The simple on/off ramps connecting the highway to the rest of the world are things we take for granted, yet clutch.
My office is attached to my home, which is good and bad. The very thing that makes it really great and really hard is the distance between work and the rest of my life (family, home, etc). It's about 3 inches- the thickness of the door to my office.
Within the worlds we work and lead every day, we have a certain amount of momentum, speed and influence.
Relatively speaking, people listen to us, respond to us quickly (again- all relative), and look to us for direction and leadership when we enter a room or conversation. All of that gives us a sense of, well... POWER. The more effective we are in our work, the more we get it. The more we get it, the more it gives us energy and motivation. Which conditions and fuels us to keep that momentum, even accelerating.
This is an important thing to acknowledge, because it feeds us more than we know all day, every day in that world. While we have pressure and responsibility with leadership, it’s tempered by that rush we get from the impact, intensity, pace and immediate feedback of influence from our decisions and actions.
In many ways, as we go along in this work-world, it’s as if we’re going 70 mph on a highway, with momentum. Our peers are going at that same pace with similar direction, acceleration and power, and it’s all flowing consistently. Like that highway, sometimes we don't even realize how fast we're moving, until...
At the end of the day or the week, we enter a different world- NOT work.
Relative to that world of work, this is like driving on sidestreets, where it's a completely different way to navigate with many others who are on very different paths, going different ways, at different speeds. Pedestrians, cyclists, cars turning right in front of us. Definitely not the place to go 70 mph, focusing full steam ahead.
There’s a REASON for offramps.
What would happen if the offramp from the highway to the side street you just traveled was only 3 inches long? Ridiculous, right? We'd wrecklessly careen into that other world, and potentially cause all sorts of damage coming into it at highway speed, yes? Well, perhaps that's exactly what's happening.
In my case, when I'm not traveling or at a team's site for work, my transition from one world to another is only 3 inches long, from one side of the door to the other. While I have another door which goes to the outside, I instead use the one which exits straight back into the busiest part of my family's world. Bam- right from the highway, going 70 mph into the 4-way intersection of cars- some stopped, others going different directions at different times and speeds, with pedestrians mixed in. No offramp. Unsurprisingly, that transition is often jarring for at least someone in the mix (sometimes me, sometimes others, innocently doing their pedestrian thing as they should).
My office setup makes the challenge very visible. Yours may be less obvious, but it's there. Have you used your entire commute home on business calls, then walked into your house (even past a family member) still on a call? Have you brought your laptop and work right into the the middle of everything non-work? Do you tell your friends and family, "just give me one more minute" while you disappear into email or texting to get one more thing handled, missing what's happening right in front of you?
Many of us come off of our workday or flow into the world of our families and personal relationships without creating, using or acknowledging an offramp. It’s as if we speed off the highway without that important strip to slow us down, still going 70 mph, then get irritated with everyone else going half that pace because they’re not moving with the flow we're used to and still expecting.
That power, pace and flow of decision that exists for us in the world of work and leadership doesn’t exist in the same way in the rest of our lives. In fact, many of us have experienced people in our personal lives reacting much the same way any innocent drivers on a side street, going along at 25mph would react to someone plowing through at 70mph- “knock it off!”
We’ve all had someone in our personal lives remind us that we’re not their coach or leader or boss, yes?
We've gotten more impatient with our loved ones or kids when they don't listen and respond to us with the way we think they should, yes?
We’ve all gotten irritated and impatient with someone’s (slow) response time outside of work, yes?
Many people I coach tell of their personal relationships suffering at the cost of this. They were still going at 70mph and missed the things happening at 25mph (like people in their lives finding their own paths, disconnecting, etc.). Spouses, family, friends. . .
I'm finding that the more I pay attention to my transitions on and off that freeway of my workworld, the more present I'm able to be in ALL the moments- with my family, with my clients and work, with my projects and in the precious moments of just being by myself.
At the end of the day, sometimes this means creating my own off ramp, since there isn't one built in for me. This might mean driving the long way home to finish the call and give myself a few minutes with the windows down and music up to clear my head before I pull into the driveway. Taking the back door out of my office to take a transition walk all the way around the house to come in the way everyone else does. Turning the computer off and leaving it off. Leaving my phone on my desk instead of having it attached to me all the time. Getting outside with my kids to play what they're playing. Turning off all the devices and just talking and connecting with my husband without distraction at the end of the day.
So, where’s your offramp?
Do you have one? Do you use it? Does it cause you to slow down, enter into a different speed and traffic pattern as those around you and pay attention? What happens when you don't?
Create new and deliberate ones. Here's a start:
- Consciously think about the role you just came out of (like "boss") and choose which you're transitioning into (like "partner"). Get yourself in that mindset...how does a partner show up differently than a boss?
- Finish the call, the email, the other-focus, and give yourself a distinct buffer of time and state change before you walk into that other world.
- Give yourself a ritual to mentally, emotionally and physically clear your head of one world and transition into the other (like taking the last 5 minutes of your drive home to be off the phone, listening to your favorite song, loud).
- Create clean lines. Declare "done for the day" to yourself and everyone else who's impacted by it, and do what's necessary to stick to that (computer off, phone in bag, etc.).
As lines blur between the speedzones in our lives, check yourself and your ramps. Then notice your navigation improve.