Slow It Down!

by Paul McDonnold

As we move into summer, things often seem to slow down a bit. The “rapids” that characterize our stream of life settle back into a smooth current. This is an appropriate time to address an issue that many of us face today – the speed at which our lives, particularly our business lives, move.

Over 100 years ago, Henry Adams (a descendant of two American presidents–John Adams and John Quincy Adams) penned a classic essay titled “A Law of Acceleration.” A trained historian, Adams observed that the rate of human progress seemed to be increasing at an increasing rate over time. To him, and presumably to others living around 1900, the rate of technological progress already seemed dizzying. Thousands of years of animal transportation had been mostly replaced by steam engines and new gas-powered contraptions called automobiles. The force of electricity was being harnessed in exciting new ways, such as providing light. The Wright brothers’ first flight was just around the corner.

From this vantage point, Adams looked out on the coming century and speculated about the amazing and rapid technological progress that was to come, and how much the human mind would have to adapt as a result. He died in 1918, and so would not live to see most of the twentieth’s century’s progress. But from our vantage point in 2013, we can see how right he was about the speed at which progress would happen. But our adaptation to it may leave something to be desired.

Many in the business world are familiar with the problem. A constant barrage of emails, text messages and phone calls prevent us from concentrating – prevent us from doing our best work. So maybe the best adaptation we can make to the speed of modern life is to slow things down by pulling back a bit from the hyper-connectedness of technology. I can report that such an approach can increase not only the quality of your work but also the quality of your life.

New quarterbacks joining the NFL often talk about how fast things happen on the field–so fast they are unable to orient themselves. The results are sacks, interceptions and all-around lousy play. Through study and practice, successful quarterbacks are able to, as they put it, “slow things down.” One theory of sports takes this further and claims that the most successful athletes perceive things around them happening at a slower pace than others do, giving them more time to react.

How can we take a lesson from this? How can we slow things down in our own lives to become more successful, and perhaps even happier? One simple way is to only check emails at certain times each day – say every three hours. The idea is to cut off constant, and often trivial, technological intrusions into our focus.

It takes an act of faith. The fear is you might miss something critical, or fall behind the latest developments. The reality, I have found, is that you are surprised by how much more you can get done, and how much better you are able to do it.

But don’t take my word for it, give it a try yourself. Don’t forget I am here if you want help on anything, and have a great summer!