Are You Working at the Right Pace? - Caitie Butler

Do you feel overwhelmed, distracted or stressed at work? Do you feel yourself hurtling toward burnout? It might not be that your job is a bad fit for you. It could just be that you're working at the wrong pace. Our guest today argues that the leading cause of burnout is an institutional pace that doesn't match the natural pace of workers. Caitie Butler is the co-author of Work Reimagined: How the Power of Pace Can Help Your Organization Achieve a New Level of Focus, Engagement and Satisfaction. She is no stranger to the stress of a demanding work environment. Caitie started her career in politics where amazingly she bucked the trend to work longer and later for ever diminishing returns. Today, Caitie is the communications director for MatchPace, an organizational effectiveness company that helps people re-imagine their workday.

Scripture References

  • Ephesians 4:11-13

Addtional Resources

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Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.

Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.

LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.

MR: I’m Mark Roberts.

LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.

Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.

Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.

LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.

MR: I’m Mark Roberts.

LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.

Do you feel overwhelmed, distracted or stressed at work? Do you feel yourself hurtling towards burnout? It might not be that your job is a bad fit for you. It could just be that you're working at the wrong pace. Our guest today argues that the leading cause of burnout is an institutional pace that doesn't match the natural pace of workers. Caitie Butler is the co-author of Work Reimagined How the power of pace can help your organization achieve a new level of focus, engagement and satisfaction. She is no stranger to the stress of a demanding work environment. Caitie started her career in politics where amazingly she bucked the trend to work longer and later for ever diminishing returns. Today, Caitie is the communications director for MatchPace, an organizational effectiveness company that helps people re-imagine their workday. Caitie Butler, welcome to the Making It Work podcast.

Caitie Butler: Thank you, thank you so much for having me. It's a pleasure.

LA: So I'm so curious to hear about your work experience because you say that fairly early in your career, you realize that the pace do more, do more of the culture that you're in was leading you to burnout. What made you realize this? And how did you make the change for yourself?

CB: Yeah. That's a great question. I think in some ways, I got a little lucky. So like you said, I started my career working in politics right out of college, specifically running political campaigns at the state level. So that is naturally a very intense role, obviously. And leading up to, say, election day can be very, very intense. You can be working 14-hour days. You're just trying to make it to the finish line, right? To sort of a pace metaphor. And then after Election Day, things just stop, right? It's like, "Okay, the election is over." You won or you didn't win. Yes, you're looking ahead to whatever is next. But it kind of taught me without me realizing it, that we can have really intense periods of work and those can be good and beneficial and important, and we need to do that. But then they really need to be followed by periods of rest of recovery, and I don't think I realized that, that was just the way it was, in that...

LA: So you're not saying that this is a terrible pace. You're not saying that we should never be all out for trying to get a company off the ground or reach a goal. You're just saying there needs to be some kind of rhythm in it?

CB: Exactly, exactly. And I think we all know that we're not created to work 10, 12, 14-hour days indefinitely. I mean, that would be hard on us physically, hard on us mentally. But it is possible and there are always times that, that does need to happen and that's okay. So I think that, that early experience taught me that. And then I kind of transitioned to working in the state legislature. So out of campaigns, but still sort of a similar rhythm of intensity during legislative session, but by that point, I wasn't young and single anymore, I was recently married. And I think I realized, "Wait a minute, I don't wanna be here [chuckle] until 8 PM every day. I wanna be at home, spending time with my husband or I wanna be able to get a workout in or something."

So maybe that early experience had showed me, "Okay, I can push when I need to push, but I also need to be able to step back, even if it's a little bit counter-cultural, even if the people around me aren't doing it, I need to say this is where I draw the line. These are my other priorities and I'm not gonna sacrifice them." That definitely wasn't always easy. And of course, there were times I had to just suck it up and stay late if that was what was going on at the time. But I definitely tried to personally make sure that I knew what I needed to get done, that I worked hard while I was at work, that I got it done. And then go home and enjoy the other things in my life. And I just wasn't willing to always be running around putting out fires. Some people seem to thrive on that, at least for a time. To me, it was really obvious early on that it just wasn't sustainable for me. So yeah, I guess, I may be I got lucky.

LA: I wanna ask you more about this experience working in the state legislature, 'cause I'm so curious, you say earlier in your career, you thrived on this all out for a time working campaigns, and then when it was done, having a break. And then you reached a different point in your life where you said, "Oh, this is not really working for me anymore." My first thought in my head was, "That's okay? That's okay for us to do?" To say, you know what was working for me before in terms of pace? Isn't working for me now, and I could make a different decision, I could say, "You know, this particular type of role which I thought was maybe a calling, maybe is not a calling in this particular season of life." Were you that reflective at the time about the change?

CB: I don't know if I was really reflective about the change in myself, but I do remember, I was in my 20s, and so I was looking around at the other people I was working with in this political world who are maybe a season or two ahead of me. And it's one thing when you're young and you have a lot of time and you have a lot of energy to be really in the mix of things, and you wanna be working long days and you thrive on that. But honestly I was looking at people ahead of me and seeing they weren't healthy. They were really burned out. They were... I didn't think that they were really spending their time on the right priorities. I would see relationships affected by it. So I think maybe God did give me some special insight just by watching others who were a little bit further along in this environment. And they had tried to sustain it, and it clearly wasn't healthy for them.

And I'm not gonna say that that's not true for everybody, I think we're gonna get into this later, but God does create us differently and we all have different priorities, but at the end of the day, we all should have priorities outside of work. And work is really important and really meaningful for many different reasons, but it shouldn't be the be-all, end-all. And if we're living and working like it's the be-all end-all, it's not sustainable in the long run. So I think that shift happened somewhat naturally for me but maybe I was able to make that shift more gracefully 'cause I had seen others to do it poorly.

LA: I wanna ask you to explain that a little bit more when you say the way that God created you or the way that God created everyone. Do you see those as different, do you see those as the same? Is there scripture that you lean on to support your thinking around this?

CB: Yeah. I think when we talk about different giftings at work, the Bible is very clear about that, and I think we focus on that sometimes about the type of work we do, but really we bring our whole selves to work regardless of the kind of work we do. We have different personalities, we have different desires, we have different things we're passionate about, and we have different natural working paces. This is something we talk about a lot at my current organization, MatchPace, how we have different chronotypes or chrono paces, where some people are early birds and so they can get up really early in the morning and wanna work really hard and get everything out of the way, and by the end of the day they're done, whereas other people are night owls and they really thrive in the evenings. So I think we have to look at the whole picture of ourselves and remember we bring our whole selves to work. And remember everyone else brings their whole self to work too, and they might be different than us.

LA: You mentioned God gives each of us gifts, I know this is mentioned in several different places in the Bible, one of the famous passages is Ephesians, starting in Ephesians 4:11, it says God gifts some people to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers. So these are roles that include workplace gifts?

CB: Yeah.

LA: But they also include gifts not limited to the workplace. Like when you're an evangelist, you may be don't put that away when you go home. When you're a traveling apostle, that has significant bearing on your home life, and when you're a teacher, you bring that into your home life as well. You know my husband is a elementary school teacher and he does not put that away when he comes home, he definitely brings that out for the benefit of my children. So I think God's gifts extend both for the workplace and for home life, but I think what I also hear you saying is there are repercussions. That means we're not all the same in the way that we work best.

CB: For sure. Yeah, and I think in our very immediate moment with the pandemic and a lot of people working from home, the lines have certainly blurred. You don't have a hard commute in the morning and a hard commute in the afternoon that's gonna break up your work day. You're flowing between work and home responsibilities, or at least a lot of people are doing that more than they ever did before because their work is in their home. And I've actually worked from home for seven years now, so that's very familiar to me. And so I think thinking about your working pace, you're gonna have trade-offs and sacrifices either way. If you're in a really intense season of work and you're working from home, that's obviously gonna spill over. You're gonna be more stressed. There's gonna be more hours a day that you're not paying attention to your family or your laundry or cooking or whatever, versus... And that might be okay for a time, you're gonna wanna transition into something a little bit more reasonable, sustainable over the long haul. Or maybe you just need a trip period of rest and that's why we have vacation time, right?

That's something that actually we need to take advantage of in order to work well over the long haul, because the goal is not, "How can I do the most today?" It's, "How can I sustain what I feel like I'm called to do and what I'm doing at work to make an impact on the world for the course of my whole career," which is hopefully decades. So you can look at it as a day-to-day pace, a week-to-week, month-to-month, year-to-year, but also over the long term. How are you gonna sustain your work and not burnout? And I think that's the key.

LA: Now, at MatchPace, you give advice to individuals, but you also give advice to organizations, which I love because I hate the idea that everything is on the individual to make it work out, to achieve all the tick lists, all the ticks on the to-do list, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, and also make this work-life balance thing somehow work out. How do you see the balance between where is the onus on the individual or where is the onus on the organization?

CB: Absolutely, yeah. I think this is really important. Maybe, I think the most important part of this conversation, because we are handed or have access to or are often sold a lot of individual tools for work-life balance and getting productivity, focus, getting stuff done, and you can implement all the tools in the world, but if the culture and the norms of your workplace don't facilitate that focus or that sustainable pace, you're gonna fail. And that is not your fault, but I think our culture makes it feel like it's our fault, like we should be able to fix it. So at MatchPace, we talk about sort of three levels of change, and the individual level change is definitely important, especially for leaders, 'cause leaders can certainly set an example at that individual level, but then there's the organizational level, which we're really passionate about. Going into organizations and looking at their workplace norms. So norms are the often unwritten or unspoken ways that people work. Every organization has them. Some good, some bad, probably, and looking at how...

LA: Whether we're expected to respond to email after 6:00 PM or...

CB: Exactly. Yes. And whether we're told we're not expected to, but yet our bosses are still expecting us to, or we feel like our bosses are still expecting us to even if there's not. There's often communication breakdown around norms too. So by shifting some of those norms to make them very clearly stated so everyone's on the same page, respecting these different paces that people have at the organizational level, you can make a real impact on, honestly, people's health and wellness and their ability to do that work well. And then there's also the systemic level, which is super important too and a whole different conversation probably, just about how our wider culture and society and economy does not facilitate work-life balance or what we would call a healthy sustainable working pace. But yeah, the organizational and individual level playing off each other, I think is really the key to making a difference in this.

LA: I agree that a leader in an organization can make a big difference. And it doesn't have to be the top leader. I remember a time, a few years ago, there's a woman who is not the top level rank, but she's a director in my organization. She said, "I read an article about productivity and I've been really stressed out with all my to-dos and I am only gonna be checking my email twice a day from now on. I'll be checking my email 11:00 AM and 2:00 PM, and if you need something from me between those hours, I've added all my co-workers to my priority list on my phone. You can text me. If I'm on Do Not Disturb, but it'll come through. Otherwise, you can wait a few hours for a response to an email." And she put that in her signature line that she's only receiving email at 11:00 and 2:00.

And that made a huge difference on our expectations of response time. Even with other people in the organization who are not trying to do this, or who didn't have maybe the courage or the job title to be able to do this. But it really, it lowered everybody's expectation of response time, and it lowered everybody's immediate response time, I think in a good way, which meant people weren't switching from their high thought tasks as often to respond to useless emails. So I thought that was very courageous, and I don't know if she was trying to make a change for everybody else at the same time, but just even one leader in our organization really did open up the possibility that, "Oh, that's okay. Changing the way we work is actually okay, if the way that we work before was not working for us."

CB: Right, yeah. And maybe it could have been that she just got to a point of desperation and said, "I can't do this." Like you said, task switching, anymore. So whether that was intentional that she made a broader change or not, I think that's a really interesting point for leaders and really for anyone in an organization. 'Cause I think... I'm assuming most of the listeners of this podcast feel this way. That as believers in the workplace, we're not just there to fulfill the calling God has given us vocationally, but we're really there to maybe shift the culture a little bit, or at least be a good example of a more healthy sustainable rhythm. We're emulating Jesus to the best of our ability, and that's part of it.

And so I think as humans, sometimes we just need to see someone else go first, and so can we be that person that goes first? Can we be that person that says, "It might feel a little risky to say, "I'm only gonna check my email twice a day because what if there's some big emergency that comes up that I'm not able to deal with, and then am I falling down on the job? Is it gonna affect my performance or how I'm viewed by my superiors?" But to have, like you said, the courage to do that and then set that example for others like, "Oh okay, you can actually... " If I'm not gonna check my email till 11:00, I have from 9:00 to 11:00, two hours in the morning where I can actually focus. I'm not gonna be interrupted, I'm not gonna have the pings in my notification, and I can do so much more and so much higher quality work in those two hours. And that's actually what we talk about at MatchPace. We've taken the four chronotypes that research has shown people have, early bird, night owl, or somewhere in between.

And we've adapted them to what we call ChronoPaces. And so, for example, if I'm a mid-morning pacer, so I do my best work starting around 9:00 through maybe early afternoon, so that would work great for me if I'm not gonna check my email till 11:00, I have those two hours where I have my peak creative energy and focus to actually give to my most important work. I can really take big steps towards achieving my personal goals and responsibilities in the workplace, but also I'm gonna get less burned out because I'm gonna be less distracted, less overwhelmed, I'm gonna feel like I'm actually getting something done and I'm not playing catch up later in the day. So that's just one practical thing people can do to sort of lower the temperature.

LA: So I have to say, I took this quiz, I went to the MatchPace website and I took the ChronoPace quiz, and I was not surprised to find out that I am an early morning pacer, which I always knew and my family know as well, because they tell me to be quiet when I wake up before 5:00 in the morning and go downstairs and start to do chores, and then get on my computer. And they tell me that I have to be very quiet to not wake everyone up. So it's never been a surprise for me 'cause I always have loved waking up early and having the time in the morning, but something that was a challenge for me earlier this past year is we were having these conversations in our office about whether or not to go back to work in person, and I really felt... It was really hard for me because I really like my co-workers, but I said, "You know what, I am so much more productive when I don't lose my best hour of the day in commuting." Which used to be what I did, my most alert, most productive hour of the day, I would be in the car and I would be recording voice memos and stuff like that, and doing very unsafe things like answering email. Yeah, it was traffic, but you probably shouldn't. Don't copy me, don't answer email in traffic.

But I think if I'm really serious about working well for the way that God has created me, I have to be particularly careful about protecting that my best time in the day, and that might mean commuting and later doing afternoon meetings in person, if we're all gonna see each other or leaning on technology more heavily. But it's a challenge when I have co-workers who I know are night owls and they struggle to get to meetings at 10:00 AM, but like 5:00 PM, they're just starting to gear up, and that's when the email... And that's when I'm like, "Oh gosh, I can't think... "

CB: You're done.

LA: So tell me, Caitie, how can organizations work together with so many different types of ChronoPaces? And I know that this is not... You're not the first person to ever address this question, right? Because we mentioned this verse from Paul's letter to the Ephesians in Chapter four, where he said, "Some people are apostles, some people are prophets, some people evangelists, da-da-da." And he said, God gave people these different gifts "until all of us come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God to maturity to the measure of the full stature of Christ". So according to Paul, the differences of gifts that God has given to different people are to build up the group as a whole, to bring everyone to fullness of maturity. So how is that gonna work when the only time that we can be in a meeting together is maybe 1:00 PM in the afternoon?

CB: Absolutely, yeah. And I think a key part of that passage is that all these different roles were pursuing the same mission, right. And so we can think of ourselves in the workplace as we have the same mission, whatever that mission is, in your company or your organization or your non-profit. So yes, everyone will have to make some sacrifices and some trade-offs, but we're all on the same mission, however, I think it's a really cool way to just affirm our humanity in the workplace by saying, We might all work a little bit differently, we wanna create as many opportunities as possible for everyone to do their best work, which means having those peak energy hours to do what we call their essential work, whether... Depending on the type work, whether it's super focused or super creative, the non-interrupted work, right. So I think the first step for sure, and I would love to have anyone listening do this, is go to, and there's a free ChronoPace quiz, super quick five minutes, and you'll get a report in your email with a sample schedule based on what your ChronoPace results are. So then you can kind of extrapolate from there, you can make individual decisions based on that, but it's a cool opportunity for a leader.

We have organizations where leaders will have their teams take the ChronoPace quiz and then you can assess as a whole, maybe you have a ton of night owls and not very many early birds or vice versa, right? And you can start to build in norms to organization where like, Okay, you know, yes, some people will have to have meetings during their focused hours and some people will have to be interrupted. There will be sacrifices, but is there a way for at least one or two days a week to let people focus and do their best work at their peak energy time. It can be even a norm, like no meeting Mondays, we're not doing any meetings in our organization on Monday, we're just not doing it, that is the day to get back into the week, so whether you do your best work in the morning or the afternoon, you can block that off on your calendar to really tackle things and focus, and so then maybe by Friday it's more of an administrative day, that's when we put the meetings on the calendar that aren't client meetings, they're more the administrative, the hygiene functions of the workplace.

And so you can build these rhythms into a workplace, and I think by doing that, it's a win-win, right? You're helping people get burned out less, so they're not as stressed, they're doing their work better 'cause they're given the opportunity to focus, they're not as stressed out, so probably getting along better, enjoying each other more, you're achieving your mission, they're not getting as burned out in the long run, so hopefully they're not more likely to leave your organization, and hopefully it benefits your bottom line too, all while affirming the humanity and the individual way different people are created, and giving them their time back. So much of the work day is wasted in the sense that we are chasing those notifications, feeling with our inbox when we should be focusing, so people can focus, they can probably get their work done faster which means they don't have to work late, they can go home and be with their families. So sort of this... And maybe sets off this change that has multiple layers over time as you're shifting the norms of your workplace just to help people work more sustainably.

Complicated and simple at the same time.

LA: I see how this would make a team more productive, so there would be definitely a business case to be made for doing this, but what I love is that it also honors the individual, that there's a sense that we're saying, "It's okay." 'Cause I think we worry so much as individual contributors at work, like, "Am I not okay, am I showing that I'm a team player? Am I showing that I... Am I working hard?" I would love it if our organizations could extend grace to the workers who make all the organizational work possible. Say, "You're okay, the way that you work best is okay, we actually wanna celebrate it." And celebrating everyone's differences is the way that we can celebrate the people that God brought together in this organization and the mission that God wants us to be doing, whether it's a faith-based workplace or a secular workplace, we all have a mission to accomplish doing good work for our customers.

CB: Yeah, yeah. And just a really cool opportunity as leaders to set that tone and to set an example of drawing boundaries around our own pace so that other people feel empowered to do that, that way they're not working in fear, feeling like, "Okay, I do have to... Even if my boss isn't emailing me late at night, I need to be checking my email just in case they do." That alone is super stressful, is taking people's attention and time away from the other priorities. So definitely I think our workplaces have tons of potential to make a broader cultural shift in this area.

LA: And shameless plug for this podcast, it's asynchronous, so whenever you listen to it, you can send a little... Send it in the link to your boss, say, "I just heard... Listen to this podcast, it might be interesting for our organization."

CB: Right.

LA: Anyone could listen at any time, morning, noon or night or the middle of the night someone can listen to the podcast. So Caitie, last question, a piece of advice, if you're speaking to a listener who's really on the edge of burnout, I just can't take the pace of my workplace anymore, what's the one piece of advice you would give them?

CB: One piece advice. Yeah, I think maybe there's two layers to it, there's definitely some practical things you can do, but I also think first taking a step back and trying to assess why you're burned out, 'cause there's so many causes of burnout. Is it the norms of your workplace? In which case that you can then decide, "Alright, well, I have the power to change this, or if I try to make personal changes, will they be respected?" If not maybe it's not some place you can be long-term. Or maybe there's personal reasons for burnout, there's all kinds of different things, so I think just really stepping back and assessing your own pace and how that aligns with your organization is really important, so that you don't try a bunch of practical things and just keep getting more and more frustrated.

In terms of practical things you can do, this is gonna sound really simple, but use your vacation days, how many people don't actually take time off when they're allowed it? Truly take time off when you're sick, don't be like, "Oh, I'm sick, but I'm still gonna answer these emails." Give yourself a chance to rest, so you have sort of those down swing days, learn your ChronoPace, see if you can implement that in how you block off your time, time blocking is a great productivity time management hack, but when it's aligned with your ChronoPace it can actually make a really big difference in burnout. And I think just be really honest about your priorities, do you have too many things on your list? We talk about a framework at MatchPace, prioritize, minimize, delegate. So take everything you have to do at work and at home, and in every area for life, just write it all down, prioritize that, then realize you probably need to take some things off that list, so what's lower priority?

What can you truly just cross off, even if it's for a season, and then delegate. There's probably things that you're doing that are important, but someone else can do just as well or good enough. So that's a really cool framework you can use to... And I think just being really honest about your capacity, and then taking one little step at a time to try to make your own pace more sustainable. Hopefully if enough people do that, it'll reverberate throughout organizations and then eventually throughout society, and we can all just have a little bit more time, do our work a little bit better, and yeah, be happier and less burned out and achieve our missions more, that's the ultimate goal.

LA: That's what I want for myself, at least, and I want it for all the people I work with. So, Caitie Butler, thank you so much for joining us today on the podcast and for sharing your insight with us.

CB: You bet, yeah, this was super fun. Thanks for the conversation, Leah.

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