Written by Charles Wookey
When my oldest son first went to primary school, his warm and wise reception teacher summed him up well: “that boy is on permanent fast-forward”. We never did find the pause button. Even now, at 28, sitting still is not his forte. I’ve long realised that his father is partly to blame. My own nature is to crack on with life, filling each day with as much content as possible, and running when walking might do. The working world reinforces these tendencies. Whatever our normal predisposition, the relentless demands of the digital world and pressure to deliver can turn us into action addicts. A constant focus on process and performance squeezes out time for thinking. With no slack, we all too easily confuse ‘busyness’ with effectiveness. Decisions are made on instinct with little time to question our initial assumptions: thus reinforcing hidden biases and creating ‘closed cultures’ void of real challenge.
Blueprint challenges ideas about behaviour in business. We believe that people are more fulfilled and businesses more effective when action is deliberate and conscious. Deliberation and consciousness however, requires time – a commodity often in short supply.
At a recent team meeting, one of our youngest staff members called us out: are we actually living out the practices that we are encouraging others to adopt? As the organisation has grown, we’ve found less time for communication, challenging each other and quality reflection. As a team, we were at risk of sliding into action addiction.
In response to this collective realisation, we decided to conduct an experiment: ‘Slow down to speed up’. We chose a week (about a month in advance) and each committed to building ‘lag time’ into our diaries around each one of our meetings. 10 minutes beforehand would be allocated for planning and preparation; 20 minutes afterwards would be purely for thought and reflection (free of emails, phones and technology). We decided to keep notes of what our thoughts, feelings and actions were during this time period and to share our experiences at the end of the week.
It was less than a smooth start. Merely an hour into the week, I was phoned with an urgent request from a CEO we are engaged with. All plans for reflection went out of the window and there was a scramble to get a task done. I left the office feeling frazzled and disappointed I hadn’t been able to commit to the experiment.
Luckily, the rest of the week seemed to go without too many hiccups. Whilst it was hard to build in time (which wasn’t just a few minutes on the tube) before meetings, the occasions that I managed to spend a full 10 minutes in quiet mode beforehand made a strange difference. I found I was more relaxed, less preoccupied with my own agenda and more attentive to theirs.
Likewise, having 20 minutes set aside after each meeting just to ‘think’ was incredibly powerful. It was liberating to have the “permission to reflect”, rather than feeling that I had to move straight on to the next thing on my list. Reflecting in this much more structured way allowed me to recall elements of the conversation which could have easily been forgotten later. It allowed me to replay the dialogue, to notice more nuances and reflect on what had not been said, and how I might have asked better questions. I must admit that I didn’t always use the full 20 minute window, but it was wonderful to know that I had it there.
Space in the diary created space in the mind.
Our team meeting at the end of that week was different. Everyone had prepared more beforehand and we all noticed how much more useful and productive it was as a result. We realised that for the preceding 5 days, all of us had been more intentional: every meeting was entered into with thought, and new opportunities were carefully considered, rather than jumped at. We realised a number of benefits in ‘slowing down’:
– It helps productivity by working better, rather than longer
– It deepens relationships by being more connected and present to the person you’re meeting – they gain more value from the encounter too
– It makes you more aware of other times when you’re not being productive
– It helps to move group-think from “we must be doing stuff all the time” and towards an environment where thinking and reflecting is welcome
– It is more satisfying
The Blueprint team have committed to revisit the experiment in 6 weeks to see if any of us have stuck to our own top tips and managed to change our habits for the long term. That is, if we can find the time…