Coaching Perspectives – The Importance of Taking Time Out

Apr 25, 2024

Claudine Menashe-Jones is an executive coach and leadership team facilitator with more than two decades of global strategy and delivery experience, and particular expertise in public sector reform. Claudine has her own consultancy and is one of a number of highly skilled coaches who work with senior leaders on Future Vision, our flagship leadership development programme. Over the years, many Future Vision participants have told us about the value of stepping outside of the workplace and creating protected time to gain perspective and think differently about the challenges they face. In this blog, Claudine draws on her own experience of taking ‘time out’ and shares some of the tips that she explores with those she coaches.

The two things I was most looking forward to when I went back to work after having my first child were being able to finish a cup of tea while it was still hot and actually going to the toilet when I needed to (going on my own would be an added bonus). But three weeks into my return, I noticed I wasn’t enjoying either of these benefits. My diary was so packed – double and triple booked from start to finish – that timely toilet visits and finishing my tea remained rare luxuries. So I called Time Out. Time out on thinking that I needed to be in all those meetings. Time out on filling up the diary as if nothing else was going to come up day-to-day that also needed my attention. And time out on not having any time out. My bladder and caffeine needs aside, how on earth was I supposed to do this huge job with no time to think?

This is the lament I hear daily from leaders striving to do a good job. When we talk about the ideal day as a way to visualise and then make practical changes to how they work, every single leader I coach day dreams about a future in which they actually have time and space to think. We haven’t yet discovered the formula that magics away today’s impossible expectations – for that we need a seismic shift in how we even conceptualise time, let alone the place of work in our lives – but we’re trying and some baby steps towards progress are being made, so here are a few tips to get you started:

Stand up to your diary.Don’t let the tyranny of your schedule become an excuse. There’s always space to be made if you can challenge all those ‘shoulds’ in your head about where (and who) you need to be. Prioritise the commitments that build the relationships that are the lifeblood of your work: team meetings and one-to-ones. Challenge yourself on whether you really need to be at everything else. Could you provide your input differently? If your need to go is about control or trust in others, consider what else you could do about that. If there’s an “only I can do it” response imagine what would happen if you weren’t there – is that good for your organisation?

🤔Reflect on how you reflect.Consider when and how you think best – do you prefer to be alone and writing or do you think better by talking things through with someone else? What environment helps you? Do you need routine and peace or do you prefer diversity and stimulation? Time and space to think needn’t be quiet; sometimes taking yourself into unfamiliar territory (going to an event, spending time listening to something out of the ordinary) can generate all sorts of new thinking.

📣Be a role model. The only way we’re going to have a hope of shifting damaging cultures of busyness and overwork is if we show others that putting in boundaries is healthy and expected. So if you block out focus time shout about it, share the benefits, talk about the challenges of making it work and respect it in those around you. This has the potential to help you stick to it too by creating accountability with those around you.

🎉If at first you don’t succeed… celebrate. So, booking in focus time didn’t work this month because you had that big deadline. That doesn’t mean it won’t ever work – these failures usually hold our biggest learning, so find the time to reflect on them and then get back on the horse. What was it about how you felt about that project that made you deprioritise your thinking time? Did it help to skip it? What could you do differently next time so that it sticks? What other options do you have?

💝Be clear about your motivation. The thing that will keep you on course when the going gets tough is clarity about your goals. Changing our habits is hard, you need something pulling you that is stronger than the weight of old practices and beliefs that hold you back. So actually name what will be better if you have time and space to think and connect that with something or someone that really matters to you (including the job itself if that’s what you chose). Your ‘me time’ can be in service of someone else, if that’s going to help you commit to and sustain it.

I was lucky to have an amazing team who worked with me to set new boundaries and ways of operating that would protect my time (and my bladder) in that job eleven years ago. One of the many benefits of working with my coach has been developing a five-minute a day journaling habit. It wasn’t easy to start but now I really notice the difference in pent-up worry and rumination if I don’t do it. Meditation, hmmm, that’s still a bit of a work in progress… but I’m celebrating, learning and then getting back on the mat 🧘♀️.

What can you try this week to take time out?


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