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"Thursday Thinking"

©2019 by Weaving Futures. 

  • Carolyn Stuart

Deliberate, purposeful, valuable

Time is our most precious resource. Once spent, it cannot be refunded. Being deliberate and purposeful about how we spend our time is a powerful way to gain maximum value from the time we are given.

For many years I led schools and anyone who is, or knows a principal, understands that this is a huge job that can easily consume every minute of your life. A tip I was once given, which helped me a lot to be deliberate and purposeful about how I spent my time, was to roughly figure out your hourly rate and then to analyse everything you do in terms of “would I be happy to pay someone my hourly rate to do this task?” But valuing a task by what it is costing an organisation is not as simple as it first appears. It’s not what it actually costs that matters, it is identifying and being purposeful about the value it delivers.

For example, at the last school I led, most staff headed to the staffroom when they first arrived at school. I loved the mornings I had time to be present in the staffroom, pouring coffee for staff as they arrived. Pouring coffee, on a principal’s salary, a good use of time? Maybe. Maybe not. It all comes down to purpose. If the purpose was to have someone reliable to pour the coffee then it was not a good use. If, however, the purpose was to greet and check-in with staff as they arrived, then pouring the coffee was deliberate, purposeful and valuable.

Many things we start off doing that have a high value in terms of the outcomes they deliver, become less valuable if we stray from the intended purpose. Going back to the coffee pouring, it would have been easy to get distracted from my purpose for pouring coffee. For example, I might have become deeply engrossed in a conversation with a deputy principal and missed greeting a teacher, or become distracted by messages on my phone, meaning I was no longer fully present.

Straying from my coffee-pouring purpose would have taken away the value of the activity and potentially caused a negative impact - how valued would you feel if someone was more interested in a message on their phone than genuinely welcoming you with a coffee? If what was happening on the phone was urgent, as it sometimes is when you are a leader, then it would be much better to stop pouring the coffee and attend to the matter at hand. Trying to do both things gives mixed messages and negates the purpose of your activity.

Recently I had a conversation with a business owner, who is one of my coaching clients. He was telling me about a coffee meeting he’d had, which hadn’t gone as well as he’d hoped. I asked him what was his purpose for the meeting. He replied ‘well it was someone you’d suggested I caught up with’. Hmm, some learning for me as his coach, next time I suggest meeting with someone, make sure my purpose in doing so is explicit, and that I spend time unpacking how to get the maximum value from the meeting. Deliberate, purposeful and valuable meetings.

When we take the time to make explicit, the purpose of our actions, we turn our practice into Deliberate Acts of Leadership. Thinking deeply and deliberately about the purpose of what we do, brings benefit to ourselves and those with whom we work.

Too often, we assume that people understand the purpose of our actions when in actual fact they do not. When I was in a job that involved a lot of travel, I deliberately engaged in conversations with the baristas in the airport lounge. I’d inquire about their weekend, ask after their children or grandchildren and sometimes give myself a fictitious name when ordering coffee - when ‘Goldilocks’ came up on the list of people ordering coffee, they’d laugh with each other and say “Carolyn must be here”. Other travellers would sometimes give me sideways looks, making it clear that they thought my behaviour towards the ‘help’ was a little odd. But there were two reasons why I took the time to build a relationship with the baristas. The first was altruistic as I hoped that my friendliness to them would make up for the less than desirable way they were often treated by others. The second reason was selfish - because the baristas knew I valued the work they did, I never once boarded a flight without my coffee, even when the queues were long. Deliberate, purposeful, valuable use of time.

And these deliberate acts of leadership can also be deliberate acts for other roles we have in our lives. For example:

The deliberate act of a father taking their child/ren to the playground, being careful not to let anything distract from the purpose of playing with their kids. Deliberate, purposeful, valuable use of time to build relationships.

The deliberate act of a teacher who uses videos in the classroom to bring learning to life for their students. Deliberate, purposeful, valuable use of technology to support learning.

The deliberate act of a wife… Recently I ironed my husband’s shirts!! Now those of you who know me will also know that this is not a common occurrence. It was a deliberate and purposeful act to show my husband how much I valued the rat-chasing efforts he was making at the same time I was ironing!!!! When he saw his ironed shirts I was quick to let him know the reason why I had ironed them for him.

Deliberate, purposeful, and valuable acts of love.

In thinking about your own life, and the things you do on a regular basis, here are some useful questions you might like to ask yourself as you go about your day:

  • What is my purpose for doing this?

  • Am I still performing this function in a way that meets my purpose?

  • Do I make explicit to others my purposes for doing what I do?

We are living in an extraordinary time. Technology is affecting our lives in hitherto, unimaginable ways and often without us even being aware of the impact it is having. Now more than ever, we need to keep checking in on the purpose of what we do, to ensure that technology is not robbing us of things we have historically taken for granted. For example, some of the most profound conversations I had when my children were growing up, took place in the car. If we drop technology into the mix for car travel, does it hinder these conversations, and if it does then when do these conversations now happen? Or do they?

As technology continues to change the way our lives unfold, we must constantly ensure that our use of time, that most precious and finite resource, is deliberate, purposeful and valuable.

Till next time,


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