When I was in about the fifth grade, a teacher got in touch with my parents about a subject in which I was “having trouble.” This NEVER happened. Everyone in charge was shocked. It seemed, nevertheless, that I was not able to tell time. “How can it be that a child who is reading high school books cannot make sense of a clock?” they asked one another. Well, they didn’t ask me, and I knew why:
Then I repeated the process the next day. Day after day for years, the process had been identical. I was always marching to some external schedule. What sensible person would waste any effort on learning to tell time? What was in it for me? Does this sound at all familiar to you?
(My father finally hit on the motivating solution, by the way. “Learn to tell time, and I’ll buy you a watch.” O.K. Will work for jewelry. Deal.)
The story about me and time came to mind because it showed up in other people’s lives three times in a row just a few days ago. Here we were again with time driving us, rather than the other way around.
Fairly early one morning, I got a phone call from someone nice to let Michael know that they would be at a meeting to which he was already en route. No problem, happy to know things are working out, considerate of them to keep the commitment even though they’d been working through the night. Lack of sleep made their perception of the time of their call understandably foggy, but here’s the thing: this was the second “quite early” call that I’d received recently under similar circumstances.
Still pondering this apparent trend, I switched on the local news to check the traffic (to reassure myself of Michael’s safety and warn him by phone of oncoming dangers) when the topic of time came up yet again. Before the traffic report, the station was running a little filler piece about ways to pamper yourself. What was the first item on the list?
Turn off your phone.
Now, my first reaction was ironic laughter: now it’s considered a luxury to not use a service for which we all pay hundreds of dollars a year? But there was no missing the fact that this, too, was about the way that we’re all experiencing time.
A few years ago, I was often in charge of setting up international conference calls across continents. One party might be in the Far East, one in the Middle East, one in Europe, one on the U.S. east coast, and one in Texas. The assortments varied, but one rule never did: the low employee on the org chart was the one who got up in the middle of the night. This hierarchical distribution of the benefit of controlling time to one’s personal norm made it really clear what a luxury it was to do so.
I admit that when your job or a major deal is on the line, it’s probably smart to let the party in power have the perq. (Never forget this was part of your cost of doing business as you evaluate your outcomes, by the way!)
But when there is a reasonable option that puts you back in control of your time, why not hold on to that luxury? We’re working on this ourselves.
We keep edging closer to getting rid of our cable television service entirely. Bit by bit, we’ve steadily cut back on this service. When it was new, we had premium service with all the bells and whistles. After a few years, we looked at the schedule the way you might look at week-before-last’s leftovers in the refrigerator and decided to get rid of the parts we were never going to consume. Now we’re down to the very lowest level of service available, yet we seldom even use that. Why? First, because it dictates. It has a set schedule that it never checks with me about, and I can’t see allowing a wire running into my house to boss me around. Secondly, because it’s no longer the only option. The little Roku we bought lets us stream an assortment of news and entertainment on our own schedule. I stopped a movie 18 minutes from the end last night and went to bed knowing that it would be right there for me whenever I turned it back on, as ready to go as the book I’m reading. That put us at the “top of the org chart” in our own house.
We have streamlined our calendaring process to expedite scheduling. Our clients can now reserve their time from an interactive menu. This makes the scheduling process non-interruptive for all parties and assures that connecting the coach and the client happens seamlessly. The added bonus is that this same technology also makes it possible for the coach to provide more options that make coaching financially accessible to more people.
We frequently opt out of live events in favor of the recorded or transcribed version, and we give preference to people who provide a time-shift option. Live, after all, is a relative term. Whose life do you have in mind?
I’m sure these steps are just the beginning of lots more to come.
What we’re finding is that as we create a less permeable barrier to demands for our time (whether by phone, email, television, or other “push” media) there is more time for uninterrupted and clearer thought. Creativity pushes up new shoots when the ground around it is not constantly disturbed. Without outside noise, you can hear and evaluate your own thoughts better. You can drive time to your own dictates.
Whether it’s an all-night work session, a blinking email, or a ringing phone, just before you react to whatever is ringing your own bell, take a beat to ask yourself what you’re getting in exchange. Have you explored all the optional responses? Is a response required at all? What’s the worst that could happen if you followed your own schedule and reclaimed that moment?
If there’s no compelling reason to give up your control, take back the luxury of driving your own time.
Thomas Leonard was not yet 48 years old when he died suddenly of a massive heart attack on February 11, 2003. I had met him only once, and briefly, a couple of years earlier. The closest I ever came to a personal conversation with him was a 15-minute telephone “laser” coaching session we had some time in the late 1990′s. I recall being amazed at the speed with which he got me to the real point, shined a light on the real problem, and led me to a new understanding and an actionable strategy. It was stunningly beautiful to experience.
I still regularly listen to recordings of Thomas’ classes and demonstrations and benefit from the groundwork he helped to lay for the coaching profession. When I heard the news of his passing, I recall thinking that the pioneer trailblazer, the “Lewis and Clark” of the coaching profession, had finished his work of opening new territories. It was now up to us to continue exploration, to settle the land, and to see what wonders we might build on it. I am proud and excited still to be a part of that journey.
Earlier this week I received an email from Dave Buck, Master Certfied Coach and the CEO of Coachville, which was Thomas’ big project at the time of his death. He asked for people like myself to share our memories of Thomas on this 10th anniversary of his passing. Writing mine was an emotional experience, and as soon as I showed it to The Muse she told me I should share it here. She said it would give people a better understanding of what I am about as a person and as a coach.
Since she is The Muse, I obey:
How I Play in the World Better Because of “t”*
(a selected Top 10 Echoes of Thomas Leonard that I can still hear, loud and clear)
1) I put up with very little now.
When I recognize what I am tolerating and make intentional choices about how I deal with them, they no longer have power over me. Life’s so much simpler when you refuse to tolerate any more.
2) I tend to over-respond a LOT.
Knowing the continuum of options from over-react to over-respond changed my approach to what I was putting up with in my life. The opportunities for practicing this are never-ending.
3) I may not be 100% Need-Less, but I’m so much closer!
Needs must be met; they are not optional. When I see that they are taken care of fully, I am free of their control. I live with very clean energy in my life because of this.
4) I’m super-sensitive to being out of integrity with my values.
Values that are known, honored, and respected result in a full and integrated life.
5) I keep looking for fresh perspectives, particularly if I think I already “know” something.
If I think I have mastered something, I go back and deconstruct it to get a fresh understanding and maybe a new paradigm. Thomas had a wonderful way of continuously deconstructing things and teasing out new perspectives. I try to keep tuned in to Thomas’ restless, curious, creative mind.
6) Reaching goals is easier because, basically, I don’t have them.
Well, maybe I kind of have goals. But Thomas showed me how success is a by-product – it is far more powerful to design the environment so that it draws me toward a Huge Goal (Vision) that inspires me. The “goals” are just signposts along the way. This way, I never have to worry about what “next” goal to pursue since I’m already being pulled forward. My favorite example: instead of focusing on losing weight, design a future in which your health and fitness figures. What would I do in that future? Just do that now.
7) I have learned that struggle sucks.
I learned that hard work and struggle are not the same thing. I’m always checking to see if I have gotten stuck doing things the “hard” way or for the wrong reasons or if I’m falling into an old pattern of “self-reliance” and “no pain, no gain.” Thanks to Thomas I recognize dramatically fast when I’m slipping into a struggle pattern so that I can get back to having fun with my work.
8) Less is more.
I didn’t learn the term “Minimum Effective Dose” from Thomas, but he got me ready for it. Whether it’s “laser” coaching or concentrating on the one or two highest-value activities that will get most of the result I seek, I learned efficiency from watching Thomas.
9) Generosity is good business.
Ideas just get better when you share them and when you let others in on your “big deal.” Thomas always delivered far in excess of what you expected. Heck, just look at The Graduate School of Coaching. When Thomas made the GSC offer I signed up immediately because I knew that wherever he went prosperity would follow. And he continues to over-deliver because of the influence he had on the people around him. Ideas can only be fully developed when they are shared.
10) Don’t wait until you get it right.
If you wait until you are ready to move ahead, whether it’s a new program, a business, or whatever, you’ve already missed much of the opportunity. Get it out there with all its imperfections and fix it as you go. Trust in perfection evolving.
* Thomas was known to many as “t” from the way that he tended to sign his emails. It is a term of fondness and regard for the premier mentor to the coaching profession. There is only one Cher, and there is only one “t” (Thomas Leonard). Click here if you want to know a bit more about the man.