Stop huffing, wheezing and flailing: Slow down to speed up

I go to the gym in the mornings, usually hitting the bike or treadmill or both. One day I was running on the treadmill next to this guy who seemed to be going full tilt. I go to the gym in the mornings, usually hitting the bike or treadmill or both. One day I was running on the treadmill next to this guy who seemed to be going full tilt. Arms swinging around, footsteps pounding the tread loudly. But what struck me most was the unbelievable wheezing, snorting, coughing and throat clearing he had going on. He was making more noise than me and the other 15 treadmillers combined. It was distracting. And disgusting.

Since that first time I noticed him, he’s become a regular at the gym (you know who you are, purple shorts), and I do whatever I can to avoid being within earshot of him on the treadmills. But, I ended up on a stationary bike right in front of him a couple of days ago, and as I listened to him pounding and wheezing away, his wild inefficiency struck me as a clear business lesson.

For the past year, our firm has been fortunate enough to be growing fast. This keeps us all very busy of course, and we’re glad for it. But as the economy bounces back, more and more of my peers here and at other companies seem to be running so fast they can’t catch their breath.

The competing deadlines, demanding clients, squeezed resources and high stakes put on projects can lure us all into a false notion that speed is everything. That response time is the ticket to success. We’re wrong.

Just as Mr. Purple Shorts at my gym could improve his times dramatically by shortening his stride, lowering his heart rate, and trimming the many inefficiencies from his gait, sometimes we need to slow down to speed up.

Do you fall into this category? Do you find yourself running from one meeting to the next with scarce time to do the work that comes out of them? Are you typically focused on the latest urgent request from your client or boss, without regard for what’s most important on your to-do list? Is it hard to discern what you accomplished at the end of the day?

If you (or your team) could answer “yes” to these questions, take a hard look at your work process. Force yourself not to respond immediately to the latest urgent request. Instead, stop everything for a moment prioritize your workload, divide and delegate assignments across your team, and establish clear timelines, processes and accountability measures.

Yes, it takes a little more time, but it’s well worth it. That’s the point. At the end of the day, you should have a clear sense of what you accomplished today and what you need to accomplish tomorrow. If you’re not there, don’t keep huffing, wheezing and flailing. You’re wasting valuable energy. Slow down. Find the real source of your speed. You and your team will be able to go farther, faster, using a lot less energy.