Can something as simple as a pause in your day make life and work better?
We know that creating a habit of pausing can make your personal life more mindful and present.
But what happens when you are at work?
Can pausing in the workplace make things better for you and your team?
In this episode I’m in conversation with Tony Barton, cofounder of Living Teams whose mission is to bring teams to life in the corporate world in order to create a healthier world for future generations. We chat about how “the pause is the work” and why it makes things better.
Tune in to find out how an intentional pause can make you more present and productive at home and at work and some simple practices to try with your team.
*If you prefer to read the transcript of this episode How a Pause Can Make Life and Work Better is at the bottom of this page.
[Bio] Tony Barton
Tony Barton is an experienced team coach and facilitator who recently co-founded ‘Living Teams’. Before becoming a coach, he had a successful 25-year career in marketing. Tony loves his work because bringing humanity into the workplace is so rewarding. He is a big believer in simplicity as an antidote to the complexity of modern life. Tony says his favourite quote is from poet Mary Oliver: “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” When not working Tony enjoys his family and walking the dog and has recently (thank you pandemic) discovered the joys of gardening.
[Website] Living Teams
Check out Tony’s website to see how he can help your team excel.
[Book] To Be Awake
Curious about the cricket ball to the head story?
You can read about it and some simple practices for mindful and intentional living in my book To Be Awake.
[Podcast] The Great Pause
Last season I had a great conversation with slow living guru Carl Honoré about the great pause created by COVID-19 and what it means post-pandemic.
You can listen HERE
[Blog] Why Pausing and Breathing is a Game Changer
READ about why pausing is an essential habit of well-being.
[Newsletter] Savouring the Day
If you liked this podcast be sure to get my weekly newsletter – a dose of positivity, tips and inspiration delivered to your inbox.
Scroll on down to the comments section and share your thoughts….
How might a habit of pausing make raise the bar for your team – at home or at work?
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CREDITS: The Being & The Doing podcast is produced by Neela Bell. Voiceovers by Jason Harris. Music is GoodMorning Sunshine by Yoav Alyagon and Firefly by Scott Buckley.
Full Show Transcript
Intro: The Being and the Doing; a podcast about wellbeing and the practices that help us have more calm, focus, purpose, and presence in our busy lives. Here’s your host, author, and life coach Laurel Vespi.
Laurel: Well, hello, lovely ones, welcome to Episode 37 of The Being and The Doing. As I said in the last podcast, this season we’re focusing on principles that help us savor the day, help us be able to go with the flow of life, the ups and the downs and teasing apart the 12 principles from my perspective of what it is that helps us to do that.
And my guests this season are all about giving their own perspective on these different principles or ways in which we can do that. And I’m really excited about my guest today. I’ve known Tony for a long time and I guess probably our penultimate experience together or ultimate experience maybe is kind of a quirky adventure that we had in India, back in 2006 when he invited me to join a small group of people to go on this wacky little adventure in India that ended up having kind of a pivotal moment for me.
Getting hit in the head with a cricket ball, which that story if you’re a new listener and don’t know that story, it’s one that I recount in my book, To Be Awake. You could check it out there, probably won’t discuss that story in our conversation today.
So today’s guest is Tony Barton. Tony is a coach, a very, very fine and experienced coach. He’s recently had a little pivot in his coaching work and has co-founded a new company called Living Teams.
First, I just love the name of that – Living Teams – and the mission of that new organization that he’s created is to bring teams to life in the corporate world in order to create a healthier world for future generations. That just sounds like an amazing mission. And so today part of our conversation will be about, us as individuals, how it is that we can bring the principle about pausing into our individual lives. But I’m also interested to hear what he has to say about how that is an important principle in the work world.
I am pleased and delighted to welcome Tony to the conversation today. How are you Tony?
Tony: Yeah, very well Laurel. Thank you for that nice introduction and I promise no cricket balls will be thrown.
Laurel: Well, well, I should make that caveat that you didn’t throw the cricket ball that hit me so we won’t go down that side. That’s a story too far, although, I mean, definitely it was one of those memorable moments in one’s life; high in the Himalayas, getting whacked in the head with a cricket ball is definitely on my list.
So Tony, this idea of pausing as a cornerstone principle in being able to go with the flow of life, just in general, what’s your thought on that?
A personal approach to pausing
Tony: Well, I’m a big fan of pausing and it’s very much central to my kind of approach to working with teams and it’s really crazy how radical it seems to be. It takes quite a lot of commitment to get people to pause but I’ve been a pauser for a long time. And, you know, it goes way back to when my corporate career finished in 2001 and I was completely burnt out and I had no idea what pauses were. But when I finished my crazy corporate workaholism, I checked out of work for six months.
And one of the things I did was I booked myself into a silent retreat, a Buddhist center. I’m not a Buddhist but this appealed to me, just quiet and silence and not having to talk. It felt like it was a real gift so that was a long pause. But I think that woke up in me just the joy of silence and quiet and contemplation. So I think consciously that’s where I realized it was important to me and increasingly important to human beings.
Laurel: I agree with you that it’s seems like it’s such a simple concept and people have a hard time doing it — whether it’s figuring out how to do it or just giving themselves permission to do it or figuring out what they’re doing while they’re pausing. What do you think is the reason why that’s such a challenge for people?
Tony: Well, I think it’s something to do with consciousness. And again, you know, when I think back to my crazy working patterns, I think I was pretty much unconscious. I was just doing the do and putting one foot in front of the other each day and without asking myself; what am I doing? Why am I doing it? Where am I going? And am I happy? So I appreciate that in the corporate world now, I mean, even before the pandemic, there was a huge increase I think just in the pace of life and the expectations of what people were meant to do in work.
So as that world was speeding up, obviously there was a counter measure which was the need to just stop. And I mean, with my coaching clients, you know, they would come to a call and say “I don’t know what I’m going to be doing today. I’m not quite sure what topic, I’ve just come from a meeting” and I would say to them stop and they’ll just keep talking. I said stop and they keep talking. I say, “Stop!” And it was like trying to stop a steam train, a runaway steam train.
So the momentum is incredibly challenging, you know, to get people to stop. It’s not easy. It’s not natural.
Laurel: Well, is it not natural? I actually think it is natural to us. It’s just we’ve trained ourselves out of it, you know, like, yes, it’s almost like the pandemic came as the ultimate pause. I did an episode last season with Carl Honoré about the great pause. It’s almost like people needed to be forced to see what it feels like to begin to pause because it is such a bad habit. I think of it that way, that we’ve trained ourselves out of the pause. I have to fill up all of this space and if I’m not filling that space with something, then I’m feeling guilty because there’s so many things that I should be doing.
And then if I do pause, I just don’t know what to do with it. So in your usual day, how does pausing show up for you in your usual day?
Tony: Well, I have definitely found that a morning practice is what helps me and sets me up for a good intentional day. It varies but my start of the day is I try and do some exercise. I have this wonderful app which is just called Seven and it’s great. It suits me down to the ground. It’s seven minutes of fairly intense workout. So I do that, I then sit down with a journal and just kind of acknowledge the start of the day. I check in with myself, sometimes I meditate.
I have to say meditation for me is a bit like a habit, a bit like going to the gym. When I’m doing it, I swear by it and swear that I’ll never, ever, ever stop going to the gym or stop meditating. And then something happens and suddenly it’s been weeks or months since I last went to the gym or meditated. So meditation isn’t essential for me but the pausing and reflection, I think it’s reflection time that I need.
Because if I just jump out of bed, jump in the shower and these days, it’s downstairs and go to work. You know you’re just jumping in unconsciously so for me I take about 45 minutes in the morning and I love it. I’m usually up by 6:30, nobody else is up at that time so it’s quiet time and yeah, just have time to reflect, check in. How am I doing? What am I thinking? What am I feeling? What am I sensing? What do I want to do today but more what’s important about today.
Laurel: Yeah, there is that distinction between the what’s on the to-do list and then what is actually important today, knowing that not all the things that are on the to-do list are necessarily important. When you bring this idea of pausing into the corporate world, what’s your experience about how that’s received?
Pausing in the work world
Because thinking that, you know, not doing something just seems sort of counterproductive to, I’ll say the mission of most companies, right? It’s about doing, producing, you know, creating deliverables of some kind. So how has that idea of pausing been received in the corporate world?
Tony: Well, it’s interesting Laurel because I think this is where, and I’ll speak for myself but my saboteurs often say, oh, you know, they won’t buy this or they’re not ready for it or they’ll think it’s too woo-woo. But you know when I just commit and I take them to a quiet reflection time or, you know, other saboteurs say oh, let’s not talk about soul or spirits or, you know, things that don’t, again, using that word incorrectly, naturally fit into the workplace.
Because actually naturally, mind, body, spirit is all essential in the workplace. But when I commit to it with confidence, knowing how important it is, they love it. You know I say, okay so shut your eyes, not if you’d like to shut your eyes or whatever. I just say shut your eyes and normally my eyes are shut so I don’t know whether they are but sometimes I peek and I go, oh my God, they’ve all shut their eyes.
And I don’t think all of them like it but my sense is, you know, 75% of them are going, “oh my God, this is just what I needed. Thank you.”
Laurel: And so let’s just think about about the listener who is wanting to bring pauses into their workday. Let’s move to the conversation about how does a team create pauses not just for an individual in their workday, how can they incorporate this idea of pausing? I mean for me, the first thing that we do when we pause is we breathe, let’s just pause and breathe and knowing that brings us fully back into our body and back into the present moment.
And then we can tag on to whatever else we want, pause and breathe and reflect or pause and breathe and whatever, the thing that you want to do. What are your thoughts about it? How does someone, how does a listener bring this idea of pausing into their workday?
Tony: Well, as you say, breathing is available to us 24/7.
Laurel: And if it’s not, who cares. [laughing]
3 step pause process
Tony: So I have a very simple three steps that I encourage people to do.
Step One is Stop. Get yourself comfortable, put your feet flat on the floor so it’s a kind of meditation drill. Feet on the floor, have your back straight, shut your eyes and just feel your whole body becoming still as you sit there on your chair or wherever you are.
And then Step Two is Breathe. Take three deep breaths. I usually say breathe in to three and breath out to the count of four and so do that three times. So that’s Step Two and that already is bringing a different state to their being and you can feel it.
And then Step Three is the Reflection Space. And I usually just seed in a few questions that they might like to ask of themselves. Like how am I, how am I doing? What am I thinking right now? And no need to follow the thoughts but what’s on my mind? Don’t have to deal with it but what’s on my mind? Asking what am I feeling? A bit anxious maybe or a bit excited about the day ahead so just check in with emotions.
Also just check in with my body. What’s it like sitting here? Am I noticing any aches and pains, headaches? So just sort of reflecting on this person, in this moment in their life, what’s going on so there’s a reflection space. To allow them just to be in there.
The final place is just to be intentional about the day. What kind of day do I intend to have? Who do I want to be today? What qualities can I bring to my work?
So that’s really a simple way of pausing. It takes about three or four minutes.
Laurel: What a great way to begin one’s workday. Whether you’re doing that when you arrive at work, whether that’s actually going to a place to work or these days as I know many people are working from home but being able to as you said “arrive”. Starting the day when I first get up, I can start my day like that. I can arrive at work and start my day that way or at any other point.
Challenges to pausing
I find people say that they may be all in on that idea, they love it and, their experience of it is it’s great. And then they’ll say I never remember to do it, I keep forgetting and that becomes then the challenge of once they see the benefit of doing that, the next challenge now is how do I remember to actually do that? And for me, I say put it in your calendar, right, when you open your calendar and see the things you need to do. The first thing is maybe you need to take that pause break.
Tony: Yeah, I haven’t found any substitute for the good old Nike, you know, just do it. And you know, I was listening to somebody on a podcast the other day, a famous footballer talking about staying fit basically. And he said he’s just like the rest of us, we wake up and we go, “oh, do I really want to go to the gym? Do I really want to get up? Can I really be bothered to do that pausing thing and reflection?” And he just said you know, I just have to stop thinking about that and get up and do it.
And that’s what I do. There’s no substitute for just committing to it. If it works for you then don’t make excuses, you know, commit to it and that’s what works for me. Because like this morning, I didn’t feel like doing it, frankly. I didn’t feel like doing my exercises, I didn’t feel like getting out of bed but I did and it kick-starts the day so yeah, there’s no substitute for just get on with it. If it works, do it.
Laurel: Yeah, some discipline.
Tony: Yeah, discipline, that’s the word.
Laurel: Discipline is one of those words that has a bit of a connotation — we think, “oh, discipline is a bad thing, isn’t it?” Well, I don’t know discipline is a pretty good thing because it does create the routines or the structure around our day that lets us do things, right? Like when we think about the simplest habits, you have discipline around brushing your teeth I’m going to guess. I mean, most people have some sort of discipline around that and they don’t rail against that.
Maybe when they were three and learning how to do that, maybe they were pushing back but you know, once it becomes established, it’s no, you have some discipline there.
So pivoting a bit, Tony to teams and the ability for a team to have a collective pause. Obviously there’s this advantage to individuals whether we’re thinking in the work context or not in the work context of being able to take a pause. What does it look like for a team to take a collective pause?
Tony: Well, I was designing a timeline this morning for a team and you know, it has to be in the timeline. So when I’m doing workshops and they’re all Zoom workshops at the moment, you know, it’s built in so it’s going to happen because we’re running the show. But our intention is that teams really recognize the value of pausing before they go to the task.
And that’s the habit, the habit of busy corporate people is to get on and do it. The ‘it’ is the task in front of them and you know how they go about the task is often overlooked. Pausing is just a way of grounding yourself with your colleagues so that collectively you are managing the state of a bunch of people who you’re working with so that you are in good intentional relationship with each other to work on whatever it is, to work on the task.
So in a way, it’s no different to an individual setting themselves up right for the start of the day. Teams need to learn that that pause is the work.
The pause is the work
Laurel: Oh, okay, wait, you have to say that again. You have to say that again!
Tony: Yeah, funnily enough you asking me to say it because I keep saying it. It’s like if that is the work, it’s not some nice little gimmick like a check-in and you know oh yeah, we did that because we did on the course and then we forget about it. Actually, what if we as people working together became more mindful of how we are as human beings in relation to each other is really important. And that sets us up to be successful and it is as much a part of the work as it is, I don’t know, working out the numbers.
Laurel: Right, creating the deliverable, doing the whatever. I just didn’t want to skip over that when you said it because that is the juicy heart of it, isn’t it? That this is the work, it’s not the other stuff that we do. And, you know, we can pivot back because yeah, that’s true for a work team, a work group but that’s true for your family or for yourself. If we can do that and bring that sort of mindful focus and then the intentional piece of what it is that’s important or the why of what we’re doing, we can just bring all of that.
Then when we get to the ‘it’ – the work, whatever that is, whether that’s something that I am doing or something my family is doing or something my team at work is doing then the ‘it’ is so much more purposeful than what we might’ve been doing before.
Tony: Yeah. And I can give you an example of that because this new venture that you mentioned that I’m setting up a new business; Living Teams. So our team is growing, it started with one guy, Andy Denne and then I was working with him and we kind of went, “you know what, I think this would be more fun together.” So we decided we would create this new business together. And then we have brought in somebody who is helping to organize us and set up systems and bringing all sorts of things that we don’t have in our repertoire.
Anyway, so she’s in all of these Zoom meetings with us and one of the things we pride ourselves on and there’s a strong intention for this business is that we walk the talk. We don’t ask teams to do anything we don’t do ourselves. And so this check-in is very much not a gimmick and whenever the three of us, Andy, Pippa and myself get together for a meeting, we have a check-in.
And you know Pips got a young child at home. She’s working from home, she’s homeschooling, her husband’s working from home. There’s a lot of pressure and so when we have our check-ins, all sorts of things come up before we get on with, you know, whatever the agenda was for that particular meeting. And she said to us guys, I can’t tell you how amazing this check-in is because I’ve never experienced it in this way. Because you take as much time as is needed, it feels absolutely authentic, you’re genuinely interested and caring about how we are and we don’t start until we’ve got to a point where we’re ready to move on. And it reminded me because she’s new into our system just how unique some of these things are; unique, simple and powerful. So yes, it’s a keeper.
Laurel: Well, it is. That sort of speaks to this idea that I think in some organizations have, not all, but I think there is a bit of a prevalent thought that you can’t bring your whole self to work, that you have to compartmentalize it a little bit.
Somehow we cross the threshold into our work world and everything else that’s going on, we were leaving it at the doorstep. And were we that simple organisms that we actually could do that, which doesn’t mean to say is, I’m sure there’ll be some people who are thinking, yeah but, you know, we have things to do.
Like that sounds great, Tony, we have things to do. And so we can’t take all this time for everyone to all check in, not understanding that when we do that, our ability to be able to do the work is really enhanced.
Slow down to go faster
Tony: Yeah. And again, I think that what happens when you check in is that and you do it well, you get more present. So you are available for whatever is on the agenda rather than with your struggles at home or whatever it might be that have been released. You know, by being able to talk about it and venting and just sharing and being real that releases a different kind of energy, which allows you to be more present.
And actually, I think this is where the payoff is, you know, you slow down to go faster because there’s more zip and pep in the meeting and yeah, just a lot more energy. I think it releases energy that can be put to good productive use. And if we hadn’t been through that kind of clearing; how are we, then the energy is a little muddied and lacks focus. So I think for people who are skeptical about it, try it and see what’s different.
Laurel: And what I love about that is it powerful work for teams for inside organizations and also wanting to just flag that it’s powerful work for your family. You know how are we the family? or for you as an individual; how am I? It does, it shifts how we’re able to show up and where we can focus our energy. And so yeah, whether it’s we go faster by going slower or by doing less, we get more done — a bit of a paradox that is true.
I’m really excited for all of these organizations that are going to get to work with you and your new team. What a great offering for them or invitation I guess is the right word, an invitation for them to step into something a little bit different too. It feels like quite a humanizing approach to be able to work with teams.
Tony: Yeah. And you know the humanizing bit I guess is where it gets real. And one of our values is about being real, caring deeply, greatly, being real. So we talk about if teams work with us, it’s kind of no bullshit, no role-plays, no PowerPoint. We want to confront the no-go areas, you know, the difficult conversations, the elephants in the room because all of that stuff holds teams back and it takes a lot of energy to keep all of those things under wraps, under the surface.
So yeah, we enjoy that because the human side of teams is messy.
Laurel: Well, the human side of life is messy, isn’t it?
Laurel: And gratefully so that life is messy which is why this work that I’ve been doing around helping people understand this savoring the day is not just about, “oh, look at the beautiful sunset and isn’t that wonderful.” Yeah, that’s a piece of it but sometimes you’re in the muck of your life. You know lots of times the muck created completely out of your control — the stuff that just begins to happen.
And the reality that sometimes we create our own muck. If you’re tired of being in the mess, then stop adding water to the dirt pile and it’ll improve. But messy is the nature of life so okay, great, given that, what are the ways in which we can work with that? And you know this whole idea of pausing is a way that lets us navigate the mess a little bit differently.
Tony: Yeah, absolutely. So that pause in the morning or whenever you do it and ask how am I? If the answer is I’m feeling pretty angry about things or disappointed or sad or whatever, then that’s real. So just to acknowledge it, you don’t have to fix it but I love the compassion in which you hold it, it’s actually that’s life. Trying to have it be one way all the time, well, that’s just not ever going to happen.
So it is the paradox, isn’t it? I always think when I’m down, I know the next place is up.
Laurel: Yeah. We have both sides of it. We have to have both sides of it — there’s a whole other conversation for us one day, Tony, about the inherent messiness of life and would we really want it any other way. I know when we’re in the middle of the giant mess, it’s like “really, I don’t want this mess.”
But you know what does life look like when it’s just a flat line? There’s no joy. No learning. There is no appreciation of what the other side looks like. We don’t know what happy is if we don’t have sad and all of that.
I so appreciate you taking the time, there you are in Birmingham where we are an ocean apart. But as from back in the day, back in India I remember lots of fascinating conversations and that’s one thing that I so appreciate about you is just this lovely approach to life. You have a very gentle, beautiful approach to life with an underlying kick in the pants that I think we willingly take it from you, Tony, because you do it in such a nice way.
Tony: Yeah. I hope to keep that going as long as possible.
Laurel: That’s great. So if you’re looking to find out more about the work that Tony and his team are doing at Living Teams, I’ll leave the link in the show notes to his new website which is called livingteamsrock.com. And you can go and check that out there and perhaps working with Tony with your team is a thing that might be really appealing to you.
So that brings this episode to a close. Next time, we’ll dive into another conversation on another one of the principles, a different perspective on what that principle of savoring the day might look like. If you are not a subscriber to the podcast, please take a minute to do that and share it with somebody that you think might find this conversation of interest.
And until next time, lovely ones, savor the day. We only get one go round on this little blue planet so let’s make the most of it.
Outro: You’ve been listening to The Being and the Doing with your host, Laurel Vespi. If you liked this episode and think other people would, please subscribe, rate and give a review on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts, be sure to tune in next week for another conversation about The Being and the Doing. Thanks for listening.