Want to Be More Productive? Then Slow Down.

Mike Vardy
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“Slow and steady wins the race.” – The Tortoise and The Hare

In our quest to get things done, we can find ourselves moving too fast. When that happens we run the risk of missing key components of task completion, which can result in lower quality results. The need for speed is alluring because the rewards associated with speed are compelling: we get to finish something we started and that gives us a sense of achievement and accomplishment.

But that feeling is not only false…it’s fleeting.

The feeling is false in that while the job might be done, you’re cheating yourself how well it could have been done if you’d applied more critical thought and attention to the job instead of blazing rough it as quickly as possible. The feeling is fleeting because it disappears just as quickly as it arrived on the scene, and leaves a bad taste in its wake. To be clear, not every task needs to be done slowly. But it needs to be done at the right speed, and if you’re always moving at the speed of light then you’ll never be able to gauge what the speed of right is for any of the tasks you need (and want) to complete.

One thing that you absolutely need to do at the right speed is practice.

If you’ve ever tried to “get good” at something, you need to practice. And you need to do it deliberately and consistently. In Cal Newport’s “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” he expresses the need to spend time in the act of deliberate practice in order for improvement to occur. The definition of deliberate as an adjective is as follows:

“…unhurried and with care and dignity.”

This definition highlights the need to - you guessed it - slow down when engaged in this type of practice. Even when you speed up the process, you should still be deliberate so that you can be as precise as possible. Working quickly, without being deliberate, will often result in shoddy or subpar results.

And that is not productive at all, is it?

The argument for working fast is hard to ignore because productivity has been equated with doing more things now, instead of doing things well now and then getting faster later. But that’s not the best way to be productive — at least not all the time. So how do you slow down in a way that allows you to do things better and yet not lose too much efficiency in the process?

I’ve got three ideas for you.

The first idea is to employ “time theming” in some form. You can start by theming 10 months of your year and then scale it down to daily theming. Give each day of the week an overarching focus, and you’ll give yourself a simple, flexible, and durable way to work on what you need and want to do. You can also employ “horizontal theming” by blocking out hours of the days rather than go vertical with daily theming. Or you can use both tactics in some form like I do. The key is to provide your mind with a path that it can trust and then let it drill down to the details from there.

The next idea (or tactic) to consider is planning your agendas well ahead of time. One of the best ways to do this is through reviewing regularly (journaling will help with this in a big way) and to plan your actions the day beforehand. You can even go so far as to map out your week in advance through theming your week by project (I call this a “project sprint”) so that you have a focal point for your week to accompany your monthly and daily themes.

Finally, the third idea is to relentlessly follow a productivity framework. The key word here is relentlessly. Whatever productivity approach you decide to adopt, use it relentlessly. Ideally, you want to stick with it for 90 days so that you it can become part of your overall process at work and home. If you find points of friction, modify your current framework to fit your needs or try a new framework to implement. Whatever you decide, the key is to make personal productivity personal, right?

You’ll note that I didn’t suggest things like checking email less frequently or saying “no” more often. While I definitely advocate those tactics, there are many people who cannot do this consistently now because of their work environment. But if you use the above three ideas and turn them into habits, then the other “time sucks” mentioned above won’t be as problematic.

Back in 2011 I gave my first TEDx talk, and it focussed on how we need to work on speeding the right things up so that we can slow the right things down. Years later, despite the age of the talk and how I’ve improved at speaking since, the talk is more relevant than ever. Instead of looking at how we can get more things done — which involves speed above all else — we need to look at how we can accomplish more of the right things. And the only way we can do that is to take time to make the time to figure that out. Awareness doesn’t come with an increased pace, it comes with increased clarity. If you’ve ever sat on a river bank, you know that you can see a lot further and a lot deeper when the river is still as opposed to when the rapids are flowing fiercely.

Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Yet so many of us treat it that way by focusing on getting things done with speed in mind rather than with effectiveness in mind. It’s time to stop this pattern by simply slowing down and figuring out what the right speed we need to apply to our work. That way we can treat our work right…and our work can treat us right in return.

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I'm Mike Vardy, better known as The Productivityist, and my goal is to offer ideas, insights, and information that will help you craft your time better and become more personally productive.

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