How to slow down, to speed up - Michelle Gibbings

Surprisingly, the 2016 census found that the length of the working week for most Australians hasn’t increased since 2011. And yet, most of us feel pressed for time and with an electronic device in each hand it can feel as though we never quite switch off from work.

With ‘busy’ being the new catch-cry, it can be hard to slow down and reflect.

As the author Henry David Thoreau said, “It’s not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?”

Making sustained progress is about the frequency of the effort, which means pacing yourself is important.

It reminds me of the old Aesop’s fable of the Tortoise and the Hare. Written hundreds of years ago, it still has applicability in the modern context.

Bringing this approach to life, involves four key activities:

1.Set your focus

When you are constantly ‘on’ and rushing you can easily miss what is happening around you. Your brain gets so focused on the task at hand it ignores other ideas or inputs that should be factored in.

You become blinkered to alternative perspectives.

Rushing is easy. Anyone can look busy. Finding time to think and reflect is much harder. It’s far harder to not look busy, in a world that rewards busy-ness.

2.Pick the speed

There are times when you need to operate with speed, and times when you need to cruise.

Cruising is not about kicking back and doing nothing, but rather considering how you deliberately construct your day so you have time for reflection, to think and ponder, to wonder and daydream.

It is in this space that ideas will arise, problems will be solved and new perspectives will be gathered. Issues that were challenging, will no longer appear so hard; while problems that looked perplexing will get resolved.

3.Embrace sleep

The health risks associated with a lack of sleep and being a night owl have long been documented – including higher rates of obesity and cardiovascular disease. Now, Professors Kristen Knutson and Malcolm Von Schantz’s research has found that night owls have a higher risk of early death.

As well, when your brain isn’t rested it doesn’t function at optimal capacity. The pre-frontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that’s involved in thinking, analysing and reasoning gets tired easily. When it’s tired and experiencing decision fatigue it more easily falls into the trap of ‘default thinking’.

That is, taking the path of least resistance when it decides what to do. However, in times of change and uncertainty doing what you’ve always done before and taking the easy option isn’t necessarily the best approach.

4.Build reflective habits

Being able to slow down is a habit, just like setting up a regular exercise routine, meditation practice or reading every night before you go to sleep.

If you want to replace the ‘busy’ habit with a more ‘reflective’ habit, ask yourself:

  • Do you have any allocated time for reflection and creative thought? If so, is this enough or do you need more time?
  • How much of your day is spent productively and focused?
  • What could you stop doing or do less of to create some cruising time in your day?
  • What are the benefits of having some allocated cruising time for you and those around you?

It was William Shakespeare who said: “Wisely and slow. They stumble that run fast”.


Getting you ready for tomorrow, today!

Michelle Gibbings is a change leadership and career expert and founder of Change Meridian.  Michelle works with global leaders and teams to help them get fit for the future of work. She is the Author of ‘Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work’ and  ‘Career Leap: How to Reinvent and Liberate your Career’.  For more information: or contact

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