Career Advice

Slow Down! Speed At Work Needs A Rest Sometimes

Your speed at work may make you more productive — and less plugged into the nuances and networks at your office.  Speed is revered in much of Corporate America as a productivity enhancer. Your bosses may appreciate your efficiency and yet be dismayed that you’re not connected to coworkers because you never go to lunch or take time for coffee or a chat.

It’s time to understand that speed has costs. Ripping through 223 emails in 11 minutes can feel dizzyingly productive, but what if you accidentally delete one from a potential client who could bring in $250,000 in revenue? Or what if you answer your bosses’ boss without recalling that she hates the idea or word you use three times in your response?

Speed also can blind you to possibilities that are just starting to bloom. Travel 80 MPH down the interstate and you don’t notice farm stands or wild flowers or a help wanted sign at that fishing shop. The same goes for ideas in the office.

So know when to slow down.  Anger and lack of sleep both are yellow lights that ought to offer caution. Someone recently reminded me of the value in HALT — stopping when you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. They make you lose perspective – and anger and strong disappointment especially can make you say or write things you don’t really mean.

Another time when working below light-speed makes sense:  When the stakes are high and the senior managers will weigh in on your proposal, your decision or your memo, or when you need to take care with details, wording and political repercussions.

Slow down to listen intently. When your staff wants to discuss a problem or idea, put aside your number crunching, your email, even phone calls if you can. Focus on that person for 30 minutes and you may learn and accomplish more than if you were toggling between three things and making him wait – or feel unimportant.

Several scientific studies have shown workers are more productive when they focus on one task at a time, since the juggler takes time to switch attention from one task to the other. So check that email three times a day and let it pile up in between. Remove distractions by putting up a sign when you’re in the “creative mode” and ask co-workers to come back in 90 minutes if possible.  Speaker and author Barbara Bartlein, writing on, suggests using “butt glue” until the task is complete.

Once you’ve finished something, give yourself a break.  Sometimes the most productive activity may be a 20-minute nap or a walk outside munching an apple. Both build your energy and attention levels.

If you’re not sure whether you’re moving too fast at work, ask yourself when the last time you took a little time to chat with a colleague without a specific need or agenda in hand. Or inquire with a trusted workplace friend about how fast you move, and what message it sends. Zipping through work shouldn’t zap your coworkers or your creativity.