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Big Picture

How to Slow Down at Work – and Get Smarter, Faster and Better Results

From employees on the front lines to leaders in the C-Suites, the frenetic pace of business is taking a toll on workers’ productivity and personal health. A recent Gallup survey found nearly one in four employees feel burned out at work. The resulting psychological and physical problems associated with burned-out employees add up to $125 to $190 billion each year.

When you’re moving at breakneck speed, you’re not thriving — you’re just surviving. Until you learn to hit the brakes at crucial intervals, you will have little time to reflect on the hurdles in your way. Too often you go into autopilot without preemptively considering the pros, cons and implications of your decisions.

But when you teach yourself to pause and reflect before acting, you’ll make better decisions, achieve faster results and avert the kind of mistakes that take precious time, energy and political capital to correct. Even building in a modest 15-minute pause into your daily schedule can do wonders for gaining a competitive edge.

If you or your team have a project that requires rapid response — a client who needs your immediate help, a regulatory agency demanding rapid response or a sales target that cannot be missed — then your attention must go to those pressing priorities first. On the other hand, if you attend to the here-and-now but neglect the bigger picture, you may do well enough for a while. Still, it’s unlikely you or your organization will thrive over time.

Pausing in your daily routine to thoughtfully reflect will allow you, your team and your organization to thrive in the following ways:

  1. Developing a clear vision. By taking your foot off the accelerator, you allow yourself time to assess your current situation, analyze challenges and consider opportunities from a variety of angles. You’re able to take stock of the individual and collective performance of your team and determine whether you have the right people in the right roles. You can evaluate whether you’ve gained an advantage over competitors or how to differentiate your business to increase market share. Unless you slow down to ask the question, “What’s holding me back?”, you’ll miss important opportunities for growth.
  2. Creating a strategy for moving forward. It’s easy to become bogged down with fielding complaints and non-urgent issues. But it’s important to step out of the details and periodically review your strategic priorities. Take the time to reassess if you’ve identified the correct milestones, if your timelines remain sound and if you’ve gathered all the necessary support for your agenda. Importantly, re-evaluate if the strategy you’ve developed is still a breakthrough strategy and will lead to stellar outcomes.
  3. Better decision-making. On average, you make 3,500 decisions a day. Every one of them, large and small, takes up mental energy that can impact your effectiveness. To avoid wasting time and energy, stop and reflect on any important decision using the CIA framework: Control, Influence, Accept/Adapt.
    Control – Ask yourself if this is a situation over which you have direct control. If so, what outcome do you want to achieve?

    Influence – If you don’t have direct control, can you influence the decision or outcome? If so, how can you most effectively exert that influence?
    Accept/Adapt – If you have neither control nor influence, can you accept the situation? What can you do to make it more palatable and positive? What must you do to adapt?

  4. Improving communication. When you’re overly busy day after day, it can be difficult to keep all parties sufficiently informed and updated. But a lack of communication and coordination means mistakes are more easily made and relationships strained. Communication is particularly difficult given the intense reliance on email, with the average manager receiving more than 120 emails each day and senior executives often facing 500-plus emails a day. Instead of spending precious hours clearing your inbox, train your staff to start the subject line of any email message with one of three headings:
    Action – An immediate action/decision is needed
    FYI – No response is required, but something you should know
    Talk – Coming to a resolution would be easier through a phone discussion

With this system in place, resolve to check email at specific times each day, rather than continually, to avoid the constant distraction.

The consequences of rushing add up in missed opportunities and remaining mired in projects that aren’t adding real value. It can also lead to costly and preventable mistakes. Instead, give yourself the time — whether daily, weekly or monthly — to pause and ponder the broader view so you can achieve better results.


Written by Dr. Liz Bywater.

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Dr. Liz Bywater
Dr. Liz Bywater, PhD, works with senior executives and teams across an array of companies, such as Johnson & Johnson, Bristol-Myers Squibb, AmerisourceBergen and Nike. She brings a rapidly actionable framework for success, which is captured in her new book, Slow Down to Speed Up®: Lead, Succeed and Thrive in a 24/7 World. She writes a monthly column for Life Science Leader and provides expert commentary for the Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, FierceCEO and other top media outlets. Liz Bywater is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine.
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