The Productivity Paradox: How slowing down can speed things up
- Posted by Liz Gooster
- 2 Comments
- creativity, mindfulness, multidisciplinary, productivity paradox, Roger Kneebone, space, strategic thinking
There is a French phrase, bobine arrière pour bondir, which I heard a while ago and which has stuck with me. It means ‘coil back in order to spring forward’ and it effortlessly captures some concepts I’ve been reflecting on and playing with for a while, in relation to my own productivity, performance and wellbeing. As an energetic, action-oriented person, my natural inclination is to press on, to ‘just get on with it’ and I am often impatient to see results. This means I am busy, and get a lot of things done. But are they always the right things, and am I doing them as well as I possibly could?
One of the things I’m beginning to realise is that actually, the times when I’m most productive, when I feel an energy that is calm and generative rather than frantic, when I feel fulfilled and fresh with a ‘new school term, new shoes, new pencil case’ sense of promise, is when I have a bit of space around the edges. Not too much, or I become lethargic and unmotivated: I need the stimulation that comes from activity and from interacting with others. But more than I might have imagined a few years back. Now I’m aware that a sense of spaciousness, with time to think, read, reflect and review, allows me to flourish and to perform better. When I can take a step back, I feel more creative, I make new and exciting connections between ideas and people. I feel that I’m learning and developing rather than just doing. I am able to consider and choose, respond rather than react.
For several years, I’ve been applying this concept in my offsite strategy days, which give me the chance to get away from my endless to-do lists and immerse myself gently in the bigger picture of my business and my life. I’m not knocking my lists, I love them, but they guide a different sort of output, they’re a tool I use for productivity and focus rather than new insights. A short daily (well, almost!) mindfulness practice is also something I’ve come to really appreciate and value. It may seem counter-intuitive to prioritise 10 or 15 minutes a day sitting doing nothing when your clients need attention and your inbox is clamouring for responses. Yet it illustrates the ‘slowing down to step up’ principle perfectly.
Stepping back is not about giving up on achievements, or being lazy. For me it’s about recharging my energies and marshalling my thoughts. When I ‘coil back’ for a while, whether it’s a day out of the office, a brief meditation, a week-long retreat, or a power hour in a coffee shop reading or writing or thinking (or all three – I can’t always throw off my multi-tasking tendencies!), I feel much more equipped to spring forward again, refuelled and ready. There is huge value for me in getting away from my desk for a bit and allowing space for serendipity. It allows me to lift my head up, look around, observe, notice, contemplate, get input from across the borders and outside the blinkers. This could mean dipping into Twitter and following up a chain of blog posts that catch my interest, or browsing through Harvard Business Review or Psychologies magazine, or reaching out to reconnect with someone I haven’t been in touch with for a while. Or it could be something completely random: I’m captivated by the principle of learning across boundaries and I’m drawn to the work of people like Roger Kneebone, who take multi-disciplinarity to unconventional levels. The advanced version of this for me would be taking myself off to a gallery or somewhere on a work day, but I’m a novice rather than a graduate of this idea, so this is still an occasional thing rather than a regular practice! Whatever I do, my brief shift of gear usually leaves me rejuvenated. I may press on in the same direction as before, or, having had that pause, and the opportunity to think to think more broadly, at ease, I may turn towards a new direction.
This is the productivity paradox: to go faster, you sometimes need to slow down. None of this is new, of course: Archimedes famously had his Eureka moment while lying in his bath, not while working in his laboratory. And there has been much discussion of how investing in new business processes, especially in IT, doesn’t always generate the desired increases in productivity. But for me at least, I sometimes need to remind myself that I need to coil back in order to spring forward, with a new sense of purpose and clarity and with added power.
If you liked this post, you might also like:
- Digital Detox, my post on a restful and recharging Italian retreat
- The Six and a Half Hour Breathing Space, my post about a silent mindfulness day
- The Mindful Workplace, my review of Michael Chaskalson’s book
- The Power Hour, my post on how to get more done by using short bursts of super productivity
I like to describe myself as happily ‘At Large’ in an independent portfolio career, balancing coaching, leadership development, coach training and being a mum to my young daughter. Positive psychology is a big influence on my work and I’ve recently gained an MSc in Applied Positive Psychology & Coaching Psychology from the University of East London. My interests include reading, writing, travel, yoga, Zumba, coffee and wine! Connect with me on LinkedIn and sign up for my newsletter, Positive Intentions.