How to work faster–by slowing down

Jul 10, 2018

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I've always had a reputation for speed, as being a writer who could get an editor or client the quickest turnaround (delivery time) in the business. When another writer admits, two days before the deadline, that they won't be able to deliver on time, and assuming the editor simply can't extend that deadline, I'll get an email or phone call from said editor asking me to help out by writing the article. This happens to me once a month or so, so I know the word has gotten out: Chuck Leddy is fast. But it's not quite so, or at least not simply so, as I’ll explain.

Move fast, but never hurry

I'm a fast learner, a fast organizer, and a fast writer. This doesn't mean I don't think deeply as I go–I think a lot, actually, but I'm always moving forward and simultaneously immersed in thought. As the legendary coach John Wooden used to tell his basketball players at UCLA, "Move fast, but never hurry." Or as Abraham Lincoln liked to say, “I may take my time moving forward, but I never look back.” I follow the same philosophy. I believe the key to moving fast is knowing exactly where you're going, to have a clear forward focus in mind. Most importantly, you need to be mentally present and self-aware to go fast. Always start where you are, fully present and aware in the moment you inhabit. Sounds simple, but it's anything but.

How to move faster

It helps to “know thyself,” as the ancient Greek philosophers were so fond of saying. The more integrated and self-aware you are as a creative person, the more comfortable you are with your values and interests and weaknesses, the faster you can move forward. I like to observe, to learn, to share, to connect emotionally with others.

I'm a huge believer in looking inward before you glance outward to create. Paradoxically, it takes a lifetime to learn who you are, but this day-by-day investment in self-reflection allows you to move faster and make better decisions in real-time, to be more creative and to immerse yourself entirely into what you're doing. To move fast, you must first be grounded. We are our own North Stars, but we so often don't realize it or look for that star to guide us. We need to if we wish to move fast.

Einstein saves the world

The great Albert Einstein was once asked what he'd do if Earth was facing a pending disaster and he only had an hour to save the world. Sounds like a "rush job" if I'd ever heard one! Did Einstein say he'd rush right into action? No. "If I had an hour to save the world," explained the legendary genius, "I'd spend 59 minutes defining the problem, and one minute solving it." I agree. We need to know where we’re going first, which requires knowing who we are (i.e., defining the problem). The rest is relatively simple, though not easy.

To do anything well, from pursuing our careers to being good parents or friends, or trying to do “fast” creative work or decide anything, "defining the problem" means understanding who we are, what values are important to us, and what legacy we want to leave behind. Once you've figured out this stuff, which can (alas) take a lifetime, then you already have your map and GPS.

I'm a fast writer, but I know that my speed comes from a place of deep reflection and hard-earned self-awareness. Sometimes, when I'm given two days to write something that might take another writer a week, I like to sit on my back porch for an hour and watch the birds who occupy the oak tree in my neighbor's yard. I sit there with all my senses engaged, watching the birds move from perch to perch, listening to their birdsong, smelling the air of a quiet summer afternoon, tossing breadcrumbs to get the birds closer. Am I wasting my time “doing nothing”?

Far from it. It's the best investment I can make, giving me the best ROI (return on investment). It empties my brain and engages all my senses, immerses me in another world for an hour. So when I start working, I know exactly where I'm going, and what I need to get there. The world looks new again and my mind is ready to create.

I like to lose myself to find myself. I love to wander to know exactly where I'm going. It may sound like a paradox, but it’s not (that’s another paradox). You don't need to watch birds to gain the benefits of slow and focus, you just need to immerse yourself in something different. Some people meditate or walk or do yoga. I like nature because it doesn't really care about my concerns, my need to be creative or to satisfy my client's “pressing” needs. I sit and become part of the natural scenery, and that helps me be fully present and focus on what's most important to me, creating.

​What I'm telling you is that slow is the gateway drug to fast. You can miss so much when you hurry–you can miss your entire life and all the joys within. So try going slow, fully inhabiting the present moment, before you go fast.

It works for me. Find a way to make it work for you.

Boston-based Chuck Leddy is a freelance B2B Brand Storyteller who connects brands and customers through engaging stories. His clients include ADP, Catalant Technologies, The Boston Globe's BG Brand Lab, MITx, and The National Center for the Middle Market. His website is