Slowing Down

Sometimes moving like a snail is just what you need.

Sometimes moving like a snail is just what you need.

Do you really have time to read this blog post?

Isn’t your mobile phone attached to your belt (or within easy reach)?  Don’t you have Twirl or TweetDeck opened on your desktop?  Don’t you have a Facebook status to update?  Isn’t the email piling up like autumn leaves in your in-box?  Doesn’t your Google Reader have dozens of unread articles?  Aren’t your RSS feeds stacking up like a wood pile?

Isn’t that a meeting notice popping up on your screen?  Then another one back-to-back?  And then there’s that lunch appointment.  Then an afternoon presentation?

And don’t you have some real work to do?

Slowing down is difficult – even though it appears to be an emerging trend.  A few years back I read Carl Honore’s book “In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed.” Honore challenges readers to try and slow down their driving.  So I tried.  My goal was a simple one: obey the posted speed limits.  My secondary goals were to realize that weaving in and out of traffic, fretting about appointments, wasn’t going to get me to my destination any quicker and to treat my fellow drivers with respect.

How did I do?  Terrible.

Driving slower stressed me out.  It made me more frustrated.  Every time I reminded myself to slow down, I would, but my foot would soon start pressing down on the gas until I was streaking down the highway again.  I’d catch myself – and then slow down.  This process kept repeating itself over and over again like Groundhog Day).

On those rare occasions when I remembered to drive slowly – I felt like I was strapped to a tortoise.  And all the hares gleefully passed me (often with looks of scorn).

Then I realized that slowing down only works if you want to.  Apparently driving slowly wasn’t in my DNA.  So I stopped trying (unless, of course, you’re a state trooper in Massachusetts to which my message is: I continue to drive like a turtle).

But I have taken steps to slow down in other areas of my life.  Slowing down does work in reducing stress – and keeping me focused.  Here are some areas where a slower approach has worked:

  • Setting realistic deadlines.  Most deadlines are internal ones.  Why set deadlines that you know will be difficult to meet?  Why not save yourself the stress and provide a runway that is realistic to both you and your boss (or client).  Rushed work product usually lacks creativity and quality.  Both are more important than being unrealistically fast.
  • Try to keep steady work hours.  The 40-hour work week for information workers has been dead for a long time.  Most workers for corporations log in 50 or 60 hour work weeks and often check emails at night and on the weekends.  This causes undo stress and makes it difficult to have quality down time.  I haven’t worked a 40-hour work week in years, but I try to keep set hours so I can see my family as often as possible.  That means if I need to work late I come home – eat dinner, put the kids to bed, chat with my wife – and then settle down for more work.  I also set times on the weekend to check email – and rarely do on Sundays.  Setting work and home boundaries is a good idea.
  • Try not to use email as a primary communication tool.  Email is fantastic for sharing documents and exchanging data.  It is a terrible tool for holding a conversation.  I’ve seen emails misinterpreted many times.  So don’t be one of those people that engage in heated back and forths through email.  Pick up the phone and call.  Or meet in person.  One-on-one conversations are smarter, more personal and rarely get misinterpreted.
  • Cut down on meetings.  Do you really need a meeting?  Can a phone call suffice?  Does everyone on the team need to be present?  Or can they be filled in on the details afterwards?  Try not to hold an unnecessary meeting.  And when you do hold a meeting – have a simple rule in place.  No blackberries or iPhones allowed.  They slow down the meeting and distract people.
  • Cut down on multitasking.  Trying to do two or three things at once means you are doing them poorly.  It also ends up taking longer to complete the tasks.  Have a presentation to finish?  Shut off your email.  Need to answer correspondence?  Then stop browsing the internet and reading blog posts.  Need to write a blog post?  Stop answering email at the same time.  Focusing on one task is less stressful and improves the quality of your work.

4 Responses to “Slowing Down”

  1. Another great post George! I feel that sometimes everyone is moving so fast and there is so much to catch up on! I will try “slowing down” and see how it works!

  2. Hi Kate:
    Thanks. And good luck. Remember to breath!

  3. I thought you would have sticked to the slow driving thing…

    Driving too fast can be both expensive and dangerous.

    Driving fast means you are in a hurry and not slowing things down.

    It is more important than you think.

    I also started breathing deeply as soon as I started reading.

    That always helps me slow down.

  4. Agreed. I was born and raised in Massachusetts – the fast driving is a birth right.

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