Great Ideas Happen When You Slow Down

Why You Shouldn't Be Working Hard All the Time

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Do you have a horizon? Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us that "as human beings we are starved for horizons." German statesman Konrad Adenauer noted that "we all live under the same sky, but we don't all have the same horizon."

Roger Fransecky, Ph.D., is founder and CEO of Apogee Group, and a leading CEO performance coach and adviser to the World 50 Executive Group. His commentaries on leadership are available on the Apogee website.

After years in New York, where our Manhattan horizon was often the landscape of blocky high rises of varying heights or stork-like construction cranes building even higher ones, we couldn't see where the land ended and open space began. We moved to the Midwest four years ago, with breathtaking skies and endless horizons, instantly recalibrating our sense of urgency and place.

Many high-achievers understand only one speed (warp), one attitude about work (hard) and one sense of long-range career planning (who has time?). It's easy to slip into becoming "gritters," head down, eyes on the task, forgetting how to push the pause button. I work with many leaders who plow through their days on autopilot, for they are skilled enough to make it appear fresh and new, but their souls and spirits get beaten down and the agenda takes over. Soon they forget they have choices.

News flash: Activity does not mean direction, time on task does not mean focus, effort does not mean accomplishment, and just trying harder doesn't always save the day.

Neurophysiologists now understand more of how our brains work best. When we are flush with stimulants (sugar, caffeine, deadlines, tension, terror) we literally are living in our "old" reptilian brain, and there is no space for ideas, solutions, or for dreams to be born or possibility to blossom. I think of it as the noisy part of our brain, not the place where we can pause, listen, surrender to a new idea, reflect, review and take measure of our moments.

What if someone told you that most of your stress is self-induced? Shouldn't you make time away the stress you choose to create, and access your wise brain, your intuitive self, and a new zone of deep satisfaction?

Navigating your career means making time to sort and sample the lessons of it all, and, frankly, making more time for your own experience. Staying alive in the fast lane, or even prodding yourself to the inside exit lane, means fighting off time bandits and the daily struggle of living in a 24/7, ADD-energized, plugged-in world.

I have one CEO client whose desk piles are so perilously high that his assistant is afraid to move them for fear she, and he, will be buried. What or who is he keeping away?

Here's my own list of "radical notions" to simplify your life, and in so doing, discover more pleasure out of the delightful new spaces each step can create:
  • Reduce the clutter. If you haven't worn it, used it or opened it in a year ... toss it.
  • Cancel half of your magazine subscriptions.
  • Don't always answer the doorbell. Or the phone.
  • Turn off your BlackBerry, computer and cellphone one day a week.
  • Go to bed an hour early two nights a week. Read. Play. Sleep.
  • Learn to meditate. Do it.
  • Watch or listen to things that make you laugh.
  • Surrender judgment.
  • Do one thing at a time.
  • Practice doing nothing.
  • Walk more.
  • Dance.

Careers need horizons, nourished by our dreams. Intentional living and career shaping demands that we always connect what we are doing and what we are becoming to the horizon we hold in our minds.
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