To Speed Up, Slow Down: Unexpected Methods to Supercharge Work Results


“Reflective thinking turns experience into insight.”

— John C. Maxwell

I don’t know about you, but two things come to the forefront of my mind when I think about work:

1) How many tasks I have to do

2) How little time I have to get them done

Indeed, it seems, with all the technological productivity tools and devices available, at the end of the day, I often feel I’m less productive than I expected to be. That despite the busy bustle of my day, I am left with little to show for it.

To be fair, I realize many of us are doing the job of 2-3 people as big businesses and government entities have coerced us into believing heavier workloads are necessary for job security; however, this isn’t the point I want to harp on right now.

When considering my personal productivity, my grandmother often comes to mind. My grandmother is probably one of the most industrious and productive women I have ever known. It seems that, though her job may not demand from her all that mine does, still, she, as many of her generation, accomplishes so much more in a days’ time than I—and with seemingly little obvious effort.

I sometime wonder why this is. Am I lazy? Am I lacking initiative? Perhaps I have become too accustomed to the “easy life” and need to learn some self-discipline? What is the difference here between my level of productivity and that of my grandmother?

To investigate further, I sat down and thought about the times in my life when I felt most productive. Those times when I look back and wonder “How in the world did I do that?” or “Could I ever do it again?”

When analyzing these moments, I recognized this one truth:

The amount of time I spend in reflection has a marked and, to a point, linear relationship with how much I get done.

Or, in layman’s terms, to speed up, I need to slow down!

Why Reflection Matters

Here I would like to argue that putting on the breaks and just “thinking” about ones work and its processes, can, in the long run, greatly improve our level of productivity.

I’m not alone in this observation. Recently, management guru Umair Haque of Havas Media Labs noted in an article for the Harvard Business Review that:

“What most companies (and economies) don’t do is to stop doing — and that’s a self-defeating problem. We seem to be clueless about making room for deep questioning and thinking: reflecting. Our doing/reflecting ratio is wildly out of whack. Most action items might just be distraction items — from the harder work of sowing and reaping breakthroughs that matter.”

In other words, our constant pursuit to look and be busy actually renders us less productive because little thought is going into our actions. Without reflection, we move through the motions of work in a reactive manner, catching and responding only to what jumps out at us as most urgent or pressing.

The Plague of “Busy-ness”

The sad part about this reactive busy work is, many times, those items we perceive as urgent and pressing have little long-term value for productivity.

Need a few examples of urgent yet meaningless diversions from true productivity? Just open your email or text message bank— they’re full of them!

In his article “Making Room for Reflection Is a Strategic Imperative” Haque makes a powerful statement which stopped me in my tracks, and made me rethink my own ineffective work habits.

“The most disruptive, unforeseen, and just plain awesome breakthroughs, that reimagine, reinvent, and reconceive a product, a company, a market, an industry, or perhaps even an entire economy, rarely come from the single-minded pursuit of the busier and busier busywork of “business.” Rather, in the outperformers that I’ve spent time with and studied, breakthroughs demand (loosely) systematic, structured periods for reflection — to ruminate on, synthesize, and integrate fragments of questions, answers, and thoughts about what’s not good enough, what’s just plain awful, and how it could be made radically better.”

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly:

A Practice in Reflection

As a former teacher, this statement took me back to a practice I utilized in my classroom which made a profound impact on the productivity of my students. Anytime we finished working on a group project, or just as a random community temperature check, I would engage my students in a reflective classroom meeting practice we deemed, “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”.

This time was basically a reflective brainstorming session where we would list on the board, in three designated columns, good, bad and ugly (this was the really bad stuff!) things going on in our work process and make decisions about how they could be improved upon in the future.

I would start with the good, just to build a sense of accomplishment while strengthening community ties. This would also prep students with that spoonful of sugar necessary to take the bitter medicine which might surface when we reached the bad and ugly columns.

By making this a regular classroom practice, I found not only was my job easier, but my students became increasingly more focused and project-minded because they had been given the opportunity to think about their work processes and develop plans for change.

As I close this piece, I want to encourage you: Take a little time out of your workday and simply reflect on The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of your productivity. What works? What doesn’t? Where do the hiccups arise in your productivity? Once you’ve completed this reflection, come back and share it with us in our comments section. I’d love to hear what you come up with!



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