I was in a coaching session with a client the other day, and they said to me, “Let’s talk about going slow to go fast. I think I need to learn how to do that.”

My client is a senior leader in a dynamically growing organization, and their task and responsibility lists seem to keep growing – exponentially – every day. There is simply too much for them to do, and my client is wise enough to know they can’t keep up at their current speed…and they can’t figure out how to stop.

That’s why they realized they need to go more slowly, in order to go fast. To slow down, pause, choose what truly needs to be done, and respond rather than react. So that their choices and actions would be more Thoughtful and effective.

It seems counterintuitive to slow down and take pauses when your to do list seems to have a mind of its own and overwhelm is a constant state. But it’s often exactly what we need. The reality, as I shared with my client, is it’s often not humanly possible to get it all done, and it’s not humanly sustainable to keep trying as if you can.

As at least some of you know, I had my extreme journey into this learning over the past year-and-a-half. I was sideswiped by some health (and life) challenges, and I had no choice but to go slower. Or to completely stop at times. I still am facing that – both the ripple effects of the challenges and the need to go slower than I’m used to. Or that I used to.

It’s not always an easy shift. But it is possible. Here are a few key steps that helped me and that I shared with my client:

  • Notice what’s going on – There is a reason there’s a powerful saying, “Awareness is the first step.” We need to notice that we’re going too quickly or when we’re running out of sustainable steam. If we can learn how we feel when we’re speeding – in our brain, our body, or our interactions with others – we have more of a chance to pause, take a breath, and be in choice.
  • Figure out what’s really important – We often share Stephen Covey’s Urgent/Important matrix with our clients, because much of our time is often spent on things that feel urgent but that aren’t important. When we get close to burnout, much of our time might be spent on things that are neither urgent or important. It’s important to realize what’s really important, so that we can figure out how to do those things first…and well.
  • Lower your expectations for yourself – If, like my client, you define yourself by your ability to do it all and to overachieve (and to overachieve well), you probably have to lower your expectations for how much you can do and how well you can do it. I’ve had to learn to give myself tons of grace and compassion when I’m not able to function as well as I used to. Chances are your “not up to your usual standard” is still quite good enough. Going slow to go fast requires you to let good enough be enough at times and to realize that the things you don’t get done leave you space, time, and energy to do the important tasks well.
  • Notice how it’s working – Again, this approach may seem counterintuitive, and you might feel worried that things will fall apart. It’s important to notice when your slower pace yields greater results, because this will reinforce your ability to go slow when necessary.
  • Learn as you go – Going slow to go fast may seem like a weird leadership choice, and it may kick up anxiety about underachieving, but it also may help you realize the things that don’t need to get done and the cracks in your organization’s systems or lack of resources that need to be addressed. As you slow down, it’s essential to pay attention to what shows up.

My client is still working on going slow to go fast, as am I. In the process, they’re already noticing the increased clarity, stamina, and enthusiasm they have again, which will help them keep going.

When have you had to go slow to go fast? How did it go for you?
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If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.

For support in going slower, contact Lisa at lkohn@chatsworthconsulting.com.

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