This week I had an eye-opening conversation with a French friend and fellow entrepreneur who has been valiantly battling stage IV cancer for the past year. The subject in this case, was not his illness, but his vision. As we talked about the workshops he did for large companies to train their sales, customer service, and management teams, he intimated something I found both simple and profound, so I wanted to share it here. This is the story he told:
I can't tell you how many times I have gone into a company to work with management teams and when I ask what their concerns or problems are, among all the things they list from personnel issues, to missed goals, to needing to grow faster, they inevitably tell me that there are always problems that come up each day that they don't have the manpower or resources to resolve. They then tell me they want to know how to avoid this kind of issue, and I ask them:
When is the last time that you woke up in the morning, feeling completely refreshed, opened the window to see the sun shining and the temperature perfect? Then you went down to get breakfast, had something delicious, left for the office, hit absolutely no traffic, got to work early, and someone had put a coffee on your desk, just the way you like it? Can I see a show of hands for anyone who can remember when that day was?
Not a single hand goes up. I ask them to look around the room, and they all start to chuckle a bit. Then I say,
That's right. Those days never happen. And yet, you are all still filling your schedules and to do lists so full that there is no margin for maneuver, no time to evaluate error, no possibility to resolve problems that arise along the way in a thoughtful manner. And you are asking your staff to operate in the same manner--overstuffing their planners, maxing out their calendars, and adding ever more to their to do lists.
Imagine what that implies about the way your company is operating. When you rush, your ideas are half-baked, your solutions incomplete, and your losses costly. What if, instead of always hoping that your day will be a perfect one, you decided to build time into your schedule and to the schedule of everyone on your team for reflection? What if, when you got to the office after waking up late, getting your tarrying child off to school, or getting stuck in transit, you were still able to operate with your clearest thinking, with your undivided attention, with your fullest creativity? How would that change the problems you are telling me you face?
And there is silence. Because they all realize the impact of starting with this one powerful change: building time into their day for unexpected things to go awry, for unforeseen problems to arise, even for unanticipated opportunities to surface.
Then I tell them that is where they need to start--by giving themselves the possibility and the mental resources to deal with issues they can never plan for. By planning to do less, they can actually do more.
So for the past week, I have been doing just that. Blocking off time in my day where nothing is scheduled in advance. And I found that my friend's advice is profound. I feel less stressed, more clear-headed, and able to react to anything that comes my way in the manner that is truly best for my business, rather than throwing together solutions on the fly, and acting out of urgency instead of certainty.