During my pre-dawn run this morning Venus was bright, my headlamp lit the way, and traffic was quiet. I don’t run with music anymore, so the only sounds were from a few birds rustling in the trees and my breathing and footsteps. A bat flew silently over my head in search of mosquitoes. It was a private moment to set the tone for the day and week.
As leaders, private moments are a luxury. Lives filled with alarms, schedules, Apple watch reminders, meetings, expectations, and commitments. All things that act as cues for us to follow a routine. The bell rings, we salivate. It’s how we form habits, and it is all too difficult to break these patterns.
A 5:30 am alarm begins the fight of mind over mattress. If I’ve laid out my running clothes, heart rate monitor, and watch, the chances of walking out the door and running down the road increase. If I’ve filled two water bottles and refrigerated them the night before, they increase a bit more. And once I’m in motion, the routine effortlessly plays itself out leading to a reward of a run done.
We fill most of our days with service to others in a series of public moments, and we habitually follow the routines dictated by the cues that surround us. Signals like walking in the office door, turning on our Mac, and checking emails for an hour. Prompts of people stopping by your office to chat and another hour is gone. Cues from the buzz of an Apple watch signaling the next meeting. Walking to the meeting wondering if you had any action items to report on this week. Thinking about what you may have forgotten in the last seven days since you attended what, most weeks, seems like the same meeting repeated 52 times a year.
Our cues don’t frequently change, but it is possible to change our daily and weekly routines to accomplish more than we think likely.
The first thing to do is to be selfish. There are few things less urgent and more important than self-care. Companies have routine maintenance programs for every piece of equipment in the business, down to a $1,000 printer. But most healthy people don’t have a maintenance program for themselves. They push, pull, prod, cajole, drive, and deceive themselves until something breaks, usually years later. Finding an activity that allows you to do a physical and mental reset is invaluable. The beginning point of all leadership is leading ourselves. By doing that consistently, we can serve others at a different level over time. Author Stephen Covey called it sharpening the saw, but whatever we call it, being selfish first allows you to be more unselfish in your leadership and bring more of yourself to your work.
The second thing is to find the private time. It remains true that what gets scheduled gets done. Taking one hour each day for quiet reflection, walking, running, cycling, yoga, meditation, or reading fiction is a gift you deserve. Even if that means setting the alarm one hour earlier. There is a school of thought that breakthroughs happen in the spaces between our thoughts. In days filled with noise, we seldom take the time to allow enough silence for breakthrough ideas to occur. Taking private time provides the opportunity for better to happen.
The third thing is to insert new routines. Take a different route to work to change things up. Make the weekly staff meeting a trip to Philz Coffee if you are in the Bay Area or Café Grumpy in Chelsea or Local Coffee in San Antonio. Rotate your lunches to include people you don’t know well from other departments or companies to get a fresh perspective. Hold your offsite at a national park and talk while you walk. Change your surroundings and change your mental state at the same time. If you interrupt your habitual patterns several times a week, new possibilities will appear to you along the way. You will feel more refreshed and energized and bring a different version of you to each encounter with others.
I ran my first marathon at 40 and my second at 50. During five months of training, I ran 1,000 miles to run 26.2 miles in one day. Five months of private pain and private victories to get to a single public one. Take time out for your private runs, whatever that looks like for you. Over time, our bodies pay the price of our choices.
Takeaway: What matters are the things we do every day, not some unreachable destination of enough money, enough time, enough health, enough accolades, or enough stuff that we never reach because we are wired to expect more than whatever it is we have right now.
Be selfish. Find private time. Insert new routines. Enjoy the ride. You deserve it.