Since Carroll died in 1898, it’s clear that the current-day dilemma we seem to have with rushing around and trying to get more done isn’t a new problem. But as Carroll points out, all that hurrying doesn’t seem to pay off in getting ahead.
Leadership coach Gail Angelo would agree with Carroll, and says that the “hurry up” lives we lead are actually making us less productive. In a recent interview with Anita Bruzzese, she addresses how it’s important that we learn to slow down, even if the practice may be painful at first.
AB: What is the impact from the Great Recession when we all seem to now be doing twice or even three times the work we once did?
GA: According to a Basex study in Good Technology magazine, 2012, the average worker has 37 hours of unfinished work on their desk at any given time. The study also reports that approximately 40% of employees say their workload has increased in the past 12 months. The combination of having more to do and the ease of continuous access through technology leave many feeling like it is almost impossible to “turn it off.”
There is often an underlying worry or anxiety that if an individual is not working or responsive 24/7, they will miss something, will be left behind, or will be perceived as less committed than others. Effectiveness and productivity begin to suffer as do relationships both in and outside of work.
AB: It sounds like we literally cannot turn it off. Are we addicted to the pace?
GA: In my practice, I have noticed that people can become addicted to the pace and more so to the adrenaline rush that can accompany the pace. Work itself or thinking about work begins to consume more and more waking hours of the day.
AB: Are some bosses part of the problem as they just expect people to work this hard?
GA: In some environments, that kind of “commitment” is often well rewarded. People are so used to working or thinking about work that they are not quite sure what to do with themselves otherwise. The work and the pace have come to define who they are and how they live. The good news is that it is possible to break the cycle.
AB: How do I know that my work pace is right for me or not?
GA: We all have different thresholds and ways in which we are working at our best and “in the flow.” The key is to take the time to reflect on what works best for you. What is it that gives your life meaning? How are you making time for that? To know if your work pace is right for you requires a willingness to ask yourself the question.
AB: Can you expand on that thought?
GA: We have to be willing to stop long enough and often enough to check in with ourselves. Listen to your self-talk. What is the story you hear yourself telling most often? For example, “I’m so tired.” “I never really feel rested or caught up.” “My family is getting really frustrated with me.” “What social life? I’m always working!”
If those are the kinds of things you hear yourself saying or that is how you are feeling, then the pace is not working for you. If you notice that it is difficult to relax, that things are falling through the cracks, and that you are getting impatient and feeling disconnected from others, then the pace is not working for you.
AB: If that’s true for me, what do I do?
GA: Reflect. Reflection provides the opportunity to understand how the events of our lives shape our future and impact others. It supports our quest for discovering purpose and meaning. Reflection moves us from living in busyness to living with purpose.
AB: If I determine that I need to pull back and slow down, how do I do that and not feel like I’ll be fired or I’ll lose control of my team?
GA: When we give ourselves space to re-energize, we actually become more effective. “Pulling back” may not be required. One solution may be to simply revise how we get work done.
AB: Can you provide some tips?
- Be intentional about setting priorities. When we are in the habit of busyness and urgency, everything seems to carry equal weight. It is all urgent. Ask yourself, if you were only to accomplish four things on your list for the day, what would they be and go about doing them.
- Take a couple of 10 minute breaks throughout the day and remember to breathe. Just as athletes require periods of rest for their muscles to recover, so too does our brain require periods of rest to continue to support our clearest thinking and most productive work. And, studies show that focusing on our breath results in a physiological relaxation response to the body and clearing of the mind, supporting our efficiency and leaving us free to make clear decisions with strategic impact. Take a break and pay attention to your breath.
- Do one thing at a time. According to recent studies, multitasking can reduce productivity by approximately 40%. Additionally, switching from one task to another makes it difficult to tune out distractions and can cause mental blocks that can slow down your progress. As an example, set aside specific times of the day for email. Turn off the sound notifying you of an email coming through. Set aside time to work on the most challenging priorities during the times of the day when you are at your best. For some that is first thing in the morning. For others, it may be late afternoon. Pay attention to when you feel most energized.
- Delegate artfully. Does this work need to be done now? Does it need to be done by me? Often times we take on work that belongs to others because we think we can get it done faster, better, “right.” Along with your team, clarify their specific strengths, passions, and aspirations. Delegate in a way that leverages those strengths and passions and supports development toward aspirations. Be certain that when you are off loading work, that you are uploading the necessary information to those who will be doing the work. When do you want it finished? What will the deliverable be used for? In what form would you like it?
- Pay attention to self-care. Times of stress require times for self-care. Leave some white space on your calendar for exercise. Pay attention to how you fuel your body. Get enough sleep.
- Take time for the things and the people you love. Remember what it is that brings you joy and make time for that. It could be as simple as taking a walk with a friend or loved one. These are things that not only re-energize our minds and bodies, but feed our souls.
AB: I know you’ve been traveling. Any tips on how to cope with the rushed pace of business travel?
GA: Give yourself buffers of time so you are not rushing through traffic, trying to park or waiting to get through security. Instead of getting “just one more thing” done before you close things down and head to the airport, commit to a hard stop that leaves plenty of breathing room. This can be incredibly helpful in reducing stress.
Accept that there will be traffic, security lines and delays. Consider making the investment to be part of an airline’s travelers club. It provides a space to work quietly or just sit quietly while waiting for a flight. Not to mention that the staff in these clubs can help much more quickly than the customer service lines in the concourses if there are any changes or delays.
Taking the time to reflect on what is important and meaningful and to consider revising the way in which your work gets done can have significant impact on your mental, physical, spiritual and emotional health which in turn provides the platform for your best and most productive work.