied, productive, important. Other times, we are too busy … we’re stressed, overwhelmed, under-appreciated, taken advantage of. As if we feel the defining characteristic of us as a human being is just how much we have to do or are asked to do.
Sometimes it is interminable: “Will this meeting ever end?” “This job is so boring!” “There’s nothing good on television. What am I going to do with myself?” When the “busyness” has been put on hold at the end of a work day, when the rest of the family is away on a weekend, when our presence is required somewhere that takes us away from our task list (that meeting, a wedding, etc.)
Why is it then that some of our most rewarding moments are those where we have no recollection of the passage of time? Whether it be a fascinating project at work, a hobby, playing sports or engagement in artistic pursuit? Perhaps even something as basic as driving a car can produce this state.
In my post “Bang On The Drum” last week I wrote of the topic of flow. That post spoke of flow from an organizational and leadership perspective. This week I would like to explore it more from a personal development perspective. What can we do to introduce more flow into our lives?
Let’s explore three concepts here:
- Active Engagement – flow does not find us. We seek it out. Not so much in the sense of “man I’ve got to find me some flow today!” but more to know that flow happens when we engage in meaningful ways. Actively. If you are an athlete, think of playing your favorite sport. If you are an artist, think of being immersed in your art (as I am in my writing right now). Think of being in a deep conversation with a dear friend or relative. Ponder working on a solution to something that holds your imagination. It is this active engagement that is a necessary precondition for flow.
- Passion – flow doesn’t occur just because we have engaged. In fact I can recall being very actively engaged in something that wanted no part of because the abilities needed were not things I enjoy doing (they actually drain me). Flow requires us to engage our passions. I don’t believe that passions are learned. I think these are things we were born to love doing. Sure we can study, practice and otherwise hone these unique capabilities, but it is their innate relationship to us that puts them into the passion category.
- Matching Skills and Challenge – in order to produce flow, it is necessary that we seek to match our current skill level to an appropriate challenge. Imagine that we have a passion as an adventurer, but we have never before attempted rock climbing. We trust in our innate athleticism but we have no technique to draw upon. Our first time out, we might find ourselves immersed in the challenge of getting to the top of a slightly angled 30 foot wall with clear handhold while guided from below by a trained instructor. Later in our careers, flow might only be produced by free climbing. This growth is such an important component of maintaining flow.
For those of you that have followed my blog for a while you may recall a post late last year called “Cleaning Out The Attic”. In it I discussed the concept of “junk time” and how I had too much of it in my life. I got a lot of passionate responses to the post, mostly along the lines that leisure or unallocated time is a pleasure unto itself. I now see how right we both were. This passive leisure time can be very pleasant and important for relaxation and connecting. What I now see is that is also important that we choose to do this, and that in making that choice we understand that we are choosing to set aside our flow-producing active pursuits for the moment.
Back to leadership. As leaders we help our team members develop their personal development plans. How can we use these concepts to help them with their growth, their job satisfaction and their overall work/life balance? Do you bring time outside of work into your development discussions? After all, the same person that shows up at work shows up at home and in the community.