Working with the Seasons
The days are short and the nights long but we still expect ourselves to be working as hard and as long as any other time of year.
I just got back to SF from visiting my family in Austin. I stayed at my mother’s place. She is truly the powerhouse of the family. Currently running a business has her traveling around three continents. Old enough to claim social security (though you wouldn’t guess it) she regularly will work for months without a day off. Every December though for as long as I remember she had taken the month off: She slows down; Walks; Meditates; Watches her favorite TV shows and lets go.
I believe it’s why at an age when most are winding down their careers she has the vitality to be setting goals for business expansion for next decade.
And it got me thinking what if we worked with natural cycles rather than force ourselves into the 8/40 schedule we are already saying is broken.
What do I mean by natural cycles. I mean human biology. I mean working less on average in the winter and…dare I say it… more in the summer. I mean recognizing that we are human and there are flows and cycles to how are minds and bodies are best used and that we can be happier and get more done if we listen to them.
The cycles I refer to are seasonal, personal, and synergistic.
Seasonal: Slowing down in winter, letting natural tendency toward hibernation to let us be more inward and less visibly productive. Speeding up in spring and marathoning in the summer.
Personal: Working when our personal daily cycles of energy are better attuned for it. Maybe it’s getting up at 5am going for a run and working till 9am. And then again in the afternoon. Maybe a slower morning is more for you. Maybe it actually looks a lot like 9–5. Maybe you hit flow best when it’s 9pm and you have been up for 14 hours already.
For me I find my peak can change day to day, but my focus valley is pretty consistently between 2 and 3:30 and on days when I accept this and go for a walk, get a coffee* or simply ask a coworker if they need anything, I feel better and get more done than when I try and power thru it.
Synergistic: Ok first, yeah I just used synergistic (barf). But the flow of the group is more than the intersection of individual flow cycles. Work rarely happens in isolation. We need to be able to talk with our coworkers. While some amount of this can be done asynchronously, I believe there is a group flow that emerges with it’s own cycle of peaks and valleys. If you have worked with colleagues across timezones you likely have seen and felt the extra friction that arises from not being able to ping London for a quick clarification at 3pm Pacific.
The flow we have individually is obstructed when there isn’t sufficient flow between people.
So how do we have it be that when we have teamwork at different times and lengths and there is more flow overall not less?
I suggest that the group flow we want to create doesn’t require that personal flow periods must overlap drastically, because the conduits to group flow are less about time and more about honest, direct conversation, shared activity, and faith in one another.
At the foundation of group flow is trust: Knowing that those we work with have faith in us and placing faith in them to do the work means I’m not losing brain cycles on others response or responsibilities. That means more attention on my own.
Communication: Remember the London clarification? If we are communicating attentively when we do have overlap questions and clarifications like that will be less needed because we will have the presence of mind to ask them sooner.
Shared activity: Why do companies have rec leagues and volunteer opportunities? BC the more I know you the more I can know how you think. And when I know how you think I can continue without the clarification because I can trust that we will be on the same page.
Ultimately group flow comes from us working more as one mind and the above are simply the ways to that. The catch is that along the way to better team unity we get our individuality.