Permission to Pause

On March 11, I had no idea I was about to board a runaway train, the COVID-19, that would plow relentlessly through 2020. At the time, we were closing Massachusetts for 2 or 3 weeks. I thought, based on what happened in China, that was too optimistic. But I was not mentally prepared to be sitting at home five months later, facing the sobering reality of another five-month pause, remote school, remote work, few customer or friend visits, and no live church, music, or sports. Were you?

Research has confirmed, for those lucky enough to still be working, we are working more hours from home and have more meetings. Mr. Stevens, whose company requires in-person factory employees, estimates a quarter of his week is consumed by COVID-related matters. As I sat through my daughter’s school reopening video-conference, it became clear that COVID-related matters have taken up 100% of every educator and administrators’ time, during what is supposed to be their “off” months. My friends in healthcare are even more buried. Even the homefront is busier, especially for families with children. A recent global Human Rights Watch survey found time spent doing housework and childcare is up 75% and caregivers say they are overwhelmed.

The result? We are stuck at home and yet, unless you are retired, busier than ever.

Which is why this week’s article, “Master the Tactical Pause for Better Decisions” caught my attention. I have written about the power of a pause previously. My own mother gave a TED talk on the subject. In the world of wellbeing, a purposeful pause is a known practice for restoring balance. As Tony Schwartz, author of The Energy Project writes, “human beings perform best and are most productive when they alternate between periods of intense focus and intermittent renewal.”

What this article points to is how critical the practice is for organizations, especially during times of crisis. It’s a practice actually taught to military leaders to use on the battlefield. Lt. Colonel Frank Kearney, who is now the CEO of Draper Labs, explains: “Military leaders recognize, like any good leaders would, that unilateral decisions made in an emotional, time-pressured crisis are not always our best… A tactical pause allows us time to get a cross cutting set of options from fellow leaders and subordinates who have expertise in aspects of the situation.”

He then lays out a framework to “go slow in order to go fast” which involves reflecting on four questions during this pause. “What do we know? What do we think we know? What do we need to know? How will we gather the information to answer these questions?”

“Lastly,” he says, “Ask: what are we learning and who are we sharing it with?” He also reminds leaders it is during the greatest crises that come some of the greatest opportunities. “Leaders who take time now to individually and organizationally pause to think will be stronger to carry themselves and their organizations through the fog.”

The coronavirus crisis is impacting every individual, family, and organization in the world. The world that existed in January 2020 has drastically changed, and this crisis is far from behind us. As we wind down summer and gear up for those first weeks of school and the rest of 2020, you have permission to pause: to reflect, recharge, redirect, and re-tool. I look forward to undertaking this pause myself and with Team WeSpire, and hearing from you what you learned when you did.

Quote of the Week: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Albert Einstein

P.S. — I am serious about that pause! Saturday Spark will be on hiatus until September. In the interim, please feel free to look back at any you missed.

Are you ready to build a better working world?