Why time wasted can be wisdom gained

Consign efficiency to the trashcan

I do not talk readily to my clients about pottering. I’m aware few understand it and fewer still rate the activity. But it has important lessons to teach. Procrastination too.

High performers in any field usually have passion for their work; they know what to do and how to go about it – they enjoy exercising their skills. In the businesses I work with, procrastination is virtually an infamy.

But when writing I get really good at procrastinating – my house is never so tidy as when a difficult topic looms. Herein lies the clue: my body-mind is telling me I am not ready to tackle this.

While I potter – pull up a weed or two, tidy the kitchen, sort my books – my mind is gently ruminating, ranging beyond its normal routes. New Leadership for new times means consigning machine-forged concepts of efficiency to the trashcan of bad ideas. It requires a more nuanced understanding of human effectiveness.

Man with broom sweeping up dandelion seeds

You’re not just cleaning up, you’re clearing your mind.

Embracing mindful behaviours

I suggest we reconceptualise pottering and procrastinating as mindful behaviours, and add them to reflection, rumination and stillness as states of being that lie at the heart of
Regenerative Leadership.

As always it begins with ourselves. When we potter our attention becomes softer and more diffuse. We notice things we weren’t looking for: famously penicillin, Velcro, Teflon, and vulcanised rubber were all discovered ‘accidentally’.

If we aren’t tuned in to the three elements of our rhythm, our triggers, and our relationship with the outside-inside, then we can slip into stress damage before we realise it. We also miss out on the generative value of empty space. Learning to say no, to delegate and prioritise, are well-known essentials to be acquired or refined in the coaching space.

To value these skills enough to practice them, we need to place the spaces between activity – the interstices – on a par with the activities and objects of our work. We need to elevate pottering, procrastinating, ruminating and reflecting to the same level as doing.

Woman hanging upside down from ceiling

Great ideas can come from just hanging around the house.

Slow and steady wins the race

This re-ordering of working hierarchies has popular appeal – hence the oft-repeated and probably apocryphal story about the visitor to Microsoft who, looking through the glass door of an office, saw an employee with his feet on the desk, gazing out of the window.

‘If he was working for me’, exclaimed the visitor ‘that man would be fired!’

‘Oh no,’ said the guide. ‘He’s doing just what we pay him to do, thinking.’

Coach and racing driver Clive Steeper takes this further. ‘Slow is the new fast,’ he says. ‘We train racing drivers to think slowly, to access all of their senses, so that on the track they react intelligently at speed’. Making space to think slowly and fully is so valuable that it can save lives.

So let’s all speak more kindly to our pottering, procrastinating selves. Now and then I tap into the ruminations of my brain while I tidy the kitchen or sit in the garden. As often as not, I find that it has been surfacing new ideas and preparing the ground for writing perfectly well by itself – without conscious effort.

Honouring the wisdom of my personal wave curve, including making space rather than champing at the bit or berating myself to get on, helps me not only with the work but becomes a crucial exercise in self acceptance.

Coffee and books on a table

We can see taking time out as an essential mindful behaviour.

Embracing a secular spirituality

The art of pottering links to one of the four threads of New Generation Coaching: the re-conception of the spiritual. Embracing a secular spirituality within our everyday lives means letting go of notions that the spiritual looks a particular way. Secular spirituality finds meaning, beauty and peace within the everyday, the ordinary, the space in between purposeful activity.

New Generation coaches talk of a more fluid and varied understanding of mindfulness: less siloed practice and more integration of mindfulness into every activity. Reframing pottering and procrastination, not as wasting time but as gateways to the emergent, helps us value new ways to usher in creativity.

Time not wasted, time transitional

Pottering is a transitional space: it gets us off the hamster wheel. It isn’t just a de-stressor; it reduces the noise of our busy brain and constant activity. Once the noise abates, hopefully we can listen to the deeper questions and re-find our centre.

Link this with coaching and together leader and coach create an intentional, reflective space in which to realign activity with core values, with meaning and overarching purpose.


“The Future of Coaching”

My latest book “The Future of Coaching – Vision, Leadership and Responsibility in a Transforming World” is available to order on Amazon.co.uk, on Amazon.com, and direct from Routledge.


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In the Women Leaders workshop, Liz and Hetty have created an experience which can really help businesswomen to thrive. Highly recommended!
Liz WarrenDirectorEnvironmental Consultancy