Working Smarter

Be Quick But Don't Hurry: Speed Kills Productivity and People

Posted by Joe Robinson

Woman with time urgency.jpg

IF THERE'S ONE little adjustment that could make a giant difference in work-life balance and job satisfaction this year, I would vote for an end to hurry-worry. I’m talking about that hyperventilating habit of rushing through every minute of the day at work—and at home—as if you were a stampeding wildebeest.

Time panic. It’s everywhere these days, hyped up by instant technology and instant expectations. “Hey, did you get that email I sent two minutes ago?" Pretty soon they’re going to call you up and say, “Did you get that email I haven’t even sent yet?”

THE SPEEDWAY FALLACY

We’re all on a speedway these days, one driven by a fallacy that “as fast as you can” is the goal, when mindless rushing is the foundation for muchf of what ails brains, teams, and productive endeavor. It drives frenzy, frazzle, false urgency, crisis mentality, stress, burnout, and a host of pointless mistakes that happen when the brain in hijacked by an ancient interloper that believes every minute of the day is an emergency. 

Nonstop motion makes everything appear urgent when we haven’t taken the time to think about what is urgent and what isn’t. Speed for speed’s sake is the wrong goal, unless you like the churning stomach, temper tantrums, and mistakes of false urgency.

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Autopilot mechanical momentum, minus thought, undermines productivity. We need informed performance—mobility, having our faculties functioning while we focus on the task at hand, not the clock.

It’s not a sprint to the death we’re on; it's a marathon. That means we have to move with deliberate speed, and for that we need the capacity to think and focus, which isn’t there when rushing.

JACK BE QUICK

The great basketball coaching legend, UCLA's John Wooden, had the best description of how we should approach a swift result. He said, “Be quick but don’t hurry.” It’s a brilliant principle for any organization or individual. Yes, you want to move at a good pace but not at one that mars your thinking, which is what hurrying does. In my time management and work-life balance programs, we focus on quickness and qualifying urgency.

On the basketball court, hurrying triggers forced shots, turnovers, and charging fouls, because it sets off stress-addled emotions. Being quick, though, means you move swiftly but under control. We are not under control when we’re in hurry-worry mode. The ancient part of the brain that thinks you’re going to die unless you race all day sets off the stress response and the catastrophic, shallow, and rash thinking that accompanies it.

Time urgency used to be restricted to Type A personalities and the super-important deadline. These days, thanks to technology, shorter attention spans, and the endangered species of patience, we’re all caught up in it.

All Type A’s are stuck with time urgency, which is a fixation with the passage of time and a compulsion that every second of the day should be jammed with as much production as possible. That goes for when you’re at home too, so time frenzy is very insidious. It wants to book up all your time outside the office too, which kills work-life balance. How do you get any recharging in when you have to fill every moment with production? We need to stop filling time and make our off-hours more fulfilling.

Rushing kicks thoughts from the top floors of the brain to the rote and panicked floors, which accounts for the rash emails, the impulsive decisions, and the shift from thoughtful analysis of the next move to frenzy and nonstop commotion, which isn’t forward motion.

SPRINT TO THE DEATH

There's a reason why we have laws to prevent speeding on highways and railways. Nobody would want a surgeon trying to set a speed record for brain surgery slicing into their skulls.

Researchers have found that rushing is bad for your work, health, and life. Managerial activities that require complex decision-making and long-term future planning are hindered by time urgency (Abbott, Sutherland). Time frenzy is also a heart attack risk (Cole). The pattern goes like this: Impatience leads to irritability, which leads to anger, which leads to clogged arteries. Time urgency can also lead to burnout and emotional exhaustion (Conte).

Exhaustion is a common side effect of hurry-worry, because implicit in the behavior is a false belief that you have to get something done faster or get somewhere speedier than is possible. One eye is always on the long list of things to do after you race through the current task. So there’s a futility in reflex rushing, a frustration with yourself and others that you can never do it fast enough.

The thing about time urgency, though, is that most of it is self-inflicted. We create arbitrary self-deadlines. I’m going to get this done by 12. I’m doing to do this in 10 minutes. People with time frenzy, and especially Type A’s, always overestimate their ability to get things done quicker than the reality dictates. We often box ourselves in with these overestimates of our speediness by telling others that, sure, we can get that done by some super-fast, unrealistic deadline. Always build in extra time, scope creep, to keep youreself from overpromising and underdelivering.

TURNING OFF THE RACETRACK MIND

Awareness of this habit is the first step to curing it. Since time frenzy turns on the stress response, you are going to know when you’re rushing for nothing by the stress symptoms that appear in your body—racing stomach, tightening in the neck, rapid heartbeat, digestion issues, insomnia. When you feel these cues going off, step back and ask, What is the emergency?

Turning off the racetrack mind of hurry-worry restores focus in the moment and takes fixation off the clock and to-do list so that we can harness attention for the task at hand. Not taking the rushing bait allows you to feel in control of events, instead of at the mercy of a world out of control. That allows you to manage demands instead of having them manage you.

And, what might be the most important thing about dumping this habit, you have permission in your life outside the job to enjoy hobbies, do exercise, and live life without the nagging that you should be doing something productive every spare second. That is the real measuring stick in our later years, so you're going to feel productive and satisfied if you can look back and see a life fully lived.

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Tags: time urgency, rushing and productivity, employee stress management, patience and performance

The Power of Patience: Antidote to Stress, Frenzy, and Overwhelm

Posted by Joe Robinson

Time_urgency_stress.jpg

“Patience” is a word we normally hate to hear, because it usually means we have lost ours. Being reminded that we need to take a minute when we are in a state of hyper time frenzy is like being told to keep calm when you are verging on a primal scream. It’s a concept the emotions refuse to allow in when we are swept away by frenzy and frazzle.

In a world of permanent rush hour, patience seems like some obsolete remnant of a quainter time, something from a do-gooder’s list of manners, something that develops character and all that. Yet this increasingly rare act of discipline is the antidote for much of what ails us in the modern workplace and life. Deploy it, and you kill time urgency, overwhelm, irritability, and a lot of stress. Used regularly, it can do wonders for work-life balance, stress management, and productivity. Are we up to it in an immediate gratification world?

WHAT ATTACHMENT?

First, let’s see where impatience has gotten us. The reflex to race through the day, multitask, short-circuit brain cells with information overload, be in constant texting contact, and go for the next source of stimulation has helped to shrink the average human attention span to eight seconds, less than that of a goldfish. That makes things difficult, since attention is the chief productivity tool.

There are all those embarrassing emails filled with typos and missing attachments. How many times have you sent an email raving about an attachment and forgot to send it? 

Impatience drives multitasking, resulting in the appearance of speed—and more than a few mistakes, since rushing kicks thinking down to the rote and panicked floors of the brain. Research from the University of Michigan and Vanderbilt, among others, shows that multitasking actually slows you down. Brain neurons have to go through a “where was I last time I was here and where was I going?” exercise each time they jump back and forth between tasks, which slows productivity by more than 40%, according to David Meyer at the University of Michigan.

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The forces of impatience can’t resist self-interrupting to check email, and that makes work take longer. Constant interruptions to check mail erode the chief tool of anyone trying to get anything done: concentration. The more you check email, the more you have to check it. Interruptions erode impulse control, the discipline you need to resist time-wasting tangents.

THE WHIP OF HURRY-WORRY

Without functioning self-regulation equipment to calmly direct attention and avoid temptations, it takes more time to get work done and aggravates stress as time urgency cracks the whip of hurry-worry. Impatience puts us on edge, a few hairs away from irritability and anger—and clogged arteries. Studies show that’s the pattern time frenzy follows, leading to heart attacks. Now there’s a time-waster. Think about all those things you won’t be able to get done if you are suddenly demised.

Impatience leads to a host of bad outcomes—lashing out, curt emails, impulsive decisions, conflict with tortoises moving too slowly for your liking, and simmering anger that smolders away in your body and contributes to heart disease. One 2007 study from the University of South Carolina found that anger led to a 1.7 times higher chance of developing hypertension, with a 90% increased risk for coronary heart disease.

Hurry-worry makes you think you have no time to plan your priorities each morning, talk with a colleague or supervisor to distribute workload more effectively, and push the go-button before a report, product, or post has been analyzed and thought enough about to release into the world. Patience is the grown-up in the room; impatience the adolescent.

Patience doesn’t mean moving at the speed of a tree sloth. It is what is known as deliberate speed, informed performance, thought before action, not hurrying. As the great UCLA basketball coach John Wooden once put it, “Be quick, but don’t hurry.”

It’s the hurrying that drives mistakes, since we’re operating at a speed faster than brains can manage well. This is the realm of mistakes and the home of the stress response, which interprets time urgency as if every minute of the day was an emergency—which turns on the stress response. With friends like ourselves around, who needs enemies?

FALSE URGENCY

We can work swiftly without the attention deficit of hurrying and the sabotage of what’s known as System 1 thinking—jump-off-the-cliff, impulsive thinking, minus considered options. That means bringing awareness to your pace. Are you hyperventilating? Racing for nothing? Catch yourself and bring attention back to the moment. Is it an emergency or a speed trap? Nonstop motion makes everything appear urgent when you haven’t taken time to think about what is urgent and what isn’t.

Are you working frantically with one eye on the stack of to-do’s? Focus on one task at a time, which is all you can do anyway. When the goal is just to get things done so you can get to other things that need to be done, you don’t have attention on the tasks you are doing. Productivity is all about the present, not what’s next on the list.

Studies show that when we are patient and absorbed in the moment of what we’re doing we like what we’re doing more, remember it longer, are at our happiest, and can experience the power of optimal experience, when our skills meet a challenge 

Patience allows us to work smarter, more efficiently, and more in control of our world. This is crucial to preventing stress. The more control we feel we have over events, the less stress we have. Patience gives you perceived control by providing attention unhijacked by frenzy and the hurry-worry of trying to be somewhere you’re not.

Yes, we all have time pressures to deal with, but we can handle it without resorting to frantic default rushing and stress. Much of the time the race pace is fueled by self-deadlines that we have created and set up ourselves with. “I’m going to get this project done by four o’clock.” We rush to make that time and get angry when we don’t.

The gift of patience is that it is something within our control. All we have to do is to take a breath, recalibrate the false urgency of frenzy to the calm of attention, and exercise this act of discipline as one of the best tools to turn down pulse rates, bad moods, and irritable days. It’s a choice.

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Tags: time urgency, stress and patience, overwhelm, employee stress management, multitasking and stress

Time Management and the "I'm Too Busy" Mental Block

Posted by Joe Robinson

Time_urgency_stress.jpg

Too much to do, not enough time. It’s the refrain of the crazy-busy age. But what if it wasn’t true? What if we had the time, but we weren’t using it properly? Studies by Geoffrey Godby and John P. Robinson (no relation to me) have found that we have more time than we think. It’s just not organized.

Organizing time isn’t just a case of savvy calendaring and prioritizing. The bigger hurdle takes place at the psychological and emotional level, in the beliefs we tell ourselves about the time we think we don’t have and the perceptions those thoughts lock us into.

THE MENTAL BLOCK OF "BUSYNESS"

Time operates on two levels—Greenwich Mean Time and the state of mind that interprets the world in temporal terms. The latter is the hidden key to time management and exiting the chronic frenzy and frazzle that happens when we confuse “busyness” with productive endeavor and make it our very identity. The “I’m too busy” mental block subverts time management and productivity on all sides.

If you tell yourself there’s no time, there isn’t any. If you tell yourself “I’m too busy,” you are. You’re too busy to have that extra conversation you need with a colleague, too busy to sit down for 15 minutes to plan priorities, too busy to get the recharge time to deactivate tension, too busy to understand the self-infliction of busyness.

In an unbounded, always-on world, it’s easy to get caught up in busyness. Yes, there is a lot to do, but we don’t have to do it all at one time, feel besieged, juggle all the to-do’s inside our head, default to terminal multitasking mode, or rush all day. Mental racing tells a part of the ancient brain that every minute of the day is an emergency. That turns on the danger signal of the stress response, i. e. fight-or-flight, and the false belief that we have to do everything faster than we’re doing it, or it will be Apocalypse Now.

EFFECTIVE PACE

Without stopping to think about what we’re doing, whether it’s a priority or not, and when the best time to do it is, the default is to action,  uninformed, reactive action that drives frenzy. The first step to time management, then, is a conscious mentality of effective pace. We have to step off the runaway train and put the conductor back at the cognitive wheel.

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As Daniel Kahneman reports in Fast and Slow Thinking, time pressure makes us do stupid things. We default to what he calls System 1 thinking—reactive, instinctive, making decisions not based on analysis or facts but on rash diagnostic bias, what appears familiar, or the last thought in our head. Time pressure impairs cognitive ability and fuels bad decision-making.

Obviously, there are deadlines that have to be met and urgent issues that land on our screens that need quick turnarounds. But when time pressure extends beyond due dates and immediate tasks to all the time, even at home, it can lead to perpetual time urgency. This drives a fixation with the passage of time that makes every task an emergency.

But it's not. It's false urgency, since the emergency your outmoded brain misinterprets is that you are going to die. You may have 200 emails, but you're not going to die from them. Since time frenzy activates the stress response, it's no surprise that studies show that time urgency is a heart attack risk. The pattern goes: Impatience leads to irritability, which leads to anger and clogged arteries. Unconscious speed mode undermines performance, rapport, and health. 

THE SPEED TRAP

It’s a speed trap. Nonstop motion makes everything appear urgent when we haven’t taken the time to think about what is urgent and what isn’t. The way out of the frazzle and the first step to time management is to stop the busyness long enough to regulate pace, qualify urgency, prioritize, and change our perception of time and ourselves.

That means untangling identity from the reflex of unconscious busyness and redefining where true productivity comes from. When someone asks how we are, the tendency is to blurt out: Busy! Even if we’re not. Busyness has a habit of becoming ingrained with who we are. We wind up identifying as a person constantly in motion. Say "I'm too busy" often enough, and that is who you are.

Yet productivity is not a function of how busy you are or of constant commotion. Rote busyness is simply mechanical momentum, movement without an understanding of whether the commotion is moving things forward, without knowing where we are going or why and that we are creating extra work and stress by rushing through it.

It’s mobility that we want, not a badge of busyness and being able to say how swamped we are, which only intensifies time anxiety. Mobility comes from the opposite of hyperventilation—reflection and focused attention on the task, not the clock. This places us in the moment, instead of having to keep a part of our brain on the finish line. We get the work done faster without the ticking time bomb of the clock.

TIME MANAGEMENT IS ATTENTION MANAGEMENT

The perception of time changes from tormentor to friend when we take a breath to see what needs to be done and why at a given moment. When you set terms of engagement with tasks, you are in control, instead of a fearsome deadline or stack of to-do’s. The more you can be absorbed in what you are doing in the present, you remove the oxygen of time panic, which is agonizing about the future, a tense you can never be in anyway.

Time management boils down to attention management. If you are truly paying attention and not self-inflicting time stress by checking clocks or allowing unbounded distractions, you stay focused on the task you’re on. Attention comes from focus on a target. Trying to pay attention to multiple targets through multitasking or keeping to-do’s circling the mind like jets at LAX accelerates time tension and the chances of making a mistake while rushing.

So how do you or your team manage time, instead of being run by default fight-or-flight? It’s a daily practice, since the accelerators of time frenzy are all around us—emails, instant messages, texts, and the influence of others flying on hyperdrive.

We pick up on the emotions and expressions of others through mirror neurons. We have to make conscious choices to resist false urgency, our own and that of others. Here are a few keys to time management we don’t usually hear about:

  1. “I’m too busy” is a story, not your identity. Getting things done is the goal, not nonstop commotion.
  2. Stop, pause, and target attention. If you’re rushing for no reason, stop and stare at the clouds in the sky, or put on some music. Target your attention on something else. That breaks up the time frenzy entrainment.
  3. Restrict the amount of self-deadlines. We drive a lot of stress by setting arbitrary self-deadlines for this task or that dry cleaners that no one is holding us to. Avoid setting yourself up by seeing these targets as more approximate deadlines.
  4. Limit clock-checking. Each time we check the time, we self-inflict time stress and an interruption.
  5. Resist the hurry-worry of others. Choose not to accept the time frenzy of others. "Yes, I see they’re freaking out, but that is them. I will not react."
  6. Do time estimates of all your key tasks. It’s easy to be overly optimistic on turnaround times. Analyze how long it takes to do each of your main tasks. When you take an assignment, you know how much time to budget for it.

A classic false belief of the “I’m too busy” mindset is that, if you pause or even slow down, then you will fall behind. In fact, an effective pace insures that you won’t have to do everything over again by making the mistakes that come with rushing. It’s mechanical busyness, without thought as to where the busyness is going, that undermines progress.

Busyness and the time frenzy it fuels also do something more insidious. They make it impossible to savor accomplishments, since you have to instantly move on to the next thing and next thing on a treadmill that never ends to keep from falling behind the self-inflicted schedule.

They also make it hard to carve out time for your life, because you are always too busy to step back from hyperdrive.

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Tags: work productivity, crazy busy, time urgency, time stress, time management

8 Stops to Work-Life Balance in 2015

Posted by Joe Robinson

Woman celebrating

The first couple of weeks of the new year are rare, indeed. They are one of the few times it is permissible to actually pause from head-down, full-blast mode, to reflect, ponder the upcoming year, even smell a rose or two.

Pausing is not something most of us are very good at. We are raised to keep on going to the last drop of caffeine. The premium is on action, and non-action appears to have no payoffs. Yet the key to work-life balance, productivity, stress management, and a quality life in 2015 or any year is in the space between the action, the moments when we take time to consider what’s working, what’s not, what needs to change, why, and how we get there. 

THINK-TIME

Without a pause, we can’t chart a better path forward. So before resolutions, before intentions, we need to stop so we can plan where we're going. Without a step-back to plan it’s easy to keep doing the same-old, same-old and default to the mechanical momentum of busyness. Planning, from prioritizing work tasks to putting life on the calendar, is the essential self-management tool. It figures out what you want and offers a path to make it happen.

So let’s make 2015 a year in which we are going to take the time to make the time to plan, whether it’s 10 minutes at the start of the day to get priorities together, time to discover what tasks need to be adjusted for more effective work, time to choose a new hobby to recharge during the week, or time to figure out what you’re going to do on your vacation this year and when you’re going to take it.

 

Europeans use the month of January to sit down with coworkers and managers and figure out when people want to take their vacations, so that holidays can be built into the workflow and operations of the company for the year. Planning puts things you value on the calendar. 

STRATEGIC PAUSING

Taking strategic pauses to map out our days and life highlights gets shoved aside usually because of the grip of time urgency and overwhelm that afflict most of us these days. Time urgency is a fixation with the passage of time. It makes you think every minute is an emergency and that each moment must be booked to the gills, or you’re a slacker.

The result is a cheek-flapping ride through the blur of busyness. We can’t stop for a second, or it’s apocalypse now. “Did you get that email I sent you three minutes ago?” The vise grip of busyness keeps you from making the extra call to a colleague, doing the research to have accurate turn-around times, or get exercise or life in for stress relief. “There’s no time!”

But studies show we do have time. It’s just not organized. Let’s take a look at some pauses we can use to direct a more thoughtful, effective, healthy year ahead for both work and life.

1. Big Picture Pause. Set aside a chunk of time, say, 30 minutes this week and then once a month, to think about where you’re going at work and life this year and why you’re going there. What are your work goals? Life priorities? What’s missing from the picture? What do you need to change? How can you do that?

2. Work Effectiveness Pause. Review tasks and identify ones that are frequent bottlenecks and time-wasters. How could they be adjusted for less stress and more effectiveness?

3. Priorities Pause. Set aside 10 minutes at the end of the workday or at the beginning to map out the top five tasks on your list for today or tomorrow.

4. Balance Pause. Each Friday, take a few minutes to assess the state of your work-life balance. Are you out of whack? What needs to happen to have a better work-life fit?

5. Recharge Pauses. Fatigued brains look like ones that are sound asleep. Pause when the pressure peaks, you’re stuck, concentration fades, the daydreaming begins. Take a walk, listen to music, or plan your weekend to build up energy and cognitive resources again.

6. Free Time Pause. Take time to put together a free-time log for a week of all your time outside work. Where are the time sinks? Where are the free-time slots you could schedule a new hobby or activity? What would you like to do? Salsa dancing? Cycling?

7. Vacation Pause. Figure out at the beginning of the year where you want to go on vacation and when you want to go. This makes it easier for coworkers and managers and locks them and you into making the holiday happen at the most opportune time, with plenty of notice to make workflow adjustments.

8. Life List Pause.  Take some time to think about what you’d like to do on this planet for the experience of it. What’s on your Life List? Sail the South Seas? Learn guitar? Keep a rotating list of five experiences and start jotting down steps to make them happen.

We are led to believe that nonstop commotion is the only road to success, but it’s informed action that makes work effective and life worthwhile. Satisfying work and a well-lived life are the result of thinking, assessing, and having the attention to create a better pathway forward, something no one else can do for us. What you want doesn't happen on its own. You have to make it happen.

Let’s use this opening of the dawn of the new year to pause frequently in 2015 and put the most underrated tool of work-life balance into action.

 

Tags: work life balance, time urgency, work life balance programs, 2015 resolutions, work effectiveness, time management and planning, stress and prioritizing, well-lived life, work-life coaching

Rushing Roulette Shreds Work-Life Balance

Posted by Joe Robinson

Stressed woman with time urgency

Remember when “rush hour” used to be an hour or two on the way to work and home? These days rushing is an all-day affair—and a major obstacle to productivity and health, since believing every minute of the day is an emergency drives stress.

Rushing is a habit we think is good for our work, but it’s actually the opposite. It’s a ticket to mistakes, re-do’s and attention lost in frenzy and frazzle. The fact is, there's not much engagement or attention on anything when we’re racing. All the focus is on getting done with the task, not on doing it.   

The bad habit here is called time urgency. The pattern goes like this: Impatience leads to irritability, which leads to anger, which leads to clogged arteries. This is why time urgency is a medical term. It’s a heart attack risk and a major roadblock to work-life balance.

Time urgency fuels rushing and rushing fuels stress. It’s an unconscious loop we get caught up in that shreds attention and sets up action before thought. Nonstop motion makes everything appear urgent when we haven’t taken the time to think about what is urgent and what isn’t.

Productivity takes a beating from the emotional anxiety that comes with rushing. A study by Leslie Perlow found that time pressures lead “to a crisis mentality.” The stress of time urgency activates the emotional center of the brain, and when it does, rational decision-making gets hijacked by the raw emotion and panic of our ancient caveman brain, the amygdala, which goes into fight-or-flight mode.

You can take the crisis and frenzy out of the day by opting out of the time urgent habit. Patience isn’t just a virtue; it’s a necessity for avoiding needless stress. 

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Tags: HubSpot Tips, work life balance, job stress, productivity, time urgency, false urgency, work life balance programs, work-life balance trainings

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