I used to run marathons and considering the radical shift from bodybuilder to runner I did well. In fact, I did well enough to qualify to run the Boston Marathon. When I ran I either did very well or very poor. My best marathon times were about an hour better than my worst races. Something that made a big difference was learning to slow down in order to speed up.
The human body is amazing. We can run very fast (sprint) and we can run very far (marathons are 26.2 miles) but we can’t run a marathon at a sprinter’s pace. Sprinting, like weightlifting, is an anaerobic activity which means the muscles use very little oxygen and lactic acid builds up quickly. Distance running is aerobic exercise meaning your muscles consume lots of oxygen. If you’ve ever tried to run very far but started off too fast I’m sure you’ve experienced your legs feeling like lead (lactic acid build up) and your lungs feeling as if they’re on fire (can’t get enough oxygen to sustain the pace). You’re quickly reduced to a slow jog, walk or stopping altogether.
To succeed in distance running I learned to slow down to speed up. By slowing my pace per mile just a little bit, perhaps 10-20 seconds per mile early on, I was able to conserve energy and ended up running a much faster marathon time. As I noted earlier, my best times were about an hour faster than worst races.
How does this apply to you in business? In a recent leadership meeting I heard lots of people talking about the pace of work, not enough time to read all the communication that’s flying around, consistent mistakes and other challenges. My marathoning days kept coming to mind and I found myself thinking, “We need to slow down to speed up.”
Just as we’re not built to sprint 26.2 miles we’re not built to work at a frantic pace all the time. Trying to do so leads to a build-up of cortisol, the “stress hormone,” which can, “interfere with learning and memory, lower immune function and bone density, increase weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease.” (see Cortisol: Why the “Stress Hormone is Public Enemy No. 1)
What can we (some of this takes buy-in from more than just you) do to combat the problem?
Limit meeting times
Don’t have meetings lasting more than 45 minutes because that’s about how long humans can maintain focused attention. You can go longer but know that science says people will not retain as much as they would if you limited the time and communicated more effectively.
Limiting the time also means meetings won’t be scheduled back to back. Time between meetings give people an opportunity to decompress and regain exposure. It also allows time to get a drink or snack which can improve brain function.
Break up longer meetings
For longer meetings make sure 10-minute breaks are scheduled every hour. The rationale is the same as above. I can’t tell you how many times in my 30-year career I’ve sat in meetings that went 90 minutes, two hours…or longer without a break! After a while people just start getting up to get snacks, use the restroom or just leave the room. For those who stay, they’re not retaining information and they’re not engaged.
Relax, don’t respond
Taking a break doesn’t mean frantically returning calls or reading emails. That’s not giving your brain the break it needs. You’ll handle those things more thoughtfully when you give yourself a dedicated space of time rather than rushing through them as you wander from one meeting to the next.
Multi-tasking as a fallacy because the human brain doesn’t do two things at once. When we’re trying to do multiple things at the same time our brains are engaged in task switching. When we do this error rates can go as high as 50%! In addition to that, your brain needs to reengage with the task it left and has come back to so everything ends up takes longer.
Do it once and do it right
My old high school football coach said during a leadership presentation that his father used to ask him, “If you don’t have time to do it right, where are you going to find the time to do it again?” In other words, take a bit more time the first go around to do it correctly and you won’t waste time making corrections or doing it all over a second time.
There are certainly more things you could do to “slow down” (meditation, exercise, mindfulness, music, etc.) but the point comes back to this: if you want to accomplish more during your days then make the conscious choice to slow down in order to speed up.
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLE. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed more than 110,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it to learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.