How to slow down your work week

Do you sometimes feel like your work week is running away from you, leaving you overwhelmed and too panicked to focus on what you have to do? You are definitely not alone! I am a big believer in incorporating slow living tips into the workplace, helping you to calm your week and reduce stress and anxiety at work. In this post I will share how an eye-opening comment from my boss taught me how to say bye to busyness and hello to productivity - just by scheduling in blank space into my calendar.

I still remember the most brutally honest but life-changing comment my boss has ever made to me. It was after a particularly grueling few days at work and I was behind on, well, practically everything. We were having a quick status update on some projects when he said to me: "I know how hard you are working Manny, but you have to ask yourself, are you productive or are you just busy?". I just sat there stunned. How could I not be productive when I was bulldozing my way through such an impressive list of tasks? Knowing the comment came from kindness, I didn’t get defensive and spent a long time thinking about what this meant.

Those words totally through me off balance. They caught me off guard because they were true. As a young manager, I was on a mission to prove myself capable by trying to tackle every task I could, sometimes refusing to delegate because I thought 'oh it's no bother, I'll just finish that on the weekend.' But I was missing the point. When you are busy chasing non-important tasks, you are losing sight of the long-term goal no matter how urgent those tasks are. So yes, I was flying through my to-do list like some time of frenzied cartoon character, but I was distracted from the big picture.

When you are busy, you lose your ability to focus. It's called 'tunneling', and one Harvard study suggests that we lose about 13 IQ points when we're in that hectic-busy state of mind…As if I needed my day to get any harder! When you're tunneling, your brain is only able to concentrate on quick fix, low-value tasks. And if you're only able to focus on low-value tasks, you aren't able to think strategically about your longer-term projects, goals, or career plans.

If you are anything like me, then you are constantly underestimating the time it takes to get anything down. Meal prep, yoga sequence, 2 rounds of laundry and a meditation practice before work? Totally do-able. Two meetings, a big project deadline, and a candidate interview before my lunch time clarinet lesson? Eeeeaaasy. Except it's not. I am repeatedly let down by my superwoman syndrome aka a complete inability to realistically estimate how long a task takes. It means I'm constantly putting myself under impossible deadlines and an enormous amount of pressure - with no-one to blame for my busyness but myself!

If all of that sounds familiar, then you aren't alone. It's a phenomenon called the Planning Fallacy and oh boy do I fall victim to it! Luckily, the first step to recovery begins with recognising that time estimation is not your forte. To help slow down your work week and make sure you go about your day with intention, not busyness, all you have to do is schedule blank space into your calendar.

Now, before you get all distracted with that Taylor Swift song stuck in your head, hear me out. Blank space isn't giving yourself downtime. It's giving yourself time to catch up on projects, meetings and emails that have been put off due to urgent tasks or underestimating how long a project takes. It allows you to tick those wishlist items off your to-do list: the ones that might not have a pressing deadline but will make a big difference in the long-run to a project or your career.

Blank space is especially important just after a big deadline, before and after a holiday, or after an important meeting or event. Schedule in time to catch up with your to-do list and revise your priorities - you'll thank me later!

Top tip!

If you're a decision-maker: schedule blank space to devote time to reflection and strategic thinking. Don't let less urgent tasks get in the way of important ones.

If you're a junior on the team: check priority tasks with your boss and communicate the time you will be dedicating to catch-up tasks or self-development work. By getting your boss on board, you'll improve the chances you won't be disturbed during this time!

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