Life Preservers

We get in our own way.  Impulse, laziness, fear and mindlessness often lead us away from what makes us most alive.  Structure can save us.  Whether it’s a cadence, routine, discipline or policy, we need to build structure into our lives and organizations to protect us from ourselves.

life preservers

At times in my life, I’ve felt like I was sinking.  During bouts with depression and anxiety, I have felt slow, muted and scared.  Some of this, I’ve learned, happens to me because of my genetic brain chemistry.  But that’s not the entire story.  Several years ago, I heard a speaker describe our emotional health as a “tank” that gets drained and filled by different people, activities and experiences.  For me, reserving one day per week for personal restoration and recreation fills my tank.  Accordingly, my family knows that I generally don’t open my computer, carry my phone or run errands on Sunday.  This rigidity is a life preserver that keeps me buoyant.  And, we can build this type of structure into many areas of our lives to ensure we stay afloat.

Let’s consider three areas of leadership health where structure can help:

1. Relational. My mom has maintained several meaningful relationships through her life.  One key to this relational sustainability and depth is her commitment to regularity.  Whether it’s a weekly walk, a regular Bible study, tennis league, or a weekly phone call with her kids, she understands that, in human relationships, trust and depth follow regular activity.

2. Household. Author and speaker Paul Batz wrote in his book, What Really Works, that leaders need to “schedule priorities”.  Our family has scheduled several cadences that maximize our productivity and ability to be present for one another.  For example, every Monday night is “Fam Biz Night” where my wife and I enjoy a beer while we process the accumulated stack of mail and email, review our calendar and consider what’s important in the coming weeks.

3. Emotional. Last year left me feeling unsettled and anxious.  I realized that I had been staying up later at night, doing email and other non-life-giving activities. This made it difficult to wake up early enough to exercise, pray and catch up on the news, which fills my tank.  This year, I have re-committed to going to bed earlier.  And, I’ve been more deliberate about slowing and calming for the last hour before going to bed.  This cadence improves my chances of regularly doing what gives me life.

In “The Social Animal”, David Brooks writes that “Freedom without structure is its own slavery.”  Whether in music, nature, health, government, religion, parenting or business/management, the right amount of structure and law helps us to flourish.  If overdone, discipline can be confining and mechanical, though the risk of over-structuring shouldn’t prevent us from the freedom it can provide.

Please comment on how structure and routine help you to stay afloat.



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1 Comment

  • Amy Lensing
    March 4, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    Matt, I love this! One thing that I have been doing is spending my Sunday nights prepping myself for the week. Although I hate the idea of working at all on the weekend, I do feel a high level of stress relief knowing that I’ve thought through my week and am mentally ready. I don’t spend a lot of time, but about an hour.

    Everett and I also make a point to have “Date night” every week, even if it’s simply making dinner together. We don’t talk about work, occasionally we will watch tv if it’s a show we both love. With him in Nursing school and work keeping me busy, it’s our way of creating a process to make sure we don’t forget to put effort into our relationship.