Sunday, January 27, 2019

Work Habits: Pace Cars and Slowing Down #Careers

Where are the places and spaces where we need to slow down, that will allow you to dwell in possibility?

Years back, I went to the Daytona 500 NASCAR day-before event. Not a place nor space where “slowing down” -- if you're a race car driver -- would be the smart nor safe thing to do. So much pre-race activity was going on: fans camped out in tents and trailers, socializing. Race cars in practice runs. Pit crews at the ready, in their choreographed collaboration. I went with a friend who was a former sports producer, and, in his genius brain, a sport historian. He led me through this experience like a docent: touring NASCAR exhibition galleries, the track, with an eye towards the history, details and facts about the legends and legacy of NASCAR.

What was especially interesting was the pace car. I don’t follow NASCAR, so I had no idea that they used a pace car. What is it? As “speed limiters,” pace cars serve multiple roles. The two that spoke to me the most is (1) how pace cars lead, and (2) how they are meant to usher in safety. The broad strokes on how pace cars lead: "At the start of the race, the pace car leads the assembled cars on the starting grid around the track for a predetermined number of un-scored warm-up laps. When race officials deem appropriate, the pace car releases the field at a purposeful speed to start the race. Pace cars also usher in safety: during yellow flag caution periods, the pace car enters the track and picks up the leader, bunching the field up at a reduced speed."

The pace car will slow things down. I find, in my jam-packed work life, I don’t slow things down. It’s a race; often a race to nowhere. I schedule meetings and calls within each open block of the day. My e-calendar holds very little white space. That’s what we’re supposed do in our careers: we’re supposed to stay focused and productive. We squeeze every minute we can into moving forward with the myriad projects and assignments that fill and overfill our schedules. Studies on productive work habits will show just the opposite: they’ll weave in pace car moments to slow us down. A study conducted by the Draugiem Group used a computer application to track employees’ work habits. The application tracked how much time people spent on various tasks and compared this to their productivity levels. The key take-away: the ideal work-to-break ratio was 52 minutes of work, followed by 17 minutes of rest. People who followed this schedule had a level of fresh focus in their work and more productivity.

The image that accompanies this post is from my hard copy calendar. A synchronicity moment: I watched the documentary, “The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned From a Mythical Man,” on Netflix. Murray lives in the moment, shows up unexpectedly -- not to be the center of attention, but to participate in life, to spread joy. He spontaneously read poetry to a group of construction workers, and the very first line he read was from this poem by Emily Dickinson. Now, as I look at the calendar that hovers above my workspace, I think of that moment: where time stopped, Murray shared a gift, these busy construction workers took respite, a moment of rest and peace. A pure, generous gift.

We can’t all have the time nor the gifts that Bill Murray shares with the world, as he shows up in surprises, unexpected spaces. But what the documentary showed me is the peace and beauty of slowing down. When I rush, when I shoehorn in more and more work, I’m running a dangerous, deadly race. This ratio of 52 minutes of work, 17 minutes of rest, is a model I’m going to test-drive this week. My hope is that the ratio of work-to-rest feels like a pace car that drives up--to slow me down, to lead me into a new approach to work, to usher in safety. In slowing down, my life catches up with me, I can catch my breath, I can replace worry with hope. I dwell in possibility. My racing engine can slow, instead of kicking into high gear. That’s a race well worth the drive.

REFLECTION QUESTION: Do you have a “pace car” in your life--a practice, healthy habit,  or a trusted co-worker person who slows you down, keeps you safe?