Slowing down to speed up

I learned late in my career that working long hours did not equate to the importance of my job and the success of my career. 

I learned to ask ‘how urgent’ someone’s request was, and that asking to push out a deadline was not detrimental to my career. In fact, deadlines were often quite negotiable, and I could deliver higher quality work with less stress and, as I had more time to think, I could also be more creative. 

So often I had delivered within the period of time that constituted ‘urgent’ for me, only to receive an ‘out of office message’ from the person I was delivering to. I had never asked when the actual deadline was. 

In fact, being too available made my colleagues believe that I couldn’t be that busy, as I always had time to deliver within short timelines. My colleagues began to disrespect my time and workload because they had no idea as to what I was working on and if it had a much higher priority than what they were asking me to do.

But why change? My rational brain was telling me that everything I had done to date, had brought me the success I had. I had been rewarded for my ‘bad behaviour’ with ‘well done, congratulations and thank you’ when I succeeded, or delivered a good piece of work. And, it felt fabulous!

As my career continued, I became well known for my quick turnarounds, quality work, and more and more people asked me to get involved in projects. I was busy, was making a name for myself, made promotion and I felt very successful. I had arrived!

Like many of my clients, you too may be telling yourself that your long hours are necessary, so as to hold on to your job. But how is your behaviour serving you?

Many of our behaviours are habits. We tell ourselves ‘lies’ like, ‘if I don’t get the work done now, I will be fired from my job’. We are actually worrying about future events, that may not ever happen. But, the habits that got you where you are today are not the ones that will bring you success in future.

I have challenged a number of my very busy clients to slow down, to challenge ‘urgent and hard’ deadlines, and to put themselves first, both mentally and physically. It’s been a few months and none of them have noticed any detrimental effects; instead, they report feeling less stressed and more in control as they are challenging their own beliefs and assumptions about how they work and use their time. By putting their own oxygen mask on first, they are achieving so much more.

Reflection is a brilliant way to become aware of what drives you, what and who triggers you and what your standard responses and ‘bad habits’ may be. Gibbs reflective learning cycle (Graham Gibbs, 1988) can help you on your way to self-awareness and eventually self-care. The complete model and instructions of how to use it are below.

DESCRIPTION: Provide a factual description of the situation. Do not draw any conclusions at this stage. Focus on the information that is relevant. Use questions such as: What happened? How did it happen? Where? When? Who else was there? Did someone react? How did they react? Why were you there? What did you do? What happened at the end? This builds up the background and a better understanding of the situation.

FEELINGS: Describe any emotion that you felt during the situation. Use questions such as:  ‘What did you feel before the situation? What did you feel during the situation? And, after it was all over? What do you feel about the incident now?

EVALUATION: Objectively evaluate the situation. What went well? What did not? What were the negatives and the positives of the situation? How did you and the others contribute to it (positively or negatively).

ANALYSIS: Think about what might have hindered or helped the situation.

CONCLUSION: Consider what you learned from the situation. What else could you have done in that situation? What skills will help you cope with it better next time? How differently would you react if you faced a similar situation in future? If the outcomes were negative, how could you do things differently next time? If the outcomes were positive, how could you replicate what you did?

ACTION PLAN: In this part of the cycle, you are putting together a plan of action i.e. how to effectively improve the situation next time. Is there any training, skill, or habit that you need to learn or unlearn, to equip you with handling the situation better if it occurs again? Work out the areas that need work and action them.

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