Slow Down to Speed Up! Also, Bonus Moving Story.

Sorry for the hiatus – we wound up moving on somewhat short notice. Now we’re (mostly) settled in a bee-you-ti-ful new apartment (still in Kalamazoo), so it’s time for another newsletter.

After the move, I was surrounded by mountains of boxes, mountain ranges of boxes. It would have been easy to get overwhelmed, but I made a deliberate decision to stay calm because panic never helps. (As the late, great problem solving guru Jerry Weinberg said, “The problem isn’t the problem. The problem is your reaction to the problem.”)

Our reflex, when faced with an overwhelming and/or unpleasant task, is often to speed up, with the goal of getting it done as fast as possible. But that’s actually the opposite of what you should do. When we rush, the task not only gets more unpleasant, we’re also more likely to make mistakes.

Instead, you want to slow way down and savor the details. Treat every box (or paragraph, or piece of paperwork, or other work unit) as if it’s the only one, and really take your time. When you do that, the work gets pleasanter and easier, and you get a better result. (This approach is similar to Anne Lamott’s recommendation, in Bird by Bird, that you avoid overwhelm by looking at your work through a metaphorical “one-inch picture frame.”)

In my case, slowing down helped me approach my boxes in a relaxed and efficient mood. (Listening to an audiobook while I unpacked helped.) And a scant few hours later, my seemingly insurmountable “mountain ranges” had mostly melted away.

Speaking of the move, I can’t resist sharing the following story of experience triumphing over brute force:

When I hired the moving company I specifically requested, “experienced movers who are good communicators,” but wasn’t too surprised when the usual “three young guys” showed up to do the job. They were very nice and very strong, but ignored my advice to start with the couch. (A big one that needed to go out a small door, then down a steep and twisty staircase.) Instead, they saved it for near the end of the move and, possibly because of a combination of inexperience and fatigue, got it jammed in the apartment door. (And we were all stuck in the apartment behind it!)

They were pretty frustrated–not least because they knew someone had moved the couch up into the apartment, and so it was obviously capable of coming back down–and I did my best to stay calm and give them space. But after more than half an hour of watching them struggle, I finally said, “Guys, you need to call someone.” They resisted for a bit, wanting to solve the problem themselves, then made the call.

A few minutes later, an older guy – it was impossible not to think of him as “the dad” – drove up. He took one look at our jam, snapped on a pair of grippy gloves, and said, “Let’s go.” Ten minutes later, the couch was out of the building and in the truck.

Speaking as an older person in a culture that often deprecates or dismisses people my age, it was a vindicating triumph of experience!

Part of “dad’s” technique, by the way, involved slowing WAYYYYYYYY down during crucial junctures, to the point where they were manipulating the couch (it seemed) one centimeter at a time.

So the next time you’re facing an overwhelming mountain of work, or a seemingly intractable jam of any kind, try taking it slow.

Happy summer! And speaking of which, here’s one of my all-time favorite pieces: How to Live Your Summer Life All Year Long . And here’s Fast Company’s writeup of the technique.

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