It can feel like there are two options when it comes to pace: relaxing on the couch, or moving full speed ahead. When the truth is, there are many points along that pacing continuum, and finding your own personal pacing is key to health, fulfillment and success.
We all have our own natural rhythms and pacing (refer back to the April blog, Rhythm and Rituals: The Art of Working in the Flow) – but societal pressures can force us into ways of working and producing that go against what’s best for our health, fulfillment and – ironically – our productivity and results
You’ve heard the term hustle culture, where motivation and inspiration is often twisted into a more toxic productivity. Quotes like “I’ve got a dream worth more than my sleep” set us up for a big let down when we’re unable to keep up and take care of ourselves.
In North America, for example, it can feel very career limiting to consider slowing your pace. 24/7 productivity is revered. But here’s the thing: we are not designed to produce non-stop. Us humans are not machines.
In an article from the Harvard Business Review, called Slow Down, You Move Too Fast, Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project and the author of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, says, “I like getting more done, faster, as much as the next guy does. But I also recognize how costly it can be. Speed is the enemy of depth, nuance, subtlety, attention to detail, reflection, learning, and rich relationships – the enemy of much, in short, that makes life worth living.”
When the Hustle isn’t Productive
Some of us may resist slowing down (even when our bodies want to), pushing against our better judgment and powering through. While that ‘hustle’ might get results and success in the shorter term – over the longer term, operating in this state can often lead to health issues, burnout and fractured relationships. And in my experience working with highly productive high-performing executives – it can lead to a lack of fulfillment. It’s usually what’s lying underneath comments like, “I have all of this success, and yet I don’t feel fulfilled.”
Tony Schwartz (in another article) has this to say about multi-tasking and working at hectic speeds, “The biggest cost – assuming you don’t crash – is to your productivity. In part, that’s a simple consequence of splitting your attention, so that you’re partially engage in multiple activities but rarely fully engaged in any one.” He goes on to explain how when you switch from your main task to something else, you’re actually increasing the time it takes to finish the task by an average of 25%. (Yikes!)
Why is it important to find your pace?
Finding your own pace, your own routine frees up brainpower and gives you room to breathe. Plus, it helps your body feel better. Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. writes on “The Art of Pacing” and says, “There is little question that adrenal fatigue, headaches, and gastrointestinal distress among other physical upsets is only the tip of the impact of stress without the buffering positive influence of pacing skills.”
I know that living in today’s world of constant pings, electronic sounds, calls, texts, emails, and everything else can make us feel like we need to be constantly working – but in reality, you can slow down.
Now is your opportunity to find and honor your own pacing.
Step One: Identify your ideal pacing.
Notice when and how you do your best work, and have energy to do the things you most desire in your day – across all aspects of your life. Personally, for me, I know I’m not a night owl. Working at night does not serve me or my clients. I can accomplish in 30 mins at 7am what I would slog through for 3 hours (with poorer quality output) at 11pm. I know this about myself and have firm boundaries about sleep and evening work as a result.
Step Two: Identify any mismatch between your ideal pacing and how you are currently pacing yourself based on your workplace or societal expectations.
Consider: Is this mismatch manageable? With some effort, clarity and boundaries on your part, can you bridge the gap? If the answer is no, you may want to consider a different environment.
Step Three: What practices and boundaries would best serve you to address the mismatch and give your best and meet your essential responsibilities?
Think about ways you can optimize how you approach your day, working with your natural rhythms, to accomplish what’s essential. Getting ruthless in your prioritization is key at this point. Our to-do lists are always longer than what we have time for in the day. What’s essential?
Step Four: Tackle one thing at a time. Multi-tasking does no one any good. How can you work on focusing your attention on one item at a time? Begin by having a list of essential responsibilities for the week (or month, or quarter – you choose the timeframe). Refer to this list daily and prioritize what’s most important to do today and, then, what’s essential to do right now.
Step Five: Learn to recognize when you need rest and restoration before it becomes an urgent requirement (like when you finally take vacation time, and sleep your way through it because your body is so sleep deprived). Take proactive steps – taking breaks for rest and restoration now so you avoid a bigger problem later.
Special note to Leaders: understanding the pace and needs of your team is critical to bringing out the potential of each contributor on your team. Taking a plan-ful, proactive approach at the outset – by getting clear on critical deadlines and expected outcomes up front – can then empower your team members to manage their own pacing and be accountable for results and timing.
Think about what your days, weeks, and months will look like if you take the time to slow down and embrace your pace. How much better will you feel? How much more focused will you be? How much more will you be able to balance the many facets of your life?
Enjoy the topic of work-life fulfillment and finding balance? I have a new book coming out in October 2022, The Big Scale Back: Success and Balance by Your Own Design. Visit stephaniewoodward.com to access related resources and updates about the book.