Slow Down to Speed Up | TechWell

Slow Down to Speed Up

Tortoise walking slowly through grass, photo by Luca Ambrosi

In reading Endurance, astronaut Scott Kelly’s amazing story of his year aboard the International Space Station, I came across this saying that he recalled: “Slow is efficient. Efficient is fast. Slow is fast.”

Kelly mentioned this saying in the context of a near emergency that required two of his fellow astronauts to cut short a spacewalk. As he put it, “We want them back inside quickly, but rushing increases the chances of something going wrong. So we go through the procedures methodically, one by one, so as to be sure we aren’t screwing anything up.” On the space station, some mistakes can withstand a simple oops. Other mistakes can be fatal.

But it’s not just in the world of astronauts that rushing can cause serious damage. Back here on Earth, we seem to live in a world of go, go, go in an attempt to do more, sooner, faster. This is the age of speed-everything: speed networking, speed yoga, speed mindfulness. Yet, rushing around doesn’t necessarily improve productivity or result in doing things better. Instead, it increases your chances of being stressed and causing stress for the people around you.

Moreover, a do-it-faster approach almost guarantees an increase in errors, some with potentially catastrophic consequences. And it necessitates additional time spent in rework—if you’re lucky enough to catch the errors in time.

When I was an IT manager, my boss’s boss often bemoaned, “How is it we never have time to do it right but we always have time to do it over?” The problems he was referring to could have been avoided with a slower, more careful approach. But once they occurred, they were too serious to ignore; they had to be corrected.

In any case, the antidote for rush-rush-rush isn’t to become a sloth. It’s simply slowing down. Take longer to do your next task, incorporate an occasional break, and do something other than work, just briefly. For example, choose two activities that you usually multitask, and for a few minutes, do each one without the distraction of the other. Or once an hour, spend a few minutes doing nothing, just letting your mind wander. At home, take a few minutes to sit quietly before turning the TV on or doing more web-surfing. Take time to breathe. Get to know your inner tortoise.

Sure, sometimes, there’s a need to rush. Sometimes, the deadline is hard and fast with no time for dawdling. And sometimes, an issue arises that requires urgent attention. But slowing down and being methodical, as Kelly and his fellow astronauts had to do, may be one of the best ways to get the job done quickly—and right the first time.

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