Slowing Down to Increase Productivity
2020 was a year in which we were all forced to slow down and take some unexpected time off. People everywhere were “re-evaluating their priorities” and joining the “slow” movement, realizing that they had been traveling at the speed of light for a long time. I was hopeful that the mass-realization that we don’t have to push ourselves quite so hard would stay with us once we returned to “normal.” Just a week into the post-mask world, however, it seems we are right back to our crazy-busy selves.
While it may seem counter-intuitive, slowing down increases productivity because it allows us to fully process thoughts and ideas, leading to clarity about the best order in which to handle things and the simplest way to do so. We comprehend better. We make far better decisions when we’re not making snap judgments about a situation. When we feel rushed or pressured, we tend to agree to things we wouldn’t have after more careful consideration, and to more readily see those aspects of a situation which could be problematic, either immediately or down the road.
One of the first casualties of our productivity when we get so busy is efficiency. When there are multiple areas requiring our attention, we find ourselves pinging from one priority to the next, trying to keep all the balls in the air, and frequently failing. We end up doing half of a job before a different task calls us, so we pivot to that task until a third interrupts us yet again. At the end of the day, nothing is entirely complete and we’re facing yet another super busy day tomorrow.
Each time we check our email, it takes an average of sixty-four seconds to return to work once we are finished. Each time. The same is true for every text received, and the average is even longer after a phone call. Consider that the average person now unlocks their phone 150 (!) times per day. That can add up to two and a half hours of lost productivity every day.
We can easily up our efficiency levels by implementing strategies such as only checking emails at certain times throughout the workday, scheduling blocks of time for specific tasks, or even using efficiency hacks that I’ve discussed here before, like the “pomodoro method.” Can you imagine what it would be like to recover over two hours of lost time per day?
A second area which suffers when we are too rushed is comprehension. When we are “super busy,” we don’t take the time to read or listen carefully to clients or colleagues who are communicating with us, either verbally or through an email or text. We miss important messages, critical information, and we devalue our colleagues and their own busy schedules at the same time.
Personally, I spend a long time crafting written communications so that they are clear, specific to one topic at a time, and not too wordy. Little is more frustrating to me than to receive an email back asking a question that was answered in the text of my original email. This happens all the time - at least once a week, honestly. I realize that we are all busy and it may be easier to shoot off an email asking about just the one specific topic of several addressed that is important to the recipient at that moment, rather than reading through several paragraphs of information. But please consider the original source. They then have to stop whatever important work they are doing to answer the question for a second time.
In fact, please remember this whenever contacting a colleague – if you are crazy-busy, they are probably equally so! Is your question one that can be answered with a bit of research, rather than interrupting someone else’s day? I am certainly not suggesting that you don’t reach out for help, and hope that every member and student knows that I am ardently in favor of asking for assistance when you need it! But do please consider that we are all facing the same jam-packed days and think a bit before hitting ‘send’ on that request.
Perhaps the most serious casualty of over-busyness is that it is so much easier to make mistakes, sometimes critical ones, when we don’t take the time to properly assess our priorities, create a game plan, and then execute it in a logical manner. And, no matter your typical procedures or protocols, a sense of urgency can easily derail even the most professional among us.
I recently met with a client in my office. We had an appointment for me to perform an insurance appraisal on a large, quite valuable ring. But when the client arrived, they had brought a second item which was also, technically, jewelry, but which had other intrinsic and provenance-related characteristics which made it more of a valuation challenge than was initially apparent. Although the scope of any appointment is clearly defined ahead of time, it is not uncommon for me to add an extra item brought at the last minute, provided it will be included in the same report, with an identical purpose and function, if I have the time.
This client was in a hurry, and while I typically respond to being rushed with “perhaps you’d like to reschedule for another date when you’re not so busy,” in this case I allowed their tension to affect my own behavior and hurriedly began examining the second item as well. It wasn’t until I reached the actual valuation stage of the assignment that I slowed down enough to question my actions. I should have recognized immediately that the second item was not something that could be easily and quickly valued, and certainly not in a while-you-wait scenario. But because I allowed myself to be influenced by the client’s own “urgent” demeanor, I started on something I shouldn’t have. I not only tacitly accepted a new assignment, but also wasted both of our time by beginning the examination, only to stop in the middle and tell the client I couldn’t appraise the second item at that time after all. They were gracious, but it was unprofessional and I was then flustered for the remainder of the meeting.
It is embarrassing to admit that I still make these kinds of mistakes from time to time, but I want to show how easily it can happen, even with plenty of experience and procedures in place to avoid exactly this scenario. At least for me, rushing almost always leads to poor decisions. Take a deep breath, step back, and don’t afraid to be silent while you think through a situation before speaking.
I feel incredibly lucky to be as busy as I am right now, and I am delighted to hear many colleagues saying the same, particularly after the incredibly difficult year we’ve just been through. I, too, am eager to return to “normal” activity, including the happy hurry of a full work week, seeing clients again, and attending conferences in person. However, I do hope we can remember some of the valuable lessons learned over this last year. Very little is truly urgent, jewelry-appraisal-related matters in particular. Someone else’s failure to plan is not your emergency. Set aside time in your schedule to catch up to file things properly between clients or just to take a few minutes to yourself to recharge before the next tricky gem identification.
Let’s try to retain just some of that slowness we enjoyed last summer: time to make careful decisions, good choices, and truly focus on the critical parts of our fascinating jobs. Our clients, and we, deserve nothing less.