slow down to speed up

Simple, succinct, and clear driving instructions. This is solid life advice as well. If day after day of stressful racing around doesn’t manage to actually kill us before our time, it will kill our health, happiness, and effectiveness.

I once sat through a scarily high-energy presentation given by a professor specializing in knowledge management. He poured out an overwhelming array of statistics showing that the world’s knowledge is growing at mind-blowing rates. The gist of his presentation was that we need to re-train our brains to absorb more and more information, more and more quickly. His goal seemed to be to bombard us into using his knowledge management approaches so we could cram more stuff in our craniums.

Speed Traps: Crazy Busy Leads to ADT

Beware of this lethal speed trap. Dr. Speedster was peddling dangerous advice leading to high stress, reduced effectiveness, and exhaustion. In these times of light-speed change, we need to periodically step off the ever-accelerating treadmill before we burn out — or burst a blood vessel!

Far too often, we’re running faster and faster just to keep up. As the Red Queen said to Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, “it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

Psychiatrist, Edward Hallowell, founded The Hallowell ADHD Centers. Managing his own ADHD and dyslexia, he’s a bestselling author of over 20 books. His groundbreaking Distraction series of five books began with Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood through Adulthood.

In one of my favorites of his books, CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap! Strategies for Handling Your Fast-Paced Life, he writes, “having treated ADD since 1981, I began to see an upsurge in the mid-1990s in the number of people who complained of being chronically inattentive, disorganized and overbooked. Many came to me wondering if they had ADD.

While some did, most did not. Instead, they had what I called a severe case of modern life… or attention deficit trait (ADT)…so many of the adjectives one could use to describe it begin with the letter f: frantic, frenzied, forgetful, flummoxed, frustrated, and fragmented, to name a few….”

WTF: Speed Thrills

Hallowell finds a large group of people doesn’t want to slow down, “for them, F-state is fun. No one needs to read three newspapers every day, check e-mail every ten minutes, make or take scores of phone calls every day, and channel surf during all conversations, tuning out the moment stimulation subsides. These are habits some people develop simply because such habits make them feel charged up, as if doing a lot fast puts them on the cutting edge of life.”

Hallowell advises that the benefits of multitasking are illusionary and a big part of the ADT problem. “There is no correlation between a fast life and a happy life. Indeed, if anything there is a negative correlation, as fast lives tend to be stressful.”

Many people believe that younger generations raised in an environment of juggling multiple technologies at once are better at multitasking. Numerous studies prove that’s dead wrong. Stress research shows that shifting attention every few minutes to respond to incoming electronic messages increases levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), which decreases memory function.

Studies by Glenn Wilson, a psychologist at London University’s King College, showed an average IQ loss of 10 points among 1,100 electronic communicators who were flipping back and forth between tasks, conversations, and their screens.

I sure can’t afford to lose 10 IQ points! So, I shut off all those notifications. By point of comparison, marijuana smoking causes only a four-point IQ drop. You’d have to miss a whole night of sleep to get the ten-point drop caused by the technology distractions measured in the study.

Top Leaders on the Slow

Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman report in their book, Speed: How Leaders Accelerate Successful Execution, over three-quarters of survey participants were “often expected to move faster and do more.” Analyzing Zenger Folkman’s extensive 360 assessment database, they found 96 percent of leaders rated in the top ten percent were able to “execute quickly and correctly so that the time to value is decreased.”

A paradox of a highly effective and faster leader is he or she can often be the least stressed and the most balanced. Speed concludes with a chapter on life balance and discusses when to go fast and when to go slow. By speeding up in the right places, we can create the space to slow down and enjoy life more.

As psychologist and Positive Psychology pioneer, Martin Seligman, writes in his book, Flourish: A Visioning New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being, “Going slow allows executive function to take over. Executive function consists of focusing and ignoring distractions, remembering and using new information, planning action and revising the plan, and inhibiting fast, impulsive thoughts and actions.”

Overcoming Industrious Stupidity

In 1891, the Anglo-Irish playwright and author, Oscar Wilde, wrote, “We live in the age of the overworked, and the under-educated; the age in which people are so industrious that they become absolutely stupid.” Over a century later, technology is spinning our treadmill age many times faster.

Research on time effectiveness, strategic focus, our increasing volume of electronic messages, happiness, dealing with stress, relationships, coaching…the list is endless…clearly shows us that less is more.

Paradoxically, we get more done, build stronger teams, and increase personal and organizational effectiveness by stepping back regularly to assess our progress, savor our successes, celebrate achievements, and set new priorities.

We need to periodically step back to step ahead. Slowing down can increase our speed.