OK – a hand grenade of a question but it’s one that’s often thrown about. I think the more interesting question, if it is true (and for me personally it was), is why?
I read an article in HBR recently (link below) which gave me a bit of a lightbulb moment and made me look at it a little differently. The article wasn’t about flexibility at all. It was about the importance of rest. And how just keeping going can actually be counter-productive.
My first thought was how much more productive I felt when I changed my contract to 3 days. Unusually this involved me having what I used to joke about as my “mid-week weekend”. But it had the same mental effect. I would be in the office all day Monday and Tuesday morning then off until Thursday when I’d repeat the pattern and finish Friday lunchtime. Problems I had had on Tuesday I found I had solutions for on Thursday morning after they’d been mulled in the back of my mind.
I’m not trying to say everyone should work a day or two then have a day off (lovely as the thought is!). And in fact, I am a huge advocate of flexibility being whatever works for you and your organization (be it formal or informal). Nor am I suggesting all problems can be left mid-week for a day or two (and obviously I didn’t always have the luxury of doing that – and yes, I did check emails). My point is the reason I think I felt able to go up to a previously unknown gear was perhaps precisely because it was a short sprint with clear boundaries. I mentally gave myself a break outside of this and focused most of my energy on something else (in this case my little girl). And I think there are lessons for all of us in that – whatever your current work pattern.
As the article says: “The key to resilience is trying really hard, then stopping, recovering, and then trying again” but “Stopping does not equal recovering”. The point here is you need to focus on something else not just rest. For me this is a bit like the difference between a ski holiday and a beach holiday. I love both, but I always feel more mentally refreshed after a ski holiday. I have had to focus all my attention on skiing. I’m sure it helps that I’m not very good but the point is I have no bandwidth to think about work as well.
Now I work for myself and as you would expect that’s a whole different ball game. I don’t consider myself full time or part time – just someone who works flexibly. But this means applying these lessons is all the more important. Defining clear boundaries and ensuring I give myself enough recovery time so that I am able to do what it takes to make this business a success – and make a real difference. Time to practice what you preach…
Catherine Oliver is the Founder of the Bluebell Partnership, Founder of Sky’s parenting network, Parents@Sky and Co-Founder of their Women in Leadership initiative. She works with businesses to help them support their working parents and increase the number of women in leadership roles. https://www.linkedin.com/in/catherineoliver/