Slow Down – The Hidden Key to Getting More Done


Busyness and productivity aren’t the same thing. Running around doing tasks isn’t the same thing as accomplishing something important. Hearing isn’t the same as listening and empathizing isn’t the same as nodding your head at the right times. It’s easy to get caught up striving for the illusion of what you’re really after. I’ve found that often it is necessary to slow down in order to accomplish something meaningful.

The key for productivity used to be time-management. That means, the busiest people are the people who get the most done. The people who sleep four hours a night, neglect their families and churn through tasks without breaks are the champions of work.

While working more is definitely a recipe to get more done, it can also backfire. Running around, missing sleep and multitasking may get more done, but it doesn’t guarantee that anything important is being accomplished. Steve Covey describes this as climbing a ladder as fast as you can without realizing it is leaning against the wrong house.

The Key is Focus

Instead of time-management, I’ve found a far more useful method is measuring your focus. If you aren’t able to completely focus, it doesn’t matter how much time you invest, you still won’t get much done. Focus requires slowness, and slowness is something that has been lost in daily life.

Many Eastern philosophies emphasize focusing on the now. Becoming completely aware of what is happening currently, rather than imagining and formulating about far-off places and future events. This requires you to patiently focus on what you are currently doing rather than have your mind jump to the next several tasks ahead of you. Being in the now requires slowing down.

Slowing Down Reduces Stress

If you’ve ever felt like pulling your hair out after a frustrating day, the problem is trying to go to fast. Splitting your focus between many different things at once can burn you out mentally, even if you accomplish little. Slowing down to focus only on the immediate task ahead allows you to accomplish more while remaining fairly relaxed.

Slowing down also increases your ability to enter a state of flow. By removing your sense of urgency, you can completely involve yourself at the work at hand. Ultimately, this improves the quality and speed of work as your concentration makes productivity come smoothly.

Time is Limited, Focus Is Not

When you replace focus as the key to productivity, not time management, it becomes clear that the time each day has a strict upper bound. Trying to do too much may speed you up, but it will eventually burn you out.

Slowing down forces you to prioritize and to drop what isn’t important. Surprisingly, when I slow down I often find I end up accomplishing more. I believe that this is because slowing down uses your energy more efficiently, so you aren’t dragging your feet through exhaustion.

How to Slow Down

I’m not perfect at being slow and it has taken me considerable effort to restrain my natural impulse to work with urgency and multitask. Here are a few suggestions you might want to try to slow yourself down to get more done with less stress:

  1. Walk Places. Park the car and try walking to different places. Walking around helped me break the conditioning that wasting time was more critical than wasting focus. Deliberately taking walks may reduce your time, but it forces you to slow down your thinking so you can focus.
  2. Cook Meals. Spend more time cooking a proper meal rather than whipping together something quick. While both cooking and walking may take too much time to indulge in every day, it’s useful to slow yourself down regularly with mundane tasks.
  3. Review Time. Commit to spending a few minutes in review every few days. Writing down your goals, progress and thinking out problems can improve your creativity while slowing you down.

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  • Jean Browman–Cheerful Monk

    I recently wrote a related post: Are You Spending Enough time “Doing Nothing”. How else are you going to figure out what’s really important?

  • Shamelle @ Enhance Life

    well my how to slow down, would be just do nothing. Ya, simple as it sounds I get a loads of ideas when I am idle.

    Wish you a merry Christmas!

  • Russ

    Everyone I know is always in a rush, and they never have time to sit down and do a decent job at anything. As the saying goes if a job needs doing its worth doing well.

    Quality is all about time, and spending time thinking is very important. It is true Scott – slowling down can help you get more things done.

  • Cathy

    I found this out exactly recently. I’m a very mature new (soon to be 2nd year) University student. It had been well over 35yrs since I had to knuckle down and study. When the exams for Sem2 came around I had, I thought made a good plan for revision but I was soon overwhelmed and bogged down (the grade on the first exam reflect that a B). So I put in place a new quality over quantity which went like this. I would put in a couple of hours revision – mixed up over re-reading, reading, memorizing & other stuff; then go get food & leave the Learning Quarter; come back. At some point go home (easier to study at Uni. I mixed it up with a couple of novels, computer games & so on…..this reflected in the grades of the next 2 exams of a B+ and A-. It appears that slowing down; rejigging my notes into a table format that was easy to flick through & flash cards was better all around….

  • Mark Freedman

    Scott, you always show wisdom well beyond your years.

    I recently posted a related topic, with some tips on making use of the calendar to focus:….

  • Scott Young

    Thanks for the article, an interesting read.

  • jd

    I agree — focus is key. Energy and avoiding task switches are the other keys.

    While energy is the key for incredible, bursty results, don’t depend on bursts of inspiration for all your results. Schedule results. It’s an AND. Leverage bursty results and but get consistent results using scheduled timeboxes.

    Here’s a few posts you might enjoy:
    * Rituals for Results –
    * The Secret of Time Management –
    * How To Use Time-boxing for Results –
    * Timebox Your Day –

  • Alik

    I completely agree about “focus” part. I focus on end result. The precedence of prioritization and focus I make is: prioritize and focus the important categories in your life [family, job, personal dev], prioritize and focus on outcomes in each category, prioritize and focus on tasks to achieve the outcomes, then allocate and manage time for each task