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Why slowing down is the real key to productivity.

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

Unlike our slow tortoise friends, we humans are wired to be productive. Unfortunately, our society praises productivity so much that we face a mental health crisis as we try to squeeze more into our days and then suffer from time poverty. I have been on that treadmill of running and running to check everything off my list, but I still haven't been able to get it all done. Our time is our most precious resource, so to make the best use of it, I recommend slowing down.

What does it mean to slow down?

Walk slower. Eat slower. Drive slower. Work slower.

Part of my better human plan for this year is to slow down when I eat and be more mindful of what and how I eat. The other day, I slowly chewed each bit of my meal, putting my fork down, contemplating the food moving around my mouth, and swallowing before I picked my fork back up.

I also turned on the handwashing complication on my Apple watch and try to wash my hands for the full 20 seconds (it's a LOT longer than you might think!!).

For years, I have tried to drive the speed limit (much to the annoyance of anyone driving behind me).

We live in this fast-paced world where the objective seems to be able to do more in less time, so....

Why in the world would I try to do things slower?

Years ago, I read In Praise of Slow by Carl Honore, which really altered my thinking. I don't remember the details, but what stuck with me is essentially the idea that our life is better when we take things slow. We can focus on work, have less stress, deepen relationships, etc. More recently, I read Thinking, Fast and Slow which explains that it is important to think more slowly to overcome false assumptions our brains make when we think we are thinking. It seems the idea is gaining traction. Goodreads has over 400 books in a list of 'Slow Living'. From my own perspective, it improves my life in mainly three ways.

1. Slowing down helps prevent accidents! I broke my leg while walking my dog by changing directions too fast. Driving the speed limit makes you safer, and slowing down your speech allows you to think before speaking and makes you less likely to put your foot in your mouth.

2. Slowing down helps you to do things better. For example, I am enjoying my food more and less likely to overeat with mindful eating. Slowing down is especially helpful when we talk so that we can think before speaking and take more time to listen, improving our relationships.

3. I also remember hearing years ago that driving slower can reduce stress levels, but I can't find any scientific studies on the subject. However, I have practiced it for several years, and it holds true for me. I also tend to be a very fast walker and eater, but I have found that when I slow my driving, eating, walking, etc., I do feel magically calmer. Even focusing on my handwashing and making myself go slow puts me in the present moment. I imagine that slowing down allows you to be more present, a scientifically backed method to reduce stress.

Most of us know that we want more calm, focus, and presence in our life. Stress makes it difficult to think straight and impairs our decision-making. By lowering our stress levels, we can make decisions about how to spend our time and complete tasks more effectively, therefore being more productive. We may have to accept that we can't do it all, but by slowing down, we can focus on doing the right things and doing them well.

Why do leaders need to slow down?

The speed at which a leader talks and moves will directly impact their teams. I've noticed that when I am constantly rushed and acting in a time-poor manner with my teams, they also become more stressed.

Many leaders try to motivate their teams to go faster, but it induces more stress in their teams, and, as I wrote above, that stress leads to impaired thinking and accidents. If you want your team to work more effectively, create a calmer, more thought-provoking, and intentional work environment.

Slowing down in talking to your teams has many benefits, such as:

  • it can help you to be more clear in what you want your teams to do, and clarity is essential in getting desired results (I could write another article on that!!),

  • it helps you listen and develop wait time which will increase your team members' respect and engagement, and

  • it helps keep your team members calm to think more rationally.

How can I slow down?

Although slowing down sounds easier than going fast, it is probably the single most difficult thing for me to do out of all the recommendations I write about. Don't despair, it is possible, and you can take baby steps to get there.

Accept You Can't Do It All

Probably not the news you wanted me to share, but an intentional, focused life does not mean doing it all; it means doing what is important.

Wait Time

Wait time is the idea from education that we wait several seconds after asking a question to give the other person time to think. Our urge is to fill the silence with our voices, but by waiting longer for answers, we allow our team time to process and reflect.

Listen more, talk less

The golden rule for leaders developing empathy skills is to listen more than you talk. This practice opens your mind to different experiences and viewpoints and will allow you to make better, more informed decisions that are more likely to succeed in the end.

Paraphrase and repeat

By paraphrasing and repeating what other people say, you are forced to slow down your conversations and pay attention to what is really being said. Slowing down conversations in this way helps the other person feel heard and improves that relationship, and prevents misunderstanding.

Move slower

Throughout the day as you feel yourself rushing around, just try to simply move slower and note how it feels! When you are used to moving at supersonic speeds, this practice can feel almost painful, but it allows you to become more present and less stressed.

Share your experience

Comment below - what experiences do you have with wait times?

Want more?

Visit Lindow Learning to read more tips on improving your team's performance or for help in growing better humans and improving the impact of your organization's mission.


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