As seems common in many conferences lately, the audience was asked to participate in a brief group mindfulness exercise. After we all adjusted our postures and closed our eyes, the facilitator asked us to take a deep breath and, while exhaling, acknowledge that we were done for the day, free to let our minds go and… something.

I do not know what the last thing she said was, because I could not get past the phrase: done for the day. It was 4:30, how could anyone possibly be done for the day?


My mind instead started wandering and wondering about what it meant to be done for the day. Many leaders with whom I work are done when they are mentally exhausted and just cannot do anything else. They have left it all on the field, so to speak, and can call it a night.

Many of my colleagues, who tend to be advisors to those leaders (lawyers, finance experts, etc.) are done when their clients are done.

The more successful they are, the more hours they bill and subsequently the longer their days tend to be. Done to them means their clients have stopped communicating for the day.

Rarely does either group work until a set time or have a list for the day, work through it and then stop. Instead, they work until that moment they feel they are done, whenever it may be.

Peas in a Pod

Recently, Tim Ferris interviewed David Allen. Two experts on both understanding experts and efficient productivity, Ferris and Allen discussed having a reliable system that successfully captures and appropriately tees up important information, thus freeing the mind to have ideas not hold them.

The goal in making those lists of things to do and knowing why we do them is not just to get them done, but to create space in our day to be creative, think or just do with what we want.

That space is the thing with which many leaders struggle. Most have the ability to create it, but when it arrives, we are often too tired, surprised or distracted to optimize it. Instead, we fill the break in our day with tending to emergencies or addressing less important tasks.

Control, the master addiction

All of which is fine if our current method is working for us now. In other words, it is OK to keep running hard each day if we are choosing this work style, not engaging in it via reaction or default.

For example, if we started the journey as a leader of an entrepreneurial venture, we were likely ready to embrace eating, sleeping and breathing the work for a while. Taking an organization through a turnaround may inspire similar enthusiastic commitment.

However, simply running our organizations through normal business cycles should not necessarily be the thing that wakes us up at 2 a.m., has us answering calls on the weekend and sending emails in the bathroom while on vacation. Is that a work style that is productive, efficient or sustainable?

The bottom line is that knowing when we are done for the day can be a revealing and deceptively challenging question to answer, but it is one worth asking.