Sometimes, when there’s more work on your plate than ever, your output slows to a crawl. When this happens, you may feel you should just speed up. But that impulse is mistaken. To get moving again, first slow down your thinking.
Bogging down is evidence you’ve overloaded your mental circuits. You are probably having an argument in your mind: Should you work on the problem your boss just plopped in front of you, or the A-1 project due next week? Can the little stuff be put off one more day, or will that create a crisis this afternoon? Should you buckle down and work on one thing (anything!), or should you stop to figure out how to avoid this mess in the future?
If you tell yourself “Speed up!” in the midst of this confusion, you just add another angry voice to the melee.
What you really need to do is slow down — slow down your thinking — so you can figure out what you need to do right now. Then you can do it.
The easiest way to sort through such confusion is to write out your thoughts in full sentences on paper. This slower, physical task helps you focus your thinking in several ways:
1. You instantly become clearer on the problems, because you stop interrupting one thought with another. You have time to grasp the first problem before being bombarded with the second.
2. You stop going in circles, hearing the same six thoughts in rotation. After writing down those six, you have mental room to hear thoughts seven, eight, and nine. Those are the ones that will help you break out of the impasse.
3. You get clearer on what’s important. As you write out a thought in a full sentence, you put it in the spotlight. Is it really true? How important is it right now? Some of the issues on your mind are critical, some are irrelevant or mistaken. When you spell out each thought, you can better tell which is which.
When work has slowed to a crawl, you can bet that you are stuck somewhere in your head. The best way to speed up your work is to slow down your thinking. Sort out the morass by switching to “thinking on paper” in full sentences. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can take stock of the situation and propel yourself into productive action.