The simple secret to doing less and accomplishing more 

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Author: Chris Gillespie @ Find A Way Media

Last responders finish first

"You do that and he's dead," my instructor muttered as she bent low, straightened her back, and turned over another body in mechanical fashion.

I looked down at my own patient and grimaced. His neck was indeed out of alignment with his body—a fatal mistake, had this been a real emergency.

The poor marks I received frustrated me, and it was a trend. I wanted to be the best in our wilderness first responder class, but no matter how fast I was able to move, I kept coming in last.

That's when a colleague muttered the magic phrase that I've never forgotten:

“Go slow to go fast.”

Puzzled, I watched her. She always started last, never hurried, and yet after the chaos of triaging, splinting, bandaging, and the sometimes hilarious but more often eerie cries of mock-death from our volunteer victims, she always finished first. What was her secret to speed?

What me worry?

Through observation, I learned that she saved time by rarely making mistakes. Where I diagnosed patients too early and was then often forced to backtrack, she patiently took pulses and recorded them in her notebook. Where I splinted anything that articulated, she took the time to feel each patient's scalp to sometimes discover a much more distressing head wound concealed under their hair.

She was thorough, and her thoroughness made her fast. Where others skipped the directions, she wrote down her goals. And where others blew past the requirements and looked for more to do, she knew when to call a project finished. 

I keenly recall looking up from a mock mass-casualty incident with red food coloring all over my arms and catching her eye. She was seated, already finished, eating a sandwich, and she winked. At the time, it made me mad. 

Now, years later, I look back upon this lesson as a critical one. Couldn’t we all benefit from slowing down, no matter our business? 

Life is about quality, not speed

After all, ours is a society that takes a nauseating amount of pride in working hard and going fast. So much so that we forget to work smart, and it keeps us from getting ahead, and even makes us unhappy. A fully 95% of people who want to be employed currently are, but only 13% feel that they’re engaged in what they’re doing. This whole country is just grinding for a paycheck and you hear it everywhere. 

Honestly, how often do colleagues respond to your “How are you?” with “So busy!” like it’s some kind of badge of honor? How many folks do you know reply to emails past work hours? Or who willingly accept assignments on weekends? Are you reluctant to admit that you’re among them? 

It’s okay. I’ve been there. But trust me that all of these people (my former self included) are teaching themselves to work hard but not smart. They’re running themselves into the ground needlessly and they’re developing a fetish for always doing something. Going fast becomes a way of life and your work activities will always expand to occupy whatever space in your life that you give them.

Instead, learn that the secret to speed isn’t speed itself, but thoroughness. It’s taking the time to make sure that you understand the brief before you begin. It’s ensuring that your current project actually relates back to your company’s mission statement so that it isn’t scrapped halfway through. And it’s not only double-checking your grammar, but taking the time to sleep on it and edit it the next day with a fresh pair of eyes. 

Because what’s the value of break-neck speed if in the process, you accidentally break a neck? 


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