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Want to go faster? Use the brakes MORE!

November 8, 2008
by Joe Bormel
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Want to go faster? Use the brakes MORE!

Paradox #4017: Disciplines to not be 'CrazyBusy'

Last month, while at my CHIME-related event, I went with a group of friends to Pole Position Raceway, an electric go-kart entertainment center for adults. When I say "

friends," I mean team members from work. And, when I say "

entertainment," I mean hyper-competitive play with very smart opponents, .... ummm, ... I mean


These friends turn out to be much better drivers than me. Here's my data relative to a few of my peers (I'm not expecting you to read it; it is telling when they provide you with statistics for a recreational activity):

So, I came in 6th place, or next to last. Here's the point: The people with the

best lap times also had the lower speeds than me on the challenging parts of the course.

In this case, the number one position person here, let's call him Jim K, had a best lap time of just over 26 seconds. I had a crumby 27.24 seconds; our averages had a 3 second gap. I think you can understand why I'm so emotionally devastated by this that I'm writing about it a month later. (Yes, I'm kidding.)

My mistake? I was trying to go as fast as my little kart would carry me, as much as possible.

Bad strategy. Both on the race course, and in work life. going as fast as you can may seem like the best strategy. It's inefficient, leads to 'crash and burn out', and isn't as fun as you think it's going to be.

The important insight here is not a new one. Deciding when to use your brakes and using them is important. It's often not so obvious. As elaborated by Collins and Hallowell, this applies to everything we choose to do (our to do list), and all of the interruptions that would rob us of our time (our phones, emails, surfing and other distractions.)

As Jim Collins discussed in his book,

Good to Great, it's important to have a 'not-to-do list'; in our terms here, that's using the brakes. In

a recent BusinessWeek inteview, Collins puts it simply:

BW: You've got to admit, though, that technology has made it harder today.

Colins: I don't think it's obviously harder today at all. Technology helps, not hurts, as long as you have the discipline to turn these things off.

You don't report to your BlackBerry.

What we know about people who are really effective is that they think. The key is to build pockets of quietude into your schedule [JB: the brakes] —times when you have an appointment with yourself and it's protected. I have on my calendar "white space" days. I set them six months in advance, and everyone around me can see them. It's not that I'm not working, but absolutely nothing can be scheduled on a white space day.

Edward Hallowell wrote an entire book on the topic of using brakes. It's called CrazyBusy. He elaborates the problem and strategies to braking. He observes that today, perhaps in contrast to ten years ago, "a person has to be quite deliberate to avoid overload [and distractions.]" If you have a child, friend or personal issue with attention and focus, you'll find value in Hallowell's writing.

So, all of the readers here are, in-part, technologists. Part of getting our work done

Better/Faster/Cheaper involves larger computer displays, multiple displays, multi-core processors, memory upgrades, iPhones, Blackberries, and scores of other stuff to help go faster. Maybe, just maybe, we should move a little focus on where we should add some deliberate braking?

What do you do

to put the brakes on, at the appropriate times?

Thanks for your many comments and emails in the past; I always stop to read them!



T. Golden,

Thanks for inspiring me with your words, "... it's going up on the wall next to my monitor, to remind me every day. "

In that spirit, when I came to Hallowell's variant on the Serenity Prayer, I thought I should post it, potentially for the same purpose.  For those of you following along in Hallowell's book, CRAZYBUSY, this comes from pages 138 and 139:

The key is to find the right balance between control and lack of control.  The Serenity Prayer, purportedly written by Reinhold Niebuhr and quoted widely in AA, puts this idea well:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

However, in today's world I would take it one step further.  It is important to accept and "let be" even some things that you could change but don't have time to, if you want to preserve the right rhythm in your life.  What sets the rhythm is up to you, of course.  For some it is breakneck speed.  But for most of us, it is slower than the forces that surround us, tempt us, or try to push us to go.

I take the liberty here of modifying the Serenity Prayer according to my purposes in this book:

God grant me the serenity
    to accept the things I cannot change;

The insight to
    prioritize wisely what I want to change;

The patience to
    resist trying to control everything I could,
    had I the energy and time;

The courage and skill to
    change the things I have chosen to change;

And the wisdom to
    know the differences among all these.

All of those words above (in green) are from Hallowell book.  Thanks T. Golden for giving me an opportunity to stop and revisit them.  I hope we all have 'more than a prayer' of a shot at living them!

Ten Key Principles to Managing Modern Life
       (these come straight from the book, CrazyBusy, by Edward Hallowell, with some help from Life Training - Online)
1. Do what matters most to you. After filling in the above table, you should now have a clear idea of what is most important to you. If you're spending most of your time in doing things which are not important to you, it's time to reevaluate and change some things in your life. True happiness comes when you are doing what is most important to you.
2. Create a positive emotional environment wherever you are. When you interact positively with others around you, not only does it improve their lives, but it improves yours as well. When you feel safe and secure
in your own environment, when you feel welcomed and appreciated, you can think more clearly, you work better, and you're better able to help others and they'll be more apt to help you.
3. Find your rhythm. When you are doing what you love and do best, and are prioritizing your time, and ping those things which ultimately distract you from being productive, you'll find a rhythm of productivity and effectiveness.
4. Invest your time wisely so as to get maximum return. Remember that like money, time is wasted when you're not aware of how you spend it. Especially int the world today, where more and more things are trying to steal your time, it's important to be very wary of where your time is being spent.
5. Don't waste time screensucking. "Screensucking or passing the time idly in front of some screen (i.e. television, blackberry, computer, hand-held video game etc.) can be very addictive and wasteful. Do whatever you can do to brake the habit.
6. Identify and control the sources of gemmelsmerch. If you remember from the last post, 'gemmelsmerch' is the force that distracts a person from what he or she wants or ought to be doing. If you don't control it, it will control you. Some sources of gemmelsmerch are: magazines, mail that is waiting to be opened, the "screensuckers", radio talk shows, a new idea that pops in your mind. Each of these are great at the appropriate time and place. It's important to qualify when they should be attended to and when you should get busy with what needs to be done.
7. Delegate. Work on effective interdependence. Delegation allows you to leverage the strength and talents of those around you. Enlist others to help your cause.
8. Slow down. In the modern world we rarely take moments to just sit, relax, and let it all go. It's important to set up a regular time where you can be left to your own reflection. Do whatever you prefer to slow down Take a walk, meditate, pray, go out in nature, etc.
9. Don't multitask ineffectively. In most cases, give your full attention to one task before you go on to the next. However, some things, such as riding a bike, you are able to do on autopilot. In those cases, you are able to free up neurons to focus on other matters other than the menial parts of the task.
10. Play. With everything that you're doing, seek to engage your imagination. This will spark creativity and bring pleasure to even boring tasks.

First, I suggest T. Golden read your "Tick Tock" posting from October 31. It deals with that infamous email, and is a must read item.

On this posting, I'm in total agreement that we all need to take a step back, on a regular basis, for some mental health time. Perhaps the old saying, "The hurrier I go, the behinder I get," applies most aptly.

Contained in your comment from November 8, I'm not sure the section of the article you used entitled "What Leaders Can Do" is quite adequate.

Business in general, not just HIT, continues to be plagued by a lack of top down communication. Too often, middle management spins its wheels because C-level execs improperly set goals, are inconsistent in their support for goals (good or bad), and don't provide true leadership.

This leads to "busyness" and employee frustration. If senior executives were to provide more leadership and C3 (clear, concise and consistent) communication, managers would need to ask fewer questions, and the questions they ask (and the help they ask for) would be more constructive and germaine to successfully completing their tasks. Further, by having a true picture of what needs to be accomplished and why (why is very important here), they will be more likely to ask.


Joe, Interesting topic. Six months ago, I started scheduling "stop and think" time in Outlook, mid-morning every day. When I can, I take the time away from my desk.

There's a nice discussion by Hallowell about what he calls "The Age of Interruption." The core of it is rule number one - don't give away your control. Full reference here: http://www.nightingale.com/prod_detail~audio~4424~product~Success_Strate...

T. Golden,
Thanks for your insight.

It sounds like there are several problems:

1) self-deception of a sort, where we try to move fast and be busy, and not always in a productive way

2) our external facade in the business world (can't be seen taking a nap - sorry John Medina and Brain Rules)

3) upper management rewarding "busyness" and potentially mis-categorizing "stop-and-think" behavior as non-productive. Or, in the case you described, categorizing 'present in the parking lot' as productive.

T.Golden, if you were trying to establish that "overloaded circuits" is a problem at multiple levels, you've succeeded!

Self-awareness (and braking) is not enough in the workplace.  It's obviously central in self-management.

Sorry for the delayed response. I've been on biz travel here lately.

The C3 I referred to is a subset of another "C" military process that was covered in a command leadership course I complete while serving in the Navy.


Thanks for your observation regarding the adequacy of leadership's role here.

One of your points, that busyness (and frustration) are centrally senior leadership's responsibility caused me to "stop and think."

It reminds me of the saying "managers do things right and leaders/executives do the right things." Your point on C3 communication is important but secondary.

Primary to that communication is some variant of C3 strategy and planning, which, by definition is complex, and therefore not concise.

Does the concept "C3 Communication" come from some broader framework you can reference for us?

The paraphrased list from "Overloaded Circuits..." is going up on the wall next to my monitor, to remind me every day.

I suspect that while these recommendations resonate with a great many professionals, today it's still considered heresy to suggest that physical BUSYNESS is NOT the best measure of productivity. Until senior management comes around, it will be difficult for middle management and other non-executives to put these ideas into practice.

I'm reminded of a now infamous email from the CEO of a large HIT company berating his managers for the parking lot not being full enough at 6:30p and on Saturday.

Thanks for your comment; please see item #8 below.

In "Overloaded Circuits: Why Smart People Underperform" (Harvard Business Review, 2005), Hallowell offers a list of practices to "put the brakes on those things that slow you down." Here's a paraphrased short version:

In General:
1) Get adequate sleep
2) Moderate diet - avoid simple sugars
3) Exercise, 30 minutes, atleast every other day

At Work:
4) Strive for a trusting environment
5) Friendly, face-to-face talk with people you like, at least every 4 to 6 hours
6) Break large tasks into smaller ones
7) Keep a section of desk clear at all times
8) Reserve 'think time' each day
9) Do one or more important task before doing any email
10) At end of day, draft a list of 3-5 items for tomorrow
11) OHIO - only handle it once - try to act on, file or toss each document you touch on first pass
12) No piles - don't let papers accumulate
13) Work in a more focused way - experiment with music, standing, walking, etc
14) Use an exec administrator, coach or friend to help you set limits

He ends the article as follows:

         What Leaders Can Do


ADT (attention deficit trait, that is difficulty staying organized, setting priorities, and managing time, because of the nature of modern times) is a very real threat to all of us. If we do not manage it, it manages us. But an understanding of ADT and its ravages allows us to apply practical methods to improve our work and our lives.

In the end, the most critical step an enlightened leader can take to address the problem of ADT is to name it.

Bringing ADT out of the closet and describing its symptoms removes the stigma and eliminates the moral condemnation companies have for so long mistakenly leveled at overburdened employees. By giving people permission to ask for help and remaining vigilant for signs of stress, organizations will go a long way toward fostering more productive, well-balanced, and intelligent work environments.

Want more useable tips?  Here's an 8 minute podcast of author John Medina, from the book Brain Rules.  Amongst other things, you'll learn why most people need a 20 minute nap between 2 and 4 pm.  Sounds like a brake to me!  (And, yes, I have considered the brake is a break notion.  Isn't language interesting?)  It's not all naps, though.  Medina has traced the value of exercise to thoughtwork as well.