by Sam Mednick
When asked about the secret to his success Albert Einstein was quoted as saying:
Although I have a regular work schedule, I take time to go for long walks on the beach so that I can listen to what is going on inside my head. If my work isn’t going well, I lie down in the middle of a workday and gaze at the ceiling while I listen and visualize what goes on in my imagination.
Although Einstein might not have coined the term back then, he’d already discovered one of the greatest secrets to happiness at work (and life)–having a High Level Meeting (HLM) with yourself.
It’s potentially the most important engagement of our week, yet it’s the one the majority of us aren’t even penciling into our agendas.
What exactly is the High Level Meeting with yourself?
Simply put, it’s carved out ‘You Time’. It’s time that we purposely designate during our busy workweek in order to check in, reflect, gain perspective and disconnect. It’s space that we give ourselves, away from the screens, the water cooler, the meeting rooms and interactions with others, to think about how we want to tackle a project, navigate a hard conversation, approach next steps in our careers and find a job that we love. It’s a pause that we gift ourselves to genuinely ask how happy, at peace and fulfilled we are at work and in our personal lives.
For example, every Monday morning at 8:30am I ‘meet myself’ in the park while walking the dog. I let her off the leash and while she’s exploring new (and old) terrain I disconnect and focus inward. Every week is a different conversation with some concentrating on working out concrete professional challenges and others being broader: tackling how to implement new habits into my life, defining my values and checking in to make sure my actions are truly in line with my beliefs.
HLMs aren’t mandatory journal entries or ‘soul searching’ time–though they can be if you want them to–it’s You Time. It’s time to gain clarity, connect with yourself and be productive, all things, which will ultimately lead to increased happiness and sense of purpose.
Why Are They So Beneficial?
High Level Meetings force us to do two main things. The first is to slow down. We live in the world of ‘on demand’ and what happens is that we so often forget to take a step back and ask the crucial questions. Asking questions like:
- What would make me happier?
- What small tweak could I implement that might create a large impact on my personal or professional life?
- What part of myself am I leaving out of my work?
When we move so fast we don’t create the time or space to reflect, ultimately, we miss things. We aren’t able to gain as much visibility into our blind spots and in turn we don’t end up making the changes we really want and need to be making.
The second thing HLM’s help us to do, is to be present or mindful. A recent Harvard study reported that most of us are thinking about something, other than what we’re doing in the moment, at least 47 percent of the time. Basically we’re not concentrating on where we are, what we’re engaged in or who we’re speaking to almost half of our lives. We’re not living in the moment and ultimately, we’re not focusing on ourselves. Think about how often you zone out during a conversation, or how many times you’ve had to re-read parts of this blog because you were only half paying attention.
CEO of The American Happiness Association, Dr. Amyee Coget, says that,
When your life is guided by thoughts about things you have to do or things you have done, you will likely fail to focus on the present and you might experience a downward spiral into stress and unhappiness.
She says that in order to combat this we have to make time for ourselves.
How to begin a High Level Meeting with yourself
Start by penciling/typing it into your calendar. Ideally you want to aim for consistently planned and scheduled weekly meetings. The most important thing is to schedule it at a time that you’re actually going to stick to. If you’re normally already clocked out by 3pm on Friday afternoons, that’s probably not the best moment to have your HLM.
As for how much time you set aside, that’s up to you. The key, however, is to be realistic. Two hours of uninterrupted walks in nature might sound ideal, but if you’re going to spend most of it worrying that you’re falling behind in work, you won’t be productive and most likely won’t continue to attend the meetings. Personally I’ve tried one hour and 40-minute sessions and I’ve found that, for me, between 35 and 45 minutes is optimal. However, this is something you can experiment with especially when first getting started and see what works best.
In terms of what comes next, the most essential ingredient to maximizing HLMs is making sure you show up. The reason we call this a High Level Meeting, is because it’s unmovable. How often would you cancel a meeting with your boss or the CEO? Regard this with the same level of significance that you would any other important appointment. Unless there is a family emergency (or another situation of equal weight), commit to being there.
A few other tips to maximize the HLM:
- Change scenery: Take yourself out of the office, or your place of work, go for a walk, grab a coffee or just change rooms, but be sure to vary the environment.
- Create a list of topics: What some people find challenging during these meetings, especially at the beginning, is knowing what to focus on. What often helps is to have a running list of ‘HLM ideas’ that you can refer to. Wunderlist is a great place to keep lists. If something comes to mind during the week that you think would be a good topic for the next meeting, jot it down. You don’t have to use any of those subjects, but at least you’ll have a reference point to pull from if you’re ever stuck.
- There are no ‘shoulds’: These meetings can focus on anything you want: a work issue, a personal problem, creating a five-year plan or designing your newborn’s bedroom. There are no ‘shoulds’ when it comes to HLMs. Some people sit with a pen and paper and just write down random thoughts that come into their minds, others, like myself, walk the dog in the park and others go for a juice–anything goes. Just be true to what’s on your mind and in your gut.
- Turn off the gadgets: This includes phones, tablets, laptops and anything that might buzz, beep or distract you from fully concentrating and disconnecting
- Have your own Call To Action: Leave every High Level Meeting with an action point. Whether during the meeting you’ve decided to send an email to a colleague or loved one with a new thought, have gained clarity on a current project or now want to become an entrepreneur, choose one, small, realistic action and be sure to do it as soon as the meeting is over
- Have fun and let it flow: These sessions have the potential to be the most exciting, happiest and advantageous part of your week as they’re completely designed and created by you. You decide where to have them, how to have them and what to focus on. So make sure to enjoy them, relax with them, experiment with them and let your mind flow. It’s truly incredible how many new thoughts flood through when we give ourselves the space, the permission and the time to indulge in them.
We might not all come up with the theory of relativity, but we could all probably use a bit more time walking on the sand or lying on the floors of our offices gazing at the ceiling. We can all benefit from deciding to regularly connect with ourselves and truly listen to what’s going on inside our own heads.
Pencil in your first High Level Meeting and let us know how it went in the comments below!
Photo: Noah Silliman (Unsplash)