Three Secrets To Shifting From Busy To Strategic

Busy to Strategic

This article was first published on Forbes.com.

I had a really busy fall: meetings scheduled back-to-back, an abundance of presentations and materials to prep, late nights on my computer finalizing details and even turning down new work and interesting opportunities. It happens. But, you know you’re overbooked when someone asks for 30 minutes of your time and you literally can’t find it that week during normal work hours.

Then mid-December vacation rolled around, and suddenly, I’m not busy. I’m slow, which was fine with me — a relief, even — but I realized my mind was still working overtime.

If you’re old enough, you might remember records. The larger records spun at 33 1/3 RPM and the smaller single records were 45 RPM.

I realized that moving from my busy fall to the slow New Year’s period felt like my RPM were off. With a packed schedule, I moved fast, pivoting and changing projects on a dime, I was the smaller record spun many more times each minute.

As my schedule shifted, I noticed I was stuck in that faster RPM mode. I hadn’t found a way to slow down my brain or feelings of urgency — as if I only had a limited amount of time to get everything done.

The more I spoke to my clients about this phenomenon, the more I saw how universal it is. Many of us find ourselves working hard day-in and day-out as the norm. And then there’s the true sprint: the time when my clients might long for 50-hour weeks because they’re regularly working 60-plus hours, including nights and weekends. Nothing is off-limits for finding more time.

“It’s a phase,” you tell yourself. “I’m just trying to get through the next product launch, data migration or round of clinical trials. After that, I’ll have more time for my emails/direct reports/kids/(fill in the blank).”

And, so, you persevere, counting the days until the launch or project wrap-up when life can return to “normal.”

But, when that date arrives, you find yourself staring at a mountain of to-dos you’ve been pushing to the side or you’re on vacation, noticing an eerie feeling plaguing you, that you should be doing something more productive or that you’ve forgotten something.

This is what has worked to help my clients — and myself — slow back down and take stock after a busy sprint: my top secrets to downshifting your RPM and enjoying life again.

The Three Secrets To Slowing Down After It’s Been Busy:

  • Meditation

woman cyclist with read the map sitting on halt illuminated by the rays of bright sunlight among the green nature

While research continues to emerge showing the beneficial hormonal and mood effects of meditating, the truth my clients find is that one deep breath begets another. And, with each deep breath, not only is calm restored but also perspective is as well. When you are busy, spinning at too many revolutions per minute, you lose the ability to think deeply and holistically. Science has proven that, during these times of stress, we literally narrow to tunnel vision. Meditation, or any form of deep breathing that works for you, helps you to add back peripheral vision so that you can literally see more and figuratively track more than just what is right in front of you — allowing you to take in the bigger picture.

  • Predictable Time Off (PTO)

While PTO might usually mean something different to you, researchers have looked at the effects of Predictable Time Off in a multiphase study run at Boston Consulting Group (BCG). The results indicated that, not surprisingly, people like their job a lot more when they have regular time away from it — and they’re even more excited to get out of bed in the morning. In fact, before establishing PTO, less than 50% of consultants were satisfied with their jobs. After implementing it, 72% were. Similarly, satisfaction with work-life balance increased from 38% to 54% with this new work plan. Even more surprising, the teams that implemented PTO reported more open communication, increased learning and development and a better product delivered to the client.

It turns out forcing yourself to put down your smartphone and laptop leaves you more refreshed and working smarter when you do work. So, when you want to lower your RPM, pick one day weekly when you absolutely don’t work (even resisting the lure of smartphone email, if possible). If you think that’s too daunting, pick one weeknight that you actually sign out until the next morning. I guarantee your friends and loved ones will treasure the more relaxed you — that night and in general.

  • Spending Time With Loved Ones

Scientists have found that spending time with loved ones helps us release oxytocin and serotonin — the reward chemical. Basically, hanging out with friends and family lowers your stress hormone, cortisol and acts as its own rewards. It’s fun, it feels better and you want to do it more. One of the best ways to shift that feeling that you’re not doing all you can is to be present for those you care about. Because, in those moments when we are attuned to others, we can see that much of our value comes from being there for others, not just getting things done.

While each of these secrets doesn’t take that much time in and of itself, all three of them are things that can happen regularly, over and over again. By practicing these secrets in your life, you give your body and your mind permission to slow down, observe and take in more — rather than do more.

One of my clients, a C-Suite executive for a major Bay-area organization, recently told me that, by implementing our strategies in her work, she now doesn’t work nights or weekends anymore and she feels guilty. Even her husband asks “what’s going on?” But, as she confided, “Now that I’m doing less rushing around, I have more time for my team, for strategic thinking and to work together with my peers.”

And it’s true — wouldn’t lowering your RPM and busyness while increasing your effectiveness help you feel more empowered in your career?

Jo Ilfeld, PhD

An executive leadership coach, Jo helps C-suite leaders, executives, and high-potential managers develop the flexibility, skill, and frame of mind to meet the challenges of the next five, ten, twenty years…. and beyond. She works with individuals, teams and organizations on four core areas of leadership development. Check out Jo's bio page for more information.

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