I recently had the chance to conduct a LEGO® Serious Play® workshop for the Mentoring program of Verona Professional Women Networking, sitting down with a group of ambitious, professional women and helping them tackle that never-ending dilemma of not having enough hours in the day.
“The problem is a lack of direction, not time. We all have 24 hours in a day”.
I was free to design a workshop that would help these professional women gain better clarity on what they wanted out of their professional careers while trying to balance personal lives, children, relationships and personal passions. My inspiration came from my own experience as a professional in the marketing field, juggling a full time job, two small kids and a husband, as well as a competitive running “career” (while I don’t compete professionally, let’s just say it’s a passion that takes up a lot of time in training and racing). Recently I was somewhat disappointed in a recent race performance and found myself saying often that I just didn’t have any more time to cram in more training sessions. I was already running 14-15 kilometers on my lunch break to try to keep up. That’s when my husband asked me, “why do you really run? What are you trying to get out of it?”
The preparation for this workshop was born from this very idea. In a professional mentoring program, as a mentor for over 5 years now, most participants blame their problems on not having enough time. But let’s be honest, even if we had 25 or 30 hours in a day, we would still probably complain that we just can’t get everything done. Quite often, the root of our problems, insecurity or unhappiness is the misguided idea that we don’t have enough time and we can’t find a balance between “obligations” and “desires”.
We all have 24 hours in a day.
Our 1.5 hour workshop had one specific goal: to clarify the path towards our direction regarding work-life balance starting with a 24-hour window.
I also wanted to be transparent with the participants that they weren’t going to find their direction in life from one hour-long workshop. However, what I hoped to support them with was a clear distinction between PRIORITIES and DIRECTION.
Priorities are the “what”, an act or a thing that we deem important in any particular moment. It usually, and should, change given the period of time. Meanwhile, direction is the “why”. It is the reason we create or do certain things, our sense of determination. Our direction should generally be consistent over time.
Let’s start building!
The first build was an ice breaker build. After a short introduction to the methodology, but no explanation of the bricks themselves, I asked the participants to build a representation of themselves using a figurehead and only five other bricks.
Remember that LEGO® Serious Play® is a process of: (1) Challenge, (2) Build, (3) Share and (4) Reflect. The builds are meant to stimulate a thought process in a given amount of time (usually between 3-5 minutes depending on the complexity) and then reflect on what was constructed.
I gave each participant a printed packet of the reflection questions so they could keep a log of their reflections to take back to their mentors.
In this first, rather easy, exercise, I asked them to jot down why they used these specific words and characteristics to describe themselves and if they would use the same description in another setting like in the office or when meeting someone new. This already raised a lot of self-examination questions as the answer was typically “no”, because as women we don’t always feel comfortable or secure expressing our ambitions and aspirations.
First reflection from my side: we need to help professional women build more confidence.
We spent some time doing exercises that allow participants to get familiar with the bricks and the storytelling behind their creations. Then we dove into the heart of our workshop.
Build #1 Build side-by-side the last 24 hours of your life and 24 hours of the last Sunday
This exercise is meant to get participants to reflect on their actual situation in a typical “working” day and a typical “day off”. Obviously in this case we are assuming that most people work during the week and have off on Sunday and are free to spend their time as they choose.
I reminded participants not to leave out sleep. The amount of hours we sleep is linked to our overall health and wellbeing. If this is negatively affected, we know we can’t function well in other areas.
Once finished, the participants mapped the various components of their builds into a Work-Life Balance Wheel and reflected on where they spent most of their time and assigned a level of satisfaction (between 1 and 10) to all of these activities. Then they assigned a level of satisfaction overall.
In order to make an improvement, we need to start with where we are.
The women were divided in 3 groups and had the chance to discuss within their small groups and write down reflections and suggestions from their group members.
In this exercise, some women were already able to see gaps in their Work-Life Balance wheel. As one participant commented, “sometimes we don’t realize the gaps until it’s right in front of us”. This is the power of visual representation and allowing ourselves to fully develop our thoughts.
Build #2: Build your most urgent priority within the last 24 hours.
Then I asked the participants to reflect on this priority and whether it was part of their overall direction. If no, we need to understand why. If yes, to what degree? If a participant wasn’t sure, the answer was probably no. Then, we need to understand if fulfilling this priority is something that makes us feel satisfied or not.
We start with our daily routines to try to understand if what we consider priorities, where we are dedicating our precious time, are really priorities in the overall big picture.
Build #3 Construct your ideal 24 hours, but realistically.
Why the disclaimer?
Sure we would all love to sleep late, maybe head to the beach with a cocktail and come home to Netflix on the couch. But is that realistic? Especially for my group of professional women who are all incredibly ambitious and looking to make some kind of impact in their professional and personal lives?
So, the women worked on building a realistic model of how they would like to spend their days and what kind of division they see between work, family, life and other passions.
In their reflection notes, I asked them to highlight the key differences between their ideal model and the actual situation build.
These reflection notes ideally should help them construct a path allows them to better manage each day based on the overall direction they want to go in.
Their last task was to write down three takeaways from the workshop they would apply to their mentoring program. Here are some of their thoughts:
“Il non avere tempo non è il mio problema ma l’accettare che ho delle priorità e non posso fare tutto” (Not having time is not my problem but I need to accept I also have other priorities and can’t do everything)
“It is not your mission to make everyone happy”
“Nonostante gli incastri, think outside the box” (Despite your time constraints, think outside the box)
“Crea consapevolezza dei limiti” (Create awareness around limits)
“Il cambiamento parte da me” (Change starts with me)
“È importante porsi la domanda giusta per trovare e definire la propria direzione” (It is important to ask yourself the right question to find and define your direction.)
Of course, we always listen to music during the build time to stimulate creativity. Here was our playlist from the evening:
“Rubami la Notte” by Pinguini Tattici Nucleari
“Blitzkrieg Bop” by the Ramones
“Just Can’t Get Enough” by Depeche Mode
“Dance The Night” by Dua Lipa
“Figure it Out” by Royal Blood
“Zitti e Buoni” by Maneskin
“Viva la Vida” by Coldplay