Provision #430: Choose Your Speed

Laser Provision

Are you stuck in fast forward? Many of us find ourselves rushing from one thing to the next, from one day to the next. With so much happening, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and unsatisfied. Do you ever wonder if there is more to it? Perhaps it’s time to mix things up. Perhaps it’s time to choose your speed for good.

LifeTrek Provision

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with performance and speed. Growing up, I remember my father’s passion for cars. One year in the mid 1960’s he bought the famous Chevy Impala with those long, flowing lines and brilliant chrome work. In the 1960’s, he was one of the many people who would ‘hit the ton’, breaking the 100 miles per hour barrier, in a non-race car. It was no wonder I became fascinated with speed.

Most of my adult life I have driven the fastest car I could afford. Status was less important than sheer performance and speed. My last performance car broke my dad’s 1960’s record in third gear, blasting all the way up to 165 miles per hour (265 kph) in sixth gear. That kind of speed borders fear and excitement. On a racetrack, 165 miles per hour may be more appropriate but in the wrong environment it is extremely dangerous. Most importantly, it is not sustainable.

Top speed is never sustainable, on or off a racetrack. It almost took me to professional and personal burnout before I realised it was not sustainable. Instead of burnout, my fascination with top speed led me to research and implement Work / Life Balance. If there is one thing that inspired this series, it was top speed.

There is always a time and place for top speed. There is always a start and an end to top speed. That is what makes speed so effective. Race cars alternate between fast and slow to navigate corners and then go all out on the straights. Why should we be any different? But how much choice do we have?

Many of us are stuck at top speed. Our passion, energy, and enjoyment levels run low as we try to go faster and faster. We rush through our days and our lives multi-tasking and multi-peopling. We sometimes neglect giving time and a little slowness to things like strategic thinking, reflection, creativity and building deeper relationships. When we get like this, the quality of our life is going down fast. Our skills, creativity, and relationships that nourish our Work / Life Balance go stale.

And we are not alone. We live in a society that is obsessed with speed. Carl Honor•, the London-based foreign affairs journalist and best-selling author of In Praise of Slow, presents a case for using speed when and where it makes sense. He explains that slow can be seen as a dirty word in our culture, “But it’s actually about doing everything better, including working better and getting more pleasure out of things•I love speed, I love my cell phone and my very fast broadband connection•My problem was everything had become fast and that’s no way to go about life.” The things in life that makes us feel connected, happy and satisfied are the things we no longer have time for.

Running at top speed all the time, we become overworked and time-poor and, as Honor• adds, time-sick. Time-sickness, coined by Larry Dossey the American physician, means we are constantly stuck in deadline mode, afraid there is not enough time and that we must peddle faster to keep up. The result? Our Work / Life Balance is in constant catch-up mode. Honor• highlights that we often choose speed for no good reason. In short, we are addicted to speed.

Linda Stone, a former Microsoft and Apple executive, describes our addiction to speed by saying we live in an era of “continuous partial attention.” Many of us multi-task and multi-people by Instant-Messaging numerous people, while talking on our cell phone, while scanning emails. Exciting and instant as it can be, it leads us to skim the surface and fail to make meaningful and satisfying connections with the things and people in our lives that matter.

Stone says that we are entering a new era, where giving and receiving full attention is to feel alive, secure, truly connected and satisfied. Full Attention will become the new competitive advantage. It will attract business and personal relationships that will thrive on a commitment to full attention.

What makes us so addicted to speed and continuous partial attention? We fear that we might fall behind, get left behind, or even fail; We fear we will miss out on an opportunity, so we choose speed. But instead of enjoying the opportunities, Stone warns that in the end we become overstimulated, overwhelmed, and unfulfilled.

Honor• says we can bring some sanity into the equation by being aware of our tendency to choose speed all the time without any reason. Choosing to go faster and faster keeps us stuck at top speed and distracted from creative ideas for achieving a sense of balance. Two weeks ago, in the Provision Balance Yes with No Click, we talked about setting boundaries and being aware of what we take on.

Stone says we need to remove distractions and manage boundaries. Honor• explains that our 24/7 society actually invites us to remove our boundaries. Without boundaries our own greed and fear coax us into choosing speed every time, even though common sense tells us we are less productive when we are tired, stressed, unhappy or unhealthy.

Knowing this, we might ask ourselves, “Is anyone else doing anything about it?” Honor• reassures us that a growing number of people are doing something about. He introduces us to the Global Slow Movement, where people around the world are choosing to give things the “right” speed.

There is even a Global Slow Food Movement. Removing distractions and eating together for enjoyment is the European way. Not surprisingly, many European countries have the lowest obesity ratings and highest heart-health scores. Giving our food and each other our full attention at meal times is growing in popularity on a global scale.

This is where traditional Time Management and the Global Slow Movement part ways and our Work / Life Balance stands to benefit at last. Time Management is an old technology that encourages us to get more done in less time. Whereas the Slow Movement is about doing fewer things so we can do them better and with more enjoyment. It is about people wanting more enjoyment from their lives by choosing the right speed, fast or slow, at the right time.

Carl Honor• was in Australia doing interviews on national Television recently. On the eve of his visit, I had my very own interview with the best-selling author and journalist. Honor• lives his words. He inspires by his own ability to choose his speed. In the lead up to our conversations, Honor• took a long, slow vacation. On his return, he answered hundreds of emails in detail, finished other work, and promptly jumped on a 22-hour plane ride to Australia, immediately appearing on national television. Choosing fast and slow when they made sense was the key to his effectiveness.

I asked Carl Honor• three questions that most of us face in trying to choose our speed in our Work / Life Balance equation. He was kind enough to give my questions his full attention. My first question was, “I want to slow down at work but fear that I’ll fail or someone else who’s willing to work faster will step up and take my job. I’ll then be working just as fast in a lower-paying job. How can I introduce ‘slow’ into my work?”

His answer was, “The taboo against slowness is so strong, particularly in the workplace, that you can’t just turn up one day and slam on the brakes. But it is essential • and possible • to slow things down at work. Doing so will allow you to stay healthy, happy, and be more productive and creative. How to start? I would suggest taking a lunch break away from your desk, start with a short one then work up to an hour, if possible.”

“Find moments in the day when you unplug from the technology. Switch off the phones and email and allow yourself some uninterrupted think time. Away from the office, resist the temptation to be reachable all the time. Find moments when you can be off the grid. Don’t become a slow extremist’the key thing is to avoid getting stuck in fast forward. It’s about working at the right speed.”

Next, I asked “I’d like to go slower, but I have so many responsibilities. Working, picking up kids, running a house, and paying bills. How can I bring some ‘slow’ into my life when there is no time?”

Honor• answered, “The first thing to realise is that there is often more time than we think. We’re constantly bombarded by the message that time is scarce and we have to rush just to keep up. Sometimes this becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. We rush even when we don’t need to. But there is another side to this: Most of us are trying to cram too many things into our schedules • work, extracurriculars for the kids, leisure pursuits, TV, etc.”

“A first step is to look at all the stuff you’re trying to do, put it in a list from most to least important, and start cutting from the bottom. Most of us are amazed by how easy it is to find things to let go. I know I was. I used to think that all the things I did were essential and that I couldn’t drop any of them. Rubbish. I found things to let go. It’s about working out what’s important and putting quality ahead of quantity.”

My last question was, “As an employer with client deadlines, how am I supposed to let my people slow down?”

Honor• answered, “You have to meet deadlines, obviously, but every business can find ways to allow staff to slow down. And often they find that, ironically, staff then work more efficiently and meet deadlines earlier. Companies need to be brave to break out of the mindset that says if you put on the brakes you’re roadkill. Once they get over the psychological hump, they find it surprisingly easy • and helpful • to allow their staff to slow down.”

“How? Encouraging lunch breaks; offering quiet rooms for chilling out; email-free days; on-site yoga and massage; letting staff control their own hours, swap income for more time off and take sabbaticals. Many companies are doing these things now and finding that it pays off in higher productivity and staff retention.”

Pondering Honor•’s advice, we realise we also need to get over our own psychological hump. Our fear of being left behind, failing or missing out is not always as real as it seems. Honor• reminds us of our choice to control the rhythms of our own life. Choosing our speed is a personal Work / Life Balance skill that we apply in ways that suit us. Choose your Speed is not just about speed, it is about choice.

I made a choice recently and traded my performance car for a Four-Wheel Drive SUV. Instead of missing the sights at high speed, I have seen things only accessible by charter flight or SUV. Driving on isolated beaches, I have seen whales bursting through waves, and from deep inside lush rain forests I have waded in clear blue lakes. I still love speed and performance, but it’s all a matter of choice. Choosing our speed, when and where it makes sense, will immediately enhance our Work / Life Balance.

Coaching Inquiries: How often do you rush when you don’t have to? Where could you slow down? Where could you speed up? What choices could you make in your use of speed? What distractions could you let go of?

This Provision, and each Provision in our series on Work / Life Balance, is written by Michael J. Alafaci of • Copyright Solution Maps 2005. All rights reserved. You can contact Mike by email or phone, in Australia, at 61-7-3311-5361.

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