A recent broadcaster on BBC Radio 4 mentioned a saying by St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274, now there’s name dropping for you) that life is like a bow – if the bowstring is left on so that the bow is permanently in tension then eventually it will break. The tension needs to be released from time to time to allow the bow to relax.
That is some metaphor for modern life. The impact of smart phones, laptops, tablets and so on has made communication so much easier but frankly now to the point that it intrudes into every facet of our existence.
Have you noticed whenever you are in a group of people in the pub, a restaurant, queueing in the Post Office or just walking about how many of them are peeing at their smart phones in, heaven forfend, the dreadful chance that they might miss something?
Not only do we check our emails, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn at the office or workplace, but we can (and do) check them while we watch TV, sit round the dining table, go to the cinema, play golf; in other words anywhere we feel it necessary to see who has been in touch.
Does that imply that we are bored or indifferent to what is actually happening around us, that something more exciting is happening somewhere else and we are missing it?
It is worth asking the question: when did you last get a message out of normal working hours that was so vitally important that something needed to be done instantly?
The follow up question is: how important are the messages that you normally get after normal working hours that they can’t wait until the next day to be actioned?
The trouble is that all this communication (if that is what it is) can be very addictive or even compulsive. Simply because our smart phone “pings” we deem it essential to take a look to see what has come in irrespective of where we are or with whom we are.
Interestingly, the French have recently noticed the growth of burnout and, being the French, have decided to legislate to make it an offence to go into business mode outside normal working hours. Laudable but who will monitor it and how? It is a personal thing and we all need to do something about it.
So, back to the saintly Thomas. Unsurprisingly he got it absolutely right. Unless we release the tension in our lives, (and that is something well within our control), then eventually we can break. It’s all a matter of balance between the day-to-day needs of the business and leadership, and the equally pressing needs of life outside business (and believe it or not, there is one). One of the nine fundamentals of the leader as propounded by Vistage speaker Walt Sutton is “Get a Life”.
There IS life outside business, believe it or not, and there are so many things that we can do which contribute to a fuller and less compressed existence.
One of them it to switch off that smart phone, laptop, tablet from time to time and do something else. The mission statement of Vistage is that we are “dedicated to increasing the effectiveness and enhancing the lives of leaders”, and that can only be achieved by making a determined effort to get some balance into our lives.
Vistage US speaker Walt Sutton exhorts us to take out at least a day every few months just metaphorically (or actually) to walk on the beach and just think. No smart phones, no writing pad, nothing apart from the natural thinking process.
That is one way to unfasten that bow string and let the bow relax a little. Thank you, St Thomas Aquinas and whoever it was on BBC Radio 4 who mentioned him.
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