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How to Slow Down

How to Slow Down
    Slow down, you're moving too fast...

    At this time of year you really need to slow down. With all of the hustle and bustle of a busy shopping season and the frenetic pace many take on to close all of their “open loops”, we lose sight of the fact that this is the time of year to take stock of where we were, where we are and where we want to be going forward.

    I was having coffee with a good friend and we talked about how this year we seem to be “busier” than we have in years’ past. It’s as if the amount of information and demands coming our way have increased so that everyone can close out the year with as much done as possible. I compare it to the time of year when the “taxman cometh” in that we’re trying to get as much bang for our earned dollar that we can before the calendar turns over to a new fiscal year.

    Basically, we’re trying to run on overdrive when all we have left is fumes in the tank.

    The end of the year doesn’t mean the end of life. We’re not approaching teh finish line – we’re approaching the end of a lap. We’ve got a lot more race to run, and we need to keep that in mind so that we don’t wind up wondering what it is we still have to do at a time of year when we should be taking time to just enjoy ourselves. It’s time to slow down…and here’s how you can do that:

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    Breathe.

    Even as I write this I can’t help but look at my to-do list out of the corner of my eye and notice how long it is. I can feel myself getting anxious, knowing I still have gifts to wrap, cards to send and work to do. So right now I’m going to take a pause and just breathe deeply, focusing only on my breath and being in that moment alone.

    I closed my eyes while taking several breaths. It felt good. Even after coming out of that moment or two, I feel focused on the task at hand. My to-do list is not even part of the equation now. I am standing with a better posture, am thinking more clearly and my heart rate has slowed. I feel calmer as a result of just taking two minutes to close my eyes and breathe deeply and with resolve.

    You may have to do this more times than usual when the pace heats up to a level that it tends to do during the holidays season. In fact, you will have to – at least if you want to be able to get things done efficiently and effectively. By taking time to do this you will be making time to do everything else.

    Even when you feel as if everything else is spinning out of control, your own breath is something that is always under your control, never spinning. So…just breathe.

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    Go out for a good meal.

    I’m not talking about fast food here, either. You need to go out either by yourself or with those close to you and have a good sit-down meal. Treat yourself to it. It’s a great way to slow things down – to enjoy the process of a meal as intended. You’re giving yourself the time to eat, drink and be merry…or in your own thoughts.

    Having a meal where you only need to order and not cook also gives you the time to, as mentioned, be with your own thoughts. I’ve come up with some great ideas – or solution to problems – while waiting for a meal or eating one in a restaurant. It’s those moments that have a harder time coming to you when you’re busy with the making of something. You’re feeding your mind, body and soul when you give yourself the gift of a good meal. Take it a step further and skip the making portion of it altogether – just once during the next week or so.

    It’s time well tasted.

    Run somewhere, anywhere. Preferably outdoors.

    It’s amazing what a good run will do for you. You’d think that by moving faster that your mind would try to keep up, but that’s not the case when you go for a run. Your mind tends to wander, and it slows down in the process. The rush against your face of the cool air adds a freshness that can’t be found when doing anything else that you have control over. There’s a freedom to running around, a feeling that you can go anywhere and not be hindered by roads or trails. Your mind gets that freedom as well.

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    Sometimes I bring a recorder to capture my thoughts, but often I don’t when I run. I just let the flow happen. Sure, that’s counter-intuitive to the tenets of productivity (or at least, GTD to a point), but I’m not running to make more work. I’m running to create a space between myself and my work. I’m running to take a break – a much-needed one at that.

    I’m running so I can stay in the race over the long haul, not so that I wash out of it.

    Step back from social networks.

    I’m not doing nearly as much on social networks right now. And I’m okay with that. I am doing less reporting on my life and spending more time living it.

    I’m not divorcing social networks – at least not yet. I just think that by spending more time working on me and my own life and work and less time keeping up with everything else that social networks offer that I’ll be better serving both myself and those very platforms later on. I’ll be able to offer a clearer version of myself and what’s going on – should I choose to even do that. I’m not worrying about status updates and tweets. I’m not even worrying about my presences on any of those social networks.

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    What allows me to slow down is the fact that I’m focusing on being present.

    Feelin’ groovy.

    Before I do any of the things I’ve mentioned above, this set of lyrics come to mind:

    “Slow down, you movin’ too fast;
    You gotta make the morning last;
    Just kickin’ down the cobblestones;
    Lookin’ for fun and feelin’ groovy…” – The 59th Street Bridge Song, Simon & Garfunkel

    I do that and I start to feel, well…groovy. And that’s a pretty darn good feeling.

    (Photo credit: Trying to Stop Time via Shutterstock)

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    Mike Vardy

    A productivity specialist who shows you how to define your day, funnel your focus, and make every moment matter.

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    Last Updated on April 23, 2019

    How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

    How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

    Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

    While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

    For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

    While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

    I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

    Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

    Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

    Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

    The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

    Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

    What Is a Stretch Goal?

    A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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    In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

    For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

    This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

    It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

    The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

    The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

    I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

    Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

    1. Get Outside of Your Head

    If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

    If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

    I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

    Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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    2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

    When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

    I see this in so many areas of life:

    When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

    In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

    “Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

    Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

    3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

    When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

    The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

    For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

    We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

    From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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    When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

    Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

    4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

    S.M.A.R.T.

    is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

    While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

    Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

    For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

    By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

    5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

    I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

    The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

    When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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    One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

    Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

    I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

    A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

    As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

    From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

    The Bottom Line

    These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

    For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

    Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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