When to Press the Pause ButtonHow many times do we run from one meeting to the next without time to reflect, prepare, or even hit the bathroom?  And if we have spare few minutes, we feel compelled to pull out our digital dog leashes and scroll through emails.  What is the cost of all this constant uptime?
When coaching, I recommend that my clients take a few minutes to reflect on their meetings as well as less structured interactions with staff, bosses, and colleagues.  It’s time well spent, because they invariably gain some insights.  By considering what went well, they can be more intentional about adding those “best practices” into their workstyle.  And, in the cases where things didn’t go as expected, reflection allows them to examine the causes and adjust their behavior going forward.
Consider a client I will call Matt, who was spending a lot of time rewriting his direct reports’ work. Normally he would just put his head down and push through the work to meet the deadlines. But after giving himself time to reflect, he realized everyone’s time would be better spent if he helped his staff think through their reports even before they wrote the first word. That way they learned how to organize their thoughts to craft the strongest reports and Matt could concentrate on providing higher-level, strategic feedback.
Having the time to focus on more important [value-added?] activities allowed Matt to raise his game on his own job.  A year later he was promoted and now has a much larger staff.  Had he not changed his approach, he would have gotten bogged down redoing everyone’s work and probably would not have been promoted.

Side Bar:  Tips for Pausing

  1. Build in preparation and reflection time by scheduling 45-minute meetings instead of hour-long meetings.
  2. Think about delegating from two perspectives: how delegating can help you raise your game and how it can develop your staff.

Use the pause to reflect on your career: what would you change to enjoy your work?

Another client I’ll call Pamela realized there are different kinds of pauses. She works for a major bank and makes a point of taking her annual vacations. However, she never fully gets away from work while vacationing—always thinking about what’s happening back at the office and checking her email and phone messages—so it’s not a truly refreshing pause for her.  But every year between Christmas and New Year’s the bank’s offices shut down (except for customer-facing departments). With all her colleagues off, Pamela can fully pause, relax, and re-charge. A technical expert and a high performer, Pamela loves to solve complex problems, but her biggest challenges involve inspiring and motivating her staff.  During the holiday break she read two leadership books that encouraged her to think strategically and with a greater focus on developing her staff.
Pamela asked me to lead a staff retreat that focused on teambuilding by recognizing each individual’s strengths and learning how to leverage them.  With Pamela, I facilitated a discussion on the strategic initiatives for the year and what success would look like.  The team left the retreat focused, engaged, and more committed to working together.
You may say, “I don’t have time to pause.” But if you want to be successful, you can’t afford not to. Like taking the time to do preventative maintenance on your car, pausing allows you to listen to yourself, think purposefully, and learn. And you avoid a breakdown.  So now, what’s your excuse?