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Slow down to speed up

(August 15, 2023 Newsletter)

Last week, while running a leadership offsite, I overheard one executive say to another:

  • “I know that if I'm ever feeling stuck in front of my computer, it's pretty likely that the answer will just come to me if I stand up and walk away from my screen for 10 minutes, but for some reason it's hard to remember that when I'm actually feeling stuck.”

We all know what that feels like. So why can't we just do it more easily?

[The irony? The idea for this newsletter topic came to me when I stood up and walked away from my computer to go refill my empty glass of water. Of course, I found myself scrambling back to my desk to write it down before I forgot.]

  • I didn't even need 10 minutes. I was probably away from my screen for 90 seconds and that was enough.

The fact is that we all need time to slow down. Earlier this year I learned the phrase “Go slow to go fast” and it's very true. We're not robots. Your breaks could range from a few seconds to a few weeks depending on your needs and circumstances. But you can – and must – allow yourself something.

So if everyone knows this, why don't people actually take more breaks? Here are a few common reasons I hear from clients:

  • If I slow down, I’ll end up more stressed later.

  • I'll be able to slow down once I finish what I'm doing.

  • Other people can rest; I'll keep going for them.

  • I don't deserve to slow down yet.

Don't let those reasons fool you. At some point, your body will force you to slow down: when you get sick, are too tired to keep going, are too stressed to think straight anymore, or you're just not producing the work at the level you know you would be if you just took a break.

I cannot emphasize enough how important breaks are for strong leadership.

  • If the phrase “active recovery” resonates, use it. I learned it this year while listening to a webinar from a doctor who works with elite athletes as they train.

  • Unsurprisingly, those high achievers also fear rest, but they seem OK scattering in “active recovery,” which, in their case, might mean replacing a workout with yoga, stretching, or meditation.

  • For you, “active recovery” might mean standing up and stretching for a few seconds, doing one minute of focused breathing, getting some fresh air, or calling a friend (and yes, all these ideas can be done in under 5 minutes).

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to help rewire your assumptions and Inner Critic narratives about rest:

  1. When have you been more productive or creative after resting? What was that like?

  2. How do you view the connection between rest and reward? (In other words, what makes you think you have to “deserve” rest?)

  3. What are the short- and long-term trade-offs of powering through when you're tired?

  4. In what simple ways could you build rest into your schedule? What support do you need to put in place to make it possible?

If you want, reply and share your answers with me. And, of course, if you feel that coaching will help you create more sustainable leadership habits, don’t hesitate to reach out.


The Coaching Corner

A continuation of the above… Updating Paradigms

The above questions are helpful, more generally, when helping someone update a paradigm. You can probe about when an internal rule wasn’t true, how someone connects two concepts in their mind, and explore tradeoffs; these are all classic coaching tools for expanding one’s perspective when a mental model is holding them back.



Rae Ringel’s latest HBR article couldn’t have come at a better time – “Mastering the Art of the Request” is a practical piece on delegating, just as we covered the topic in three of my group coaching programs last week.

Google's guide to psychological safety – a great place to start, if you want to understand the topic and get some practical tools.


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