Leadership development: The 50/10 mental sorbet

ceos on tightopeI’ve worked with very few leaders over the past three years who aren’t ramped up, stressed out, and working hard to hold things together between work and life. They are trying to slice through email, texts, instant messages, and all of the other updates that come their way. They talk about the need to create clear, quiet, calm space for their minds to do the important work that’s the essence of their jobs – but rarely pull it off. (In 2009, the average emailer received 176 messages per day. I don’t know about you, but my inbox was just starting to ramp up back then.)

Weeks that feel like drive-bys

Our weeks race by us. We take our laptops home and creep into the office on weekends and holidays so no one we work with is around, just so we can actually get some “real” work done.

I’m having one of those weeks.

“What, you didn’t think graduate school was going to be a lot of work?” my partner asked with a grin.

It’s official. Working and being in graduate school is heaps of work. Mountains – Himalayas even. So this week, I’m looking even harder than normal for ways to make my work more efficient and my life more fun.

Not a five-step plan

I’m not much of one for five step plans. In general, I believe the things worth grappling with, that will really make a difference to my life – like creating spaciousness in the midst of not having much space at all – are not technical challenges that can be solved with a 7-step process or three key essentials. Instead, they’re adaptive challenges: they require seeing things differently, engaging the world differently, and engaging myself differently.

But in the flurry of articles and blogs that came out around the New Year discouraging everyone from New Year’s resolutions – aha, people! we’re catching on that they don’t actually work, at least not in that way – I ran across a Fast Company piece that really stuck with me. The article highlights six rituals that startup CEO Mike Del Ponte uses to create spaciousness in a full and demanding life.

One of the rituals Del Ponte uses to keep himself fresh, and operates with his top level of focus and bounce, is what he calls a 50/10 split:

  •  50 minutes of focus on a single item with a
  • 10 minute break of some kind

Literally, he means a physical break: get up, move around, stretch, go talk to someone, meditate, go do something different. Mix it up.

This really appeals to me. Never mind the fact that I’m such a focused person I tend to blow right through my 50-minute timer. Never mind the fact that you might be saying, “If I had 50 minutes to focus on one thing, I’d really be able to get stuff done.” Just think about it for a minute, as I am.

A ritual: Mental sorbet

Stephen Johnson (see his Ted Talk, Where Good Ideas Come From), talks about the importance of breaking routines to access creative thought. Johnson shows us why, from the perspective of neuroscience, we literally have to disrupt our thought patterns to keep making new connections.

mental sorbetFor years in our facilitation with groups, my colleague Gary Hirsch and I felt this sort of  sixth sense kick in when we knew the group needed a palate cleanser, a sort of mental sorbet, to clear their brains and re-access their energy. We couldn’t explain why, but we knew that afterwards they did better work.

I think that’s exactly what this guy is talking about: mental sorbet. Clear focus on one thing, uninterrupted, and then a mental sorbet.

Mine, this morning

I just tried it myself. I work out of a loft space in an architecture firm because a supersweet, longtime client of mine offered me a big corner to spread out all my books, write in fat magic marker all over great big charts,  listen to jazz, and generally make a mess while I’m in my doctoral program. One of the architects – we’ll call  her Monique – came by the other day and asked me how I was doing. (I think they worry about me when they haven’t seen me in the office kitchen for a while.)

dalton ghetti

Dalton Ghetti, Alphabet

I told her pretty much what I just told you. And she said, “I’m gonna show you something I think is amazing.” And this is what she sent. Holy kamole.

I spent my 10 minutes checking out this guy’s amazing work and it filled me with awe and wonder. I forgot I was sitting at my computer and I forgot the paper I had to write. I just felt the pure simple attention in the work that he does.

Send me some. Please!

Dalton’s work was a perfect mental sorbet for me this morning, and I invite you to take a taste, too. And if this sort of mental sorbet doesn’t suit your palate, go find another that does.

And then, will you share it here? Please! We all need more sorbet.

Images courtesy www.cookingbymoonlight.com and www.answers.com


4 thoughts on “Leadership development: The 50/10 mental sorbet

  1. As I read this, I felt long forgotten sorbets creeping up on me from my childhood. One of them was coin towers. Using identical small coins (5p in the UK, 10c in the US) build a tower. BUT, you may not place the coins directly on top of each other, and when you get to be an advanced practitioner you may only handle the coins with tweezers. When it all falls down, sorbet over. Just did one, took pic and will post on your FB page. Also making paper doll strings. xx

  2. Wow – that artwork is mind-blowing!

    Here’s a place where I recently blew 10 minutes, in the delightful sorbet way:


    • Great sorbet – took me totally away from what I was thinking about and doing. What a rare approach to a commencement speech, and what an important framing of the work of adulthood: stepping outside your learned and hard-wired way of seeing things.Thanks, Nick!

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