Sitting Still to Move Forward

A workplace often gives us an imagery of activity. Phones ringing, papers shuffling, a few voices here and there, everything and everyone contributing to an active atmosphere. Meetings happen every now and then, symbolising movement, progress, brainstorming, dynamism, innovation. The modern culture today values this movement and innovation. New ideas, new ideas, better ideas! And somewhere, the value of stillness and focus is forgotten.

For anything to move forward, for any idea to be implemented well, a moment of stillness and focus is needed. It is indeed paradoxical that this stillness is sometimes necessary to implement the idea and take it forward. Let us quickly delve into this!

Repetition-Perfection versus Innovation:

Stillness also means the need to sit with something, and looking at it from all the possible perspectives, and repeating that if needed.

There is a Taoist wisdom that goes along these lines. Sometimes, we become so occupied with creating and thinking about something new, we forget to look properly at what is in front of us. Think of it this way- is it better to read multiple books, one after the other, almost behaving like it’s a competition to see who reads the greatest number of books? Or is it better to read one book thoroughly, paying attention to the little details within it?

Is it better to read that book, as many times needed to get a complete understanding of it? Or is it better to skip from one book to another, without trying to understand it completely?

Sometimes, the situation demands that we pay attention to just one agenda so that it can be managed well. Sometimes the need is that we pay attention to preparing one decent pitch for that one investor, by studying their expectations, instead of trying to network relentlessly with everyone we meet. It is thus really important to understand the context and shift our focus accordingly. Correction- it is important that sometimes, the need is to not shift the focus.

Distractions + Innovation= Focus gone!

A recent survey of 1600 employees highlighted by the Harvard Business Review brought to attention that more than 60% of those employees admitted that they rarely are able to engage in deep focused work for even one or two hours without interruptions. There is always some distraction- whether it is emails, a meeting, a quick chat, and so on. The article goes on to give a scenario- an employee checks their long list of emails first thing in the morning. He responds to those emails one by one- most are small, manageable requests. Naturally, it would make him feel productive, as the inbox goes from unread to read emails.

But wait, there is this one big request that needs more time- it is a project proposal. He decides to work on the project proposal later during the day when he has more focus. Later, when he does sit down to work on it, a co-worker stops by to chat. And before we know it, it’s lunchtime. After lunch, there’s a meeting scheduled to brainstorm about the next project. Once the meeting is over, it’s almost the end of the day, and so on…

The scenario or similar ones may not be entirely unfamiliar to us. Distractions are there. And add to that, we are encouraged to constantly move from one task to another. Rarely, it is mentioned that one must sit and work on a task. Rarely, that stillness to be on a task is encouraged.

It is here that people in leadership positions can turn that around.

Carving out Time, to give Time:

It becomes imperative for leaders, managers and others in such positions to ensure that equal importance is given to ‘focused work time’ as well. As an article by Growth Partners Consulting mentions-it is not just meetings and such ‘dynamic’ tasks that should have a special place at work- the time to sit with it and to work on tasks should also be paid equal importance.

It sounds almost obvious, but when we think about, we can’t deny how much time is often gone in deciding the number of tasks to be done, and how little time to actually work on something remains. 

Simple measures like reducing the number of meetings, setting a time-limit on the duration of meetings, setting aside specific hours or days for focused work, encouraging and modelling that behaviour can go a long way.

The pandemic reminded us the power and importance of being here and now. In one of our earlier articles, we recognised the importance of some ‘slack time’. It is also about time we recognise the power and importance of sitting with the task. Slack time is when reinvention happens. And pausing everything else for a while to deeply work on a task is when the forward movement happens.

Answering About your Typical Workday

answering about your typical workday, how does a typical workday look like

There are interview questions wherein the purpose of asking is quite clear. Questions like:

It is quite obvious why they are asked. But even these seemingly direct questions have a key to answer, which have charted out in our older articles.

There are interview questions which might feel redundant, leaving us wondering why a future employer would like an answer to this. One such common but interesting question is:

‘Could you describe a typical workday?’

A lot of us might find ourselves wondering at such a question that:

  • What is the use of asking about my typical workday at a job I am planning to change?
  • Which details do they want to know exactly?
  • Why are they asking something which isn’t really related to this new job that I am applying for?
  • How does this question answer anything about why I am a good hire/cultural fit/cultural addition?

Without further ado, let us look into the intricacies of this question and what one can keep in mind when the time comes to answer it.

The Purpose:

Firstly, why is this question asked? What is the purpose of getting to know a candidate’s typical workday?

According to an article on The Muse, the core purpose is that the interviewer wants to know what responsibilities you have at your current or most recent job/volunteer work/internship, how you prioritise and approach those responsibilities. This core purpose is something even interns/freshers can keep in mind and structure their answers accordingly.

Another purpose is that they want to know if there are responsibilities that you have which overlap or match with the job description of this new job you are applying for. They would like to know if you are already doing a task which you would have to undertake at this new job, and to what extent are you ready to take up something like that.

Moreover, the interviewers are often looking to see how your current (or most recent) work environment is like and how you deal with it.

All in all, the overarching purpose is to get to know the responsibilities, environment, approach and priorities based on how the answer has been constructed, and how well a candidate might transfer it all to the new job. This brings us to the next point: how does one answer such a question?

Answering It:

Reading, Listing, Connecting:

  It is always a good idea to read the job description as you are preparing for the interview. The job description will tell you what skillsets would the interviewer be looking to hear about.

The obvious parallel step is to actually refresh and write it out for yourself the responsibilities you have had in your previous/recent/current job, and what you a typical productive day looked like. As you create a list of things you did, your next step is to find if there is an overlap between what you did and what your job description will expect you to do.

This will be easy if you are applying for a similar role in the same or similar field but there are bound to be some differences. But what you will pick on are similarities between tasks and responsibilities in your old typical workday and what you anticipate at your new endeavour based on the job description. This brings us to the next step.

-Chronologise and Emphasize:

Similar but not entirely the same as walking someone through your CV, walking someone through your typical workday will involve telling them in a chronological order about your tasks and responsibilities for the day or week. In case of the CV-story it was advisable to emphasize just on the relevant parts and keep an order that gives a sense to your career narrative. Here, in case of ‘walking through a typical workday’, it is important that you:

  • Maintain the chronology, that is, the correct order of how you chose to do the tasks.
  • At the same time emphasizing on the task(s) which you think was important and why you undertook it the way you did.
  • Don’t spend too much time talking about repetitive tasks and do spend time on tasks which have impelled you to work strategically and creatively.


The catch is, like most interview answers, to be concise, clear and strategic. Strategic how?

There will be times when you might wonder if you should tell something which isn’t really a part of the new job description but was anyway a big part of what you did. Do we leave it out? No, because that would show the gaps in your narrative. Do we dwell on it too much? No, because that would not give you enough time to focus on the more directly related bits. What we need is strategy here where we talk about the ‘different’ responsibility in a way that gives a sense to the interviewer as to how you handle similar responsibilities. This is an especially valuable insight if your workdays kept changing or there was no typical workday as such or what you are interviewing for is a little different from what you did/do.

The Muse article gives a good example:

‘…if you’re in an accounting role where you work on many aspects of a company’s finances, but you’re interviewing for a payroll-specific job, you might choose to describe a typical day leading up to payday when your focus is more on the type of work you’d be doing in this next role. It might even be worth mentioning at the beginning of your response that there’s no one typical day and you’ll give an example of a day when you’re working on payroll or preparing for a big meeting or closing deals for the quarter.’

And finally, remember that an interview is ultimately a conversation of a kind. Leaving space for questions is fine. Adding ‘…is there anything you would want to hear more about?’ at the end of answer to any interview question is a great idea, which helps you to keep your responses concise and open-ended.

Working around the Mental Roadblocks

You have been brainstorming since many days now. The days seem to be blending into each other, but there is no solution in sight. It’s like we have hit a roadblock.

This could be a situation that one can apply professionally; we could very well be talking about an agenda that seems to be lying tangled since days. We could be talking about the struggle to come up with a solution that doesn’t upset any client nor the fortunes of the company.

The more you are thinking about the problem, the more you are dreading about it.

Does this not sound familiar? This is something that a newbie or a fresher might face early in their careers, when the task feels daunting; or an experienced, high-level manager might feel, when the task feels a doomed one from the start.

Problems are everywhere. Ideas and solutions are elusive. There are some problems, faced at various levels of experience, which have a simple solution. They say a task well begun is half done. But for that to happen, the very basic, essential, important and simple secret is to just begin.

At some point, the incessant use of post-it notes to chart out plans, the flowcharts and the brainstorming sessions about the task need an antidote; that is, to stop thinking about the task but actually start working on it.

The Flipside of Experience:

Often, it is not a lack of competence or a lack of skillset that stops us from finding solutions. It is often the opposite: it’s the abundance of experience. No, we are serious!

When we are used to working at a company, or when we have occupied a position for a long term, the flipside of experience comes in- we start thinking in boxes.

We get much too familiar with the problems, and their solutions. We also get much too familiar with problems and their lack of solutions. In our long tenures, we might have realised that when a task has been approached, since years, say, through X method, it doesn’t work out.

We simply give up on the task, assuming that since it has been unsuccessfully approached through method X in all these years, it is a doomed one.

But we forget that maybe, just maybe, trying a method Y could give us the solution we were looking for. The key lies in starting with a method Y, and noting where it leads one to. Often, the catch lies in not really finding a complex solution, but actually starting with a different solution, even a simple one.

Conquering the Newbie Fear:

Often, it is not the inability to finish, or a lack of a skillset that becomes a roadblock to a task. It is often the anticipation of failure.

We wonder if we are qualified enough to get this task done. We stare at the pile of papers and files, and we wonder how long will it take us to get this done.

Again, the simple key is to just start.  

Like magic, as you get to work, you shall find some ways to conquer by focusing on a short term goal within that huge task.

You might realise that goal is not working, and so you shall refocus the goal to make it more achievable and realistic. And like magic, you shall find the ifs, buts and what ifs on your way, and you shall also find your ways around them.

The magic happens when we start. It could be starting with a new solution, never tried before, or it could be starting on a task, no matter how daunting it is, and no matter how unqualified you feel.

While this is not to say that by getting up and starting to work you shall always find that solution. The process might work or it might not yield as much as you thought it would. Moreover, the point is not to stop brainstorming and thinking. And one might question whether brainstorming about the task isn’t the same as working on the task. Brainstorming after a point can become a rejection of ideas. The point is to start working, reroute if necessary, redo if necessary. The point is to jump over the roadblock, be okay with stumbling a little; the point is to not sit staring at the roadblock.