Slow down to speed up

Slow down to speed up - image for article by Greg Alder

Cows, river, horse, mountain, village, autumn leaves, café, canoeists, ferry, pelicans.

On a motorway, landscapes slur into a continuum of meaningless and disconnected blinks. No soon have we noticed something than it has been replaced by the next transitory image.

We pass exit signs to towns we’ve always wanted to visit. But we’re on a mission to reach our destination. We congratulate ourselves on shaving 15 minutes off our best time for the trip. But really, what have we achieved?

We have covered ground. We have arrived. That’s it.

I’ve worked with a lot of people who attack each working day with the same ferocity and focus. There’s no daylight in their diaries. Wall to wall meetings in one-hour time slots. They multitask in each meeting, checking emails, checking messages.

They walk briskly and purposefully around their office, heads down. They look like they’re deep in thought. They are. But it’s not productive thought. They’re wondering when they’re going to get any work done. They know the answer. They’ll get their work done when they always get their work done. At night, when the day’s meetings have ended.

Time that they should be spending with family, or socialising or relaxing is lost. Because their battery never gets recharged, they start the next day as they started the previous one – without enthusiasm, without any chance of creativity, without any chance of productivity.

To get more stuff done, and do it in less time and get more enjoyment doing it, a fundamental change needs to happen.

Here are three things – each one easily implemented – that will simultaneously give you more free time and make you more productive.

1. Stop sitting down for meetings
2. Master some idea acceleration tools
3. Stop celebrating busyness

A number of business leaders have replaced sedentary meetings with standing or walking ones. These have four benefits. First, you get to exercise, and that’s something busy people often miss. Second, it’s more difficult to check emails, so everyone’s focus stays on the task at hand. Third, because standing meetings are faster (generally under 15 minutes) than sitting meetings, participants get to the point faster. Fourth, in stand-up meetings, people naturally form a circle, which improves eye contact when compared to typical rectangular meeting tables.

Many meetings are set to explore ideas. So, it makes sense to employ associational thinking techniques that accelerate idea generation – and improve the quality of ideas generated. There are dozens of techniques, some ideally suited to improving procedures, some ideal for new business ideas, some for promotional ideas, some for disrupting industries. Once mastered, a small group can generate 100 ideas in an hour.

In some organisations, being busy has been elevated to a glorified position it doesn’t deserve. People are afraid to go home at a civilised hour. People are afraid to be off the air day, night or weekend. On average, we’re productive for less than 3 hours each 8-hour work day. Spending 8, 10 or 12 hours a day is a costly waste.

So, change your culture. Make people go home on time. Lead from the top by going home early.

Productivity will increase, happiness will increase, energy will increase.

Time has become our most valued but abused commodity. It has been stolen from us meeting by meeting. Now we don’t even notice. We take busyness for granted. It’s time to steal time back.

Photo by Fabian Møller via Unsplash

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