I wrote this one primarily for myself, though I believe it’s good advice for anyone who’s ever found themselves in a leadership role in today’s work environment. Here it is: slow down.
I am not talking about taking some time off, going on a digital vacation, or just relaxing a bit in the evening and doing some light reading. Those things are great and important parts of our lives all in themselves. When I say “slow down,” I mean slowing down at work: to remain surrounded by work, but take time to reflect on what’s happening. When I was developing my self-work routine, I had this metaphor of a riverbank that might be useful here. Slowing down means stepping out of the turbulent river of our daily work and sitting on the riverbank for a little bit. Pause. Look around. Are we still going where we want to go? Or are we being carried by the river?
Think of it this way: we’ve learned to go fast, we’ve honed our effectiveness, ways to put the pedal to the metal. Today, our problem is not that we are lazy. It’s that our undercurrent of achieving is too strong. Through this lens, procrastination can be a shaming word for having patience to let the solution reveal itself. And when we start getting worried that we’re not achieving fast enough, we get further trapped in the churn of the river.
In Adult Development Theory, there’s this notion of fallback. A metaphor for it that I really like is that our minds are houses with rooms, where some rooms become inaccessible during fallback. It’s like we know our house has them, but we just can’t find our way to them. So while in fallback, if we want to go to the Strategy room and do some long-term thinking, we keep finding ourselves in the Tactics room, covered in glitter and glue of the short-term fixes. There are many causes of fallback, and in my experience, the achiever stress is not an uncommon one.
As we fall back, our perspective narrows. We can no longer see options and opportunities that are locked away in those now-inaccessible rooms, and it feels right and natural to just keep doing what we’re doing. A deadline is coming up, so of course we need to jump on that. Our colleague needs to meet, so yes, we’ll find the time. And as we just keep on swimming, we find our schedules getting busier and pace continuing to rise. We keep going faster and faster. In the moment when we need to open some space to think, taking an even little pause feels like the wrong thing to do: who’s going to do all this work?
Those of you who work with me know that I have my late Friday afternoon blocked off for reflection. I have three questions that I pose for myself. They are loosely: 1) what did I do this week? 2) am I losing sight of the big picture? and 3) what might I change in how I conduct my next week? This is my time to slow down. No matter how high the fires are, and how urgent the pings to meet, I try to spend this time sitting on the riverbank. Sometimes it doesn’t work, though over time, I am realizing that the trick is to keep trying. Keep trying to slow down.