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There’s a big emphasis on increasing productivity these days.  I’m going to say something shocking now, that may fly in the face of what most of you will think.  Brace yourself.  Sometimes we should just slow down.

Slow sail into the sunset 

Following our recent wedding, we went away on honeymoon.  One of our visits was to Edinburgh castle.  Whilst we were looking around, I noticed how often we were overtaken by tourists rushing past us while we stopped to absorb the information presented and the atmosphere of the place.  It felt like everybody else was just going through as fast as they could, so they could say they’d seen it, before moving on to the next place.  They may as well have done a video tour from the comfort of their hotel (especially as it was painfully cold that day!).

This got me thinking about people’s general attitudes towards improving productivity.  People want to get things done as fast as possible and often neglect quality.  In some instances, this is fine – in the fast food industry, people don’t expect gourmet food, so tend to accept a grease laden burger with soggy chips.  However, in many industries – take for instance my main industry of Aerospace Engineering – quality is paramount, as it can affect safety.

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”.  Taking this slightly out of context and applying it to speed and quality, rather than simplicity, a bag of chips being sold to a group of drunken revellers doesn’t need to be crispy and succulent.  However, a component on a plane needs to remain intact for the duration of its life.

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Going back to my original story about the tourists, they may have crammed in many of the sights of Edinburgh into one day, but did they really enjoy it as much as they could have done?  What did they learn about the day that they can take back home and talk to their friends about?  Were the photographs that they took carefully composed, or did they have lampposts sticking out of the tops of their family’s heads?  Did they end up with indigestion in the afternoon, because they rushed their lunch in order to fit in another attraction?

Why slowing down can boost productivity

There are other reasons when slowing down can have an impact on our productivity.

  1. Taking the time to slow down gives us the breathing room for ideas to formulate.  Archimedes wasn’t rushing around when he exclaimed “Eureka”, he was in the bath.
  2. When we rush, we sometimes miss important details.
  3. Sometimes it’s just nice to slow down and smell the flowers.  I really enjoyed pootling around the country roads in Scotland, enjoying the scenery.  Because of that, the journey felt like it lasted half the time it actually did.  Had I been rushing, then I suspect I’d have got frustrated when I got stuck behind a lorry and the journey would have felt like it took ages.

3 Questions to Ask Yourself

I’m not saying we should always slow down, but at least once in a while, we should take a step back and make ourselves aware of what we are doing and how we are doing it.  You could start by asking yourself the following questions:

  1. Which is more important – the deadline or the final product?
  2. What level of quality are you sacrificing by rushing the job?
  3. Is the level of quality sacrificed acceptable to the end result?

And always remember Albert Einstein’s mantra of “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”.

Take one task over the next week and stop and ask yourself the above questions.  What did you do, and how did it turn out?  Leave your stories in the comments.

Slow Rain – Riccardo Romano
Sailboats – Edgar Barany C