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Slowing down to speed up

Average reading time – 4 minutes 55 seconds

Business is all about progress and forward momentum. We constantly track progress towards our goals and try to build momentum on key projects…but there can be a problem with this approach.

We like progress and momentum as individuals too. Perhaps we even crave it in the same way that we need our morning Latte, Cortado or Flat White.

It’s almost certainly our ability to make progress and get stuff done that has made us successful in our careers and gotten us where we are today.

If it weren’t for our ability to get through large volumes of work and deliver results quarter after quarter, year on year, we probably wouldn’t be in our current leadership position.

But there comes a point where a relentless focus on progress and momentum can start to work against us if left un-checked.  As a wise person (possibly Einstein, possibly Henry Ford, possibly someone else) once said…

“If you do what you’ve always done, you will get what you’ve always got.”

For leaders stepping into much more senior roles where their focus shifts to delivering through others, as opposed to doing much of the doing themselves, it is worth reflecting on a variation of that famous quote.

“If you do what you’ve always done, you will get less than you’ve always got.”

My point is this.  As we get promoted, we don’t miraculously find ourselves with less to do.

We don’t find we suddenly get 100 less emails a day. We probably get more.

We don’t find we have fewer tasks to prioritise.  We probably have more.

We don’t find there are fewer opportunities presented to us. There are more.

This means that unless we consciously make a decision to work differently, we simply find ourselves working longer, harder, faster and more frenetically than ever before.

When this is coupled with our craving to make progress and build momentum, it can hinder the very thing we are trying to achieve.  We don’t get more done, we get less done.

We charge from meeting to meeting trying to get stuff done and move projects along.  We come back to our desk and see that another 50 emails have landed in our inbox whilst we at our last meeting.

Our response is like playing ‘whack-attack’ at a fair ground.  As soon as a mole pops its head out of the hole, we smack it back in with the mallet as quickly as we possibly can.

We do the same with the emails and tasks that come our way.  As fast as the emails come in, we forward them on to a team member or colleague with a hastily typed covering note.

And we momentarily feel a little bit better.

We feel better because we’re making progress.  We feel better because we get a quick shot of dopamine as we see the number of unread emails reducing.

But what about our team?

What impact does this have on them?

And what about the mid to long-term results?

Picture the scene.  You’ve had 15 minutes between two long meetings that have pretty much taken up your entire day.  You have loads on your to-do list and you feel that the last three hours in that meeting really wasn’t a good use of your time.

You need to make progress.  You need some momentum.

So without stepping back to clear your head and think, you fire off a few emails to your team delegating some tasks.

You quickly ask someone to follow up on an action from the last meeting.  You then hastily reply to an email from a team member and forward another to someone else asking them to deal with the latest request that landed on your desk.

A week later you find yourself frustrated that the first task hasn’t been completed yet, and the second isn’t to the standard you wanted. As to the third, well you don’t even know where to begin.  You just can’t believe what you’ve been given as it’s so far from what you wanted!

The stress levels begin to rise along with our frustration and we blame our team.  But it’s not our team who are to blame.

The blame rests with one person and one person alone.


It’s our fault.

It is nobody’s fault but our own

If someone in our team didn’t do what we wanted, to the standard required or by the time we needed it, it is nobody’s fault but our own.

What’s more, we should apologise to them.  We should apologise because we have wasted their time and in doing so, we’ve wasted our own time too.

If we have delegated a task and it’s not been done as we intended then it’s because we didn’t delegate it well enough.

Perhaps we didn’t make it clear what good looks like.

Perhaps we didn’t tell them why it’s important and where it fits into the bigger picture.

Perhaps we delegated it to the wrong person.

Perhaps we didn’t provide enough support and coaching.

Perhaps our rushed email when we delegated the task confused them.  And perhaps they looked at us and saw a frantic leader charging about trying to get stuff done and they didn’t want to trouble us.

As a result, they did what they thought was right and are repaid by being on the receiving end of our frustration!

Slowing down, in order to speed up

The most effective way to achieve progress and momentum isn’t through speed of action.  It’s through slowing down in order to speed up.  It’s about being effective instead of simply being efficient.

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”

Peter Drucker

Take a breath.  Slow down.  Make a considered plan and see what amazing new results you achieve.

You might even enjoy work a little more and inspire those around you.


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