Systems Thinking and Work Life Balance
Take Time to Stop and Smell the Pine Trees
As Peter Senge said, “if we don’t choose the boundaries that make the most sense for us, technology and the norms of our workplaces will choose for us.” Peter is the author of The Fifth Discipline, and he showed us how systems thinking helps us better understand how to reclaim our lives.
We talked about how it takes courage to ask for what you want – whether it’s turning off work on vacation or asking to flex your work hours. But when we do this, everyone benefits. You can see this in our story about CJ, a father who changed to a four day work week, and by doing so he created a number of more efficient work processes.
You can also see this in the stories we’ve collected for our “Meet the Pioneers” blog. Stories like Andrea’s, where very early in her career – way before becoming a parent – she made a number of wise choices that became the building blocks for creating an integrated approach to work and life today.
To hear the webinar, click the YouTube video on the right. Or read on to hear some of the questions people asked Peter, and the wise advice he provided.
Question: Creating a vision requires stepping out of the madness and finding a moment for contemplation. Instead people get stuck in “fast forward” mode. What can people do?
More than time, what is needed is giving yourself permission to create the space to do this. It also helps to have others who are willing to think with you, and to encourage you to focus on what’s important as opposed to what’s secondary. In our over stimulated world we can begin to think we don’t have enough time. But actually we have the same 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week and how ever many years we are going to live. That hasn’t changed a bit. What has changed is the mental model and the choices of how we spend our time. Once you realize this, you can make the necessary choices to create a different kind of space – a quiet space. It doesn’t matter if it’s running or yoga, just so long as it isn’t something “externally stimulating” like watching TV or surfing the web. There is nothing wrong with these activities. But in our over stimulated environments we never have enough time. What’s required is a shift in mindset.
Question: I get pulled into meaningless meetings. I negotiated a four day work week, but was told to keep it quiet. How do you live with this greater sense of meaning when faced with a work culture that is so different?
When you are trying to be sane in an insane environment, people will call you crazy. Your action is a contradiction to their assumptions. It’s not because they are bad people, they are just expressing the norms of the work culture, and they see you as contradicting these norms. You are also making them recognize that there is a choice. You are taking a stand for something that matters to you, and it probably matters to them as well, and your actions require them to face that they too have options. Do you want to take a stand for something that you really care about? One person might not be able to make a difference, but you can always take a stand for yourself. It’s also important to not do it out of anger. People will only hear the anger. You need to do it because you feel it’s the right thing to do. You need to be clear in your words and actions, “I’m not doing this to criticize you, I’m doing this because this it is what I need.”
Question: I’m supervising a team and doing the job of 3 persons. How can any of us try and work less when my boss’ answer will be to just get the work done?
A lot of organizations are expecting to do more and more without the necessary resources. I would just encourage you to ask your boss, “What do you think about this? It seems like we are trying to get too much done with the resources we have.” What you will be doing is engaging him or her in a process of inquiry. If you start with a simple assumption, that you and your boss have many common goals, it will help. I can guarantee that when you bring this issue up, your boss will feel just as stuck as you do. And if you can then find ways to engage a team of people to think about this issue, and do it by evoking curiosity, it’s amazing what can be done. I guarantee you, things won’t get worse.
Would you like help creating your own unique “third path” – an integrated approach to work and life? Look at the “Get Help” section of our website – we’ve got lots of resources for you.