It's been too long since my last blog post and this fact is the basis of this post - slow down. These past few weeks have been immensely busy and writing this post keeps dropping down to the lower levels of my to do list. A number of friends and colleagues have confessed to feeling overwhelmed at work and they offer this as the basis for their lack of engagement. I, too, have felt as though I don't have time for probably the more important things in life.
This afternoon I read an article in this month's Runner's World about pace over speed. The central argument was that while speed is often what people pay attention too (think 100m sprint in the Olympics), managing your pace, and going the distance is really where it's at. The author talked about how we think we can overcome the constraints of time by going faster, but really time continues to roll forward at the same pace regardless of how fast we try to move. I have experienced this phenomenon when out for an hour run and I am struggling to motivate to get through it. In an effort to get it done more quickly, I run it faster. Now that I think about it, it makes me laugh, because an hour, is an hour, is an hour. Going faster will mean I cover more distance but it won't actually end the run any faster. Speed creates the illusion of time going faster and a greater sense of achievement or production.
This focus on speed over pace permeates work culture too. Get as much done as you can. We are constantly told that we should cover more distance (do more) which inevitably requires us to move faster. In so doing however, we risk making more mistakes, we may not engage as deeply, and we may lose sight of why we do what we do. Bouncing from task to task to task at lightening speed because your to do list isn't getting any shorter creates the illusion that we are managing our time well - "look at how much I have done!" But it may not be an effective way to manage our time and tasks. The to do list will always be there; something will always get added. For me it almost feels like I am chasing my tail. I can never get to zero on my to do list, and going faster simply leads me to miss things or end up overwhelmed.
U.S. work culture orients itself to more is better, faster is better. If you don't produce at phenomenal rates, you risk being labeled incompetent. The message many companies communicate to their employees, implicitly or explicitly, focuses on speed over pace. The long haul and managing a consistent pace is infrequently valued. Instead, the content of the message often includes the requirement for employees to move more quickly (read: produce more, do more). The association with speed and production is fascinating. Covering more miles doesn't necessarily mean you are running a quality workout. Producing more in your workplace doesn't necessarily lead to quality results. The old adage: quality not quantity is heard often in employment contexts, but I don't think employers enact it.
It shouldn't always be about doing more or going faster. We cannot manipulate time by doing either. As in running, we should focus on efficiency in our work. When I say efficiency, I don't mean doing more with less as is often the classic "tightening of the belt strategy" espoused by employers. The tacit meaning of "more with less" is go faster, cover more distance and do so in the same amount of time as before. Efficiency, like with running, means shifting our focus to pace and form. Allow employees to engage consistently in their work and in their life. We should use our resources more thoughtfully and reduce the amount of energy we throw at something. Overwhelm breaks down our form and reduces our efficiency. This is true in life as much as it is true in running. Recognize the lists will always be there and that there will always be something to do. That reality shouldn't necessitate us moving faster; it should necessitate us mastering our pace, finding our rhythm and methodically moving from one task to the next with a clear head and relaxed approach. Long distance running can teach us individually and organizationally about who is more likely to win the race without injury in the end.