Calling Time-Out on the Culture of Over-Collaboration and Over-Commitment

One of the striking differences between my life as a consultant and my career as an association executive is the amazing expanses of unscheduled time on my calendar.  The culture of over-collaboration and over-commitment is so strong in associations that I almost feel guilty or defensive when I am scheduling conference calls and meetings with my association clients. They are overscheduled and I often have to admit how many of my days are “wide open”.

Not “wide open” in the sense that I have nothing to do. Actually right now I have my largest roster of clients and complex, demanding projects since I launched this consulting business two years ago.  I have even been so busy that I am working long hours and I have been remiss in my commitment to this blog. But I have the incredible luxury of working deeply and creatively on these complex projects.

Now I don’t want to put myself out of business but I work with very smart association executives. Either they are very smart to reach out to consultants like me to deepen their capacity and keep moving at the pace they do.

Or they are simply too captive to this culture of over-commitment and over-collaboration to crack open the time to do what I can do for them. I feel like I am uttering heresy here because I am a great champion of this culture in almost all circumstances. Still, how can anyone do quality work racing from one staff meeting to the next conference call with a volunteer committee and on into the weekend for conferences and board meetings?

More association and nonprofit executives need to call time out and recognize the high cost of this behavior. Sure they do an amazing amount of good work in any given day. I admire their stamina and flexibility. Yet I am confident they need more wide open expanses of unscheduled time to do truly great work and lead breakthrough changes in their organizations.

If there’s a secret to my business, this is it.  I have the time and perspective to do the thinking and creating my clients do not have. I am not smarter or wiser than any of them.  I should even confess that when I was an association executive, I too was consumed by this culture of over-collaboration and over-commitment. I just opted out and into a life where I have a better chance of balancing my need to serve and get results with my desire for serenity and meaningful work.

Countless leadership books and speakers caution executives to build some down time for reflection into their schedules. I would rather think of this as “up time”. The only way any of us can work up to our full potential is when we open up the time to do our best and most significant work.