2020 was an eye-opening year for me as well as for most people across the globe.
Thanks to the COVID-induced disruption, we were all pushed to stay indoors. We got the opportunity to learn new techniques, pivot, and pick up new skills we didn’t know before.
For me, the tremendous new lesson of 2020 was that slowing down could be a power move. I’ve discovered that there are benefits in slowing down and that doing this could help boost my productivity. So, I’ve adopted “slow and low” as my new mantra. Shout out to the Beastie Boys; their 1986 hit song, Slow and Low inspired this coinage!
So, 2020 was the year I found out that;
- Slow and low is better for cooking.
- Slow and low is better for Texas hold ‘em.
- Slow and low is better for opening new windows on my computer.
- Slow and low is better for my tee shot to go farther; and
- Slow and low is better for the number of zooms/phone calls each day.
In other words, I discovered that slowing down helped me get more things done.
You’re probably surprised that this negates everything you’ve been told about productivity. In today’s post, I’ll discuss how this realization changed my perspective and helped me achieve more in the past year.
Being busy doesn’t equal more productivity
It wasn’t until the lockdown caused by COVID that I realized how my previous frantic style of multitasking was holding me back. While I was always busy, I was not all that productive; I was inefficient. This is something that happens to many of us. Hear what George Calin has to say about the life of a modern man or woman;
“A cutting edge, state-of-the-art bi-coastal multi-tasker and I can give you a gigabyte in a nanosecond!”
– George Calin
We live in a world where society equates being busy with productivity; nowadays, people often wear busy like some badge of honor. We don’t want to be perceived as lazy or slacking off. So we’re always ‘busy’ and ‘working,’ held to ransom by the notion that we should always be ‘doing something,’ but more often than not, this can be counterproductive.
Being ‘busy’ at all times can be bad for your mental and physical health.
According to the Mayo Clinic, burnout can lead to mental health conditions like excessive stress, perpetual fatigue, sadness, anger, and irritability. It can also put the individual at risk of other dangerous physical health conditions such as insomnia, heart-related conditions, high blood pressure, alcohol, and substance abuse, as well as vulnerability to a host of other illnesses.
While stress and burnout are the consequences of our busy lives and the society’s romance with ‘over-achieving,’ Mayo Clinic also identified some key factors as risks for burnout.
- Having a high workload that continually pushes you to work overtime
- Identifying with work so strongly that there’s no coordination or balance between your work life and personal life.
- Having a sense or feeling of little to no control over your work, schedule, and assignments.
- Being stuck with a monotonous job routine or chaotic work environment.
- Trying to be everything to everyone.
Multitasking is the enemy of productivity
I hate to break it to you, but multitasking would hardly help you.
Research says multitasking can kill productivity by up to 40%. So, despite what most of us think, doing two or more things at once won’t help you get more done. The reality of the matter is that occasionally switching between tasks affects the brain’s executive control process.
The executive control process involves goal shifting, which is the decision to do one thing or another. Role activation consists of changing from the rules of the previous task to the new one’s rules. Moving back and forth between these processes can confuse the brain, make you less focused, and cost you more time to get things done. Worse still, multitasking is associated with reducing the density of the brain’s gray matter, which is vital for cognitive control, memory functions, and decision making.
The Benefits of Slowing Down to Move Farther
After years of always rushing to do more, I found I was overall better by doing less.
Nowadays, I found I’m better with my family, friends, and business partners (though they will be the first to tell you I have a long way to go!). That said, here are some benefits you can expect when you stop being busy with getting busy;
Improved focus and concentration
Taking things slow can have significant performance-boosting effects, thanks to the increased concentration and focus. A study at the University of Texas at Austin by Robert Duke, professor and Head of Music and Human Learning at the University of Texas, found that the strategies employed during practice were more determinative of performance quality than how long the pianists practiced. The research focused on seventeen collegiate majors at the NYC’s Juilliard School to distinguish the best performers and learners.
The participants agreed to study a 3-measure passage from Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No.1, chosen for being challenging to sight-read but still possible to learn in one sitting. There were two key discoveries from the research;
- The best performers were those who paused (slowed down) at the right points. And
- Pausing intentionally at some points helped performers avoid repeating mistakes.
Improved output and productivity
This practice, referred to as “strategically slowing down” in performance psychology, can help boost focus and concentration. When you’re more focused and concentrated on the tasks, you’ll be able to pay attention to details, compared to when you’re in a state of rush. This will improve the quantity of output, and it will also help reduce the risks of errors and mistakes in the process.
In the struggle to become more productive, I realized that I was doing a lot of unnecessary things that made me less productive. The extremes of perfectionism and workaholism might give you that temporary sense of accomplishment. However, these always lead to burnout and less productivity in the long run.
Reduced physical and mental exhaustion
When you’re caught up in the fast-paced, hectic, and chaotic work mode that has become popular today, you’ll be in constant need of energy to stay focused. This will push you into a state of perpetual fatigue along with both physical and mental exhaustion.
Research at the Massey University Research School of Public Health revealed that scheduled napping could boost reaction times, performance, and alertness in air traffic controllers.
Think about it; even the most powerful supercomputers still need a reboot now and then, as does the human brain. While rushing from one important task to another will get you tired quickly, taking things slowly means you’ll be getting enough time to rest. This will help keep you at rest and help boost your chances of getting better results.
It might come across as simplistic but slowing down has drastically helped me improve my daily work routine. Some of the techniques I tried, such as guided meditations and practicing gratitude, were critical to How I Achieved My 2020 New Year Resolutions.
Hitting the pause button and not putting myself in a state of perpetual rush has helped me avoid feeling overwhelmed and overworked every day. Even better, I achieved much more than I used to do. If you can master the art of slowing down, I believe this could also make a big difference in how much you can get done and the quality of your output.
In future posts, I’ll discuss how I managed to slow down the tempo.
I found inspiration for these techniques in the works of experts like Maura Nevel Thomas, Tim Ferriss, and Erik Qualman, among others.
What do you learn most about yourself in 2020? Mind sharing this with me and others in the comment section? I’d love to hear!
About the Author
Joseph Kopser is a lifelong problem solver, committed to designing strategies and building teams to overcome our toughest challenges. He is a husband, father, teacher, 20-year Army veteran, mentor, philanthropist, author, White House-recognized clean energy wonk, non-profit founder, and leadership and change management speaker and consultant. He is also a former tech startup founder, global business executive, and congressional candidate.
To concentrate his experience and expertise to deliver the greatest impact, Joseph’s work encompasses 5 bright lines which impact the whole of American society and America’s evolving role in the global community.
1- Fixing our Broken Political System
2- Updating the Workforce and Preserving the American Dream
3- Mainstreaming Innovation
4- Building Infrastructure for the 21st Century
5- Mentoring and Entrepreneurship
You can read his full bio here.