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May 9, 2007 » 12:37 am

Work Rhythms

I’ve been absent from this blog for almost a month, which is unusual for me. It started with my trip to Baltimore last month for Creating Space, the Leadership Learning Community‘s annual conference, and it ended with the Compendium Institute workshop last week here in the Bay Area. In the middle, I cranked away on my projects and spent some quality time with friends and family. I didn’t get much reading done, but I got a whole lot of good thinking done.    (M7Z)

Nancy White recently wrote of the challenge of balancing work and life, of the nitty gritty and the big picture:    (M80)

Because I fear that if I allow myself to be consumed by work, I will not achieve what I aspire from my work: to add value to the world. Work with a capital W. Some days lately I feel I’m tottering on a “check the box” mode of working. That is when learning stops and, to me, my ability to add value stops. It is a fuzzy line and easy to miss. It is when the quality of attention shifts. Diminishes.    (M81)

I want the shift to always be towards the side of learning, not just getting things done. Of attention and reflection, not forgetting.    (M82)

Her words resonated with me (as they often do). Last year was ground-breaking for me in this regard. For the first time since founding Blue Oxen Associates, I started to build in time for deep reflection about what I was doing and why, and about whether I was accomplishing what I wanted to accomplish.    (M83)

When I was in college, I used to lift weights with a buddy of mine who was an ex-football player. We were both intense guys, and when I’d get in one of my workout grooves (not that often), we’d lift almost two hours a day, five days a week. I got much stronger pretty quickly, but I also peaked quickly as well. I blamed it on the irregularity of these workout grooves.    (M84)

My junior year of college, I started lifting with a neighbor of mine, a big guy who was fanatic about fitness. In one of our early workouts, I complained that I never seemed to get any stronger. “How often do you lift?” he asked. Upon hearing my response, he told me to shorten my workouts — three days a week, no more than 45 minutes a day. I was extremely skeptical, but I tried it, and to my surprise, it worked amazingly well.    (M85)

I’ve written previously about the cycle of thinking and doing. When you’re designing for collaboration, you need to take these natural cycles into account. Doing so usually requires a lot of discipline, especially because it requires fighting workaholic instincts.    (M86)

One of my epiphanies last year was that I wasn’t doing a good job of practicing what I preached, of living what I knew. In particular, I was getting too caught up in the nitty gritty and not spending enough time reflecting. I was getting too deeply involved in too many things, and I was overscheduling and overcommitting.    (M87)

I decided to make four major changes. First, I was going to cut down on the number of projects I would take on simultaneously. That meant saying no more often, and fighting the instinct to get deeply involved in everything I did.    (M88)

Second, I was going to cut down on the number of events I attended, especially those that required travel. Because most of the events I participate in are intense experiences (I rarely participate in networking events), I decided that I would schedule an equal amount of time for reflection. In other words, for every three day workshop, I would need to schedule three days for reflection and processing.    (M89)

Third, I was going to go on more walks. Not only is this a great way to get exercise and think, it’s a great way to think with others. It’s no coincidence that Aristotle and his followers were known as Peripatetics. Instead of constantly meeting folks in coffee shops, I started telling people to join me on walks instead, a trick I picked up from Howard Rheingold. Fortunately, San Francisco has a number of gorgeous places for short, casual hikes.    (M8A)

Fourth, I was going to spend more meaningful time with people. This nicely aligned with my walking edict, but it also meant interacting with less people overall.    (M8B)

I’ve been good about doing all four of these things. Not great, but good. As with the weightlifting, doing less still feels counterintuitive. And just as with the weightlifting, doing less has generated the desired results. This has manifested itself in a number of ways. I’ve only gone on one work trip so far this year, whereas last year, I averaged a trip a month. I’ve blogged more consistently. I feel more connected with colleages and with friends. I’ve had time to really develop ideas and projects that are core to my mission. Most importantly, I feel Less Dumb, which is one of the main tenets of The Blue Oxen Way.    (M8C)

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