There are many days when I open the email app on my phone or tablet and see a bottomless ocean of messages waiting for my attention. It would feel overwhelming if not for one thing: I’m pretty good at swimming in that ocean. In fact, sometimes I’m too good at it. Sometimes I whiz through them in such a hurry that I miss the pearls I could only see by slowing down.
Like most of you, my inbox fills up pretty quickly each morning. And since I try to be fully present when I’m working with people, there are days when I don’t respond much to email. It creates a pretty big backlog. So I carve out blocks of time and dive into that ocean with gusto, deleting the junk and responding to the others quickly and efficiently.
The ability to push through such tasks can be a leadership strength, but danger lurks in my tendency to hurry. Some of us get sloppy with our work when we get in a hurry, but there’s an even bigger pitfall for me: I’m spending all of my time on the surface and missing the opportunities that only come if I dive deep.
My friend Brian Mott passed along some amazingly simple yet profound advice on dealing with this dilemma. Brian once took a sabbatical, and during that time he came across this pearl of wisdom from theologian Dallas Willard: “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”
Willard first offered that counsel to his friend, John Ortberg, and it’s been repeated in slightly different ways many times by Willard, Ortberg and others over the years. Brian first heard it as, “Aggressively eradicate hurry from your life.” Same thing.
Ortberg, ironically, was in a hurry when he sought Willard for advice. He had dozens of things going on, and he expected three or four ideas he could snag during a quick call with his mentor and then put into practice. He wrote that one down and asked what was next.
Don’t hurry. Got it. What else? …
“There is nothing else,” Willard told him. “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”
It’s simple, but not easy. And while Willard and Ortberg were focused on the “spiritual life,” the advice applies equally to work. After all, we don’t park our spiritual life in the corporate garage when we arrive at work; we bring it with us in to the office and it impacts everything we do.
Every now and then I’ll be ruthlessly eliminating to-do list items when something or someone causes me to pause and think beyond the obvious answer or response. Even if I only take a few minutes, I find that slowing down and absorbing things without the hurry always leads to greater clarity, deeper insights, and better decisions.
If you have a position of leadership in this world, you know there are times when you feel like you need to fly through your to-do list as fast as possible. But remember this: the people you lead don’t just need your decisions. They need your attention. It’s OK to be busy, but get rid of the hurry. And be ruthless about it.