Taming the calendar—active reflection for busy work lives

I have a dilemma at the core of my work as a conflict consultant. I wonder if you have a similar challenge.

Most of my work happens in meetings. In any given day I might facilitate a group,  coach an individual, teach a class, help plan an upcoming event, attend a staff meeting, and/or mediate a dispute between co-workers. I go from room to room, people to people, topic to topic. I watch my calendar schedule out hour by hour, the days chunking into columns of blue for busy in my Outlook.

When I lose control of my calendar, I feel the squeeze in my gut, and an ache behind my eyes.

I am a person who likes flexibility, time to wander and doodle. It’s how I energize, get inspired by new ideas, figure out what’s important to focus on next, connect with people. Yet some days there is no time to dawdle in meandering thoughts or casual conversations. I must get to the next meeting, topic, dispute.

And somehow, when I arrive at that next meeting, if I am to be of any use, I need to be present and focus on other people’s issues and needs. Sound familiar?

To help me ground before, during, and after meetings, I weave moments of active reflection into the normal rhythm of my day. I don’t want these moments to feel like one more thing I need to do, or else I won’t do them. Here are some strategies I’ve come up with:

  • Design active reflection into the commute. I live on an island and work in Seattle so I ride a ferry each day. I use the 35 minute crossing to meditate, think about the people and issues I’ll be working with throughout the day, and/or gaze at the gorgeous watery world and distant mountains so much grander than my concerns.  In addition to the ferry, I bike six miles each way so I am able get my daily exercise as I commute.
    You may not have the gift of a ferry ride in your commute, but what opportunities do you have to find reflective moments, connection with nature, or exercise to ground yourself before you head off to your first meeting?
  • Schedule meetings with yourself. I actually schedule meetings in Outlook with myself so that I can block out time to prepare for an upcoming meeting, or reflect on a meeting that just occurred. Sometimes I think thoughts, write my thoughts in a journal, or doodle on blank pages. Here’s the poet William Ayot on the power of noticing A Doodle at the Edge.
    Creating meetings just for me felt selfish and a little deceptive at first. I got over those feelings when I realized how these moments helped me plan, or just take an emotional breather, so I could be more present and effective during meetings with others. 
  • Take meetings outdoors. Walking meetings are my favorite. Nothing like movement to get brains engaged. These work best when meeting with one or two people. Taking notes can be a challenge, so make sure to follow up any verbal agreements with a quick email later on.
  • Structure moments of reflection and connection into meetings. As I’m waiting for the meeting to begin, I do a quick EQ check-in with myself. If I’m leading the meeting, we might use the same exercise as a group warm up. Other quick group warm-ups might be to share something fun you’ve done lately, or a celebration, or a success. If you have a little more time, try the Share one thing exercise.
    I find that when we take few minutes to connect with each other at the beginning of a meeting, we typically do a better job addressing the issues that brought us to the meeting.

What strategies have you found to help you tame your calendar and create active reflection during busy days?

2 thoughts on “Taming the calendar—active reflection for busy work lives

  1. Doug, this topic really resonates with me. To your list I’d add my standing appointment on Saturday morning, oriented to long-term objectives. Ensuring 2 or 3 relevant activities are buttoned into the schedule in the coming week triples the odds of realizing those big goals out in the future. Refocusing my purpose and recognizing recent accomplishments show up on the agenda also, along with coffee, sofa, slippers & silence:) It’s a ritual I never miss, makes the weekend more meaningful, and Monday a day to look forward to.

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