It’s a fast-paced world out there. Everyone is going faster and faster to try and match the pace of technological change. But by hurrying through life, many people are doing more harm than good to their health and productivity. They never have time to stop and consider what they’re doing, and they end up rushing into things without the planning required to do them right, leading to disappointing results, stress and anxiety.
It’s an old adage that “slow and steady wins the race,” but that doesn’t mean it’s outdated. It’s possible to be comfortable and productive in a fast-paced world without letting it stress you beyond your breaking point. It is possible to set up a framework for life that lets you move methodically step by step without losing track of the big picture.
Instead of the stressing and muddling through, by methodically tackling your work at a moderate rate, you can remain productive without the stress and mistakes caused by rushing and hurry. Below, John Gizowski, La Grange, Illinois Project Manager, explains the three steps that will help you get to that stress-free mindset.
Walking Through the Day
John Steinbeck, one of the great American writers, published a productive 27 books during his 66 years, but he didn’t get there by rushing. Instead, he decided on his goals and set to work tackling them methodically and calmly. In one of those 27 books, he described how, “so often men trip by being in a rush. If one were properly to perform a difficult and subtle act, he should first inspect the act to be achieved and then he should forget it completely and concentrate solely on the means.”
Steinbeck was a man of thoughtful moderation. By forgetting the goal, he didn’t mean that people should lose sight of the big picture, he meant that once you’ve noted the big picture, you should stop fretting about it. Once you’ve decided on a goal, stop expending energy worrying about getting there, and instead focus on actually getting there.
For a writer like Steinbeck this meant that if he decided to work on a novel, he put the thought of the novel aside and focused on writing each chapter and each sentence. For someone like a programmer, this might mean that once they’ve decided on an app to develop, they focus solely on each module and each line of code that makes up the whole.
“Moderation in all things” is another old adage, but business consultant Avivah Wittenberg-Cox thinks that many people could still learn from it today. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, she laments how people in business always have to be doing something in the extreme, leaving little time for balance in their lives, and leading to mistakes and burnouts.
Obviously, a good work ethic is important for business success, but there’s a difference between working enough and working too much. And there’s a difference from working hard methodically and working hard stressfully. Wittenberg-Cox, like Steinbeck, suggests methodical examination of what you’re doing to keep you going in the right direction with the minimum of effort. To keep with the current preference for the extreme, she calls her approach “extreme moderation.”
How to Be Productive in the Moderate Extreme
In order to work efficiently, first figure out your goals, and only then dive into the process. That might sound obvious, but many people dive into work without even knowing why. When starting towards a new goal or project, for example, if you are a retail mall kiosk , ask yourself three questions:
- Why do I want to achieve this goal? That is, what is the motivation behind your goal? To make more money? To increase your value or your company’s value? Simply to improve yourself?
- What are the steps I need to achieve my goal? That is, how should you lay out a framework for completing your goal by breaking it into smaller, more manageable pieces?
- How much time do I want to spend on this goal? That is, what is the importance of this goal versus the importance of other goals and requirement on your time?
Knowing the why of your goal will motivate you, through it and help you break it down. Breaking it into a step-by-step process will keep you on track and organized, instead of muddling through. And laying out how much time you have for your goal will give you a clearer idea of how long it will take you to achieve your goal.
Only once you’ve answered these questions should you get started. And once you’ve answered these questions you can put the question of achieving the goal away, because you already have a general idea of how to get there. Now you will be able to focus on driving forward at each individual task instead of worrying about where you’re going.
This three-step process works for any sort of goal, large or small. Even completing small tasks, if it requires more than simple routine work, is less painful if you’ve answered these three questions first. Imagine you need to get across town while juggling three different closely placed appointments. You could muddle through the day and end it exhausted, or you take just a few minutes to plan it beforehand, leaving your energy for action instead of stressful on-the-spot last-minute planning.
Extreme Moderation in Moderation
Of course, extreme moderation may be too extreme. Most people seem to need some release and retreat from everyday life, at least sometimes. A good party or a peaceful vacation are often good ways to get away from the stresses of work.
Still, not every break is considered equal. Instead of partying every weekend, maybe a walk in the forest might give more time for your mind to unwind and sort through backlogs of information. Instead of training all the time for a marathon, perhaps a few miles would do, leaving more time to recover from already busy work schedules (never mind it being better on the knees.)
Moderation does not mean mediocrity. Moderation is a form of self-control that will help you stay productive and efficient over the long term instead of using up all your energy in quick bursts. Instead of stressing through goals, recognize where you’re going and plan how to get their first, then you can forget about where you’re going and just focus on getting there.