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Don’t assume you will be less busy someday”, with Wendy Ryan

Don’t assume you will be less busy someday. The illusion that we will have more time to catch up on things later is incredibly seductive. It lulls us into a false sense that our busyness is temporary. It can also prevent us from making tough choices necessary to align how we actually spend our time with […]

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Don’t assume you will be less busy someday. The illusion that we will have more time to catch up on things later is incredibly seductive. It lulls us into a false sense that our busyness is temporary. It can also prevent us from making tough choices necessary to align how we actually spend our time with our deepest values and our passions.

As a part of my series about “How to Slow Down To Do More” I had the pleasure to interview Wendy Ryan. With over 25 years of combined experience in human resources, organizational development, non-profit leadership and executive coaching Wendy has partnered with hundreds of individuals and organizations throughout the U.S. helping front-line through C-suite leaders and board members achieve success as individuals and in teams. She is an expert in organizational and individual assessments, leadership development, strategic visioning and implementing organizational change from start-ups through the Fortune 500. Wendy holds a Master’s Degree in Human Resources and Organizational Development from the University of San Francisco in addition to a post-graduate Certificate in Management and Innovation from Bentley College and dual Bachelor’s Degrees in Psychology and Spanish from the University of California at Davis.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?

Myfirst exposure to the work I do now was actually in high school. I was elected to the student council position of Rally Commissioner and encouraged to attend a 4-day summer camp for student council leaders. It was a transformational experience for me and sparked my enduring interest in leadership teams and organizations.

According to a 2006 Pew Research Report report, 26% of women and 21% of men feel that they are “always rushed”. Has it always been this way? Can you give a few reasons regarding what you think causes this prevalent feeling of being rushed?

I think our collective emphasis on productivity and efficiency in the workplace has a dark side. It shows up in part as time pressure, or the sense of feeling ever more rushed to complete tasks. Some tasks do benefit from an emphasis on efficiency, while others, especially those related to creative work, may not.

Advances in technology have contributed to this even though many technologies were developed under the premise of increasing our discretionary time. Rather than blaming technology, however, I think we are better served by being conscious consumers and organizational leaders. Asking, what problems will implementing this technology create for our people and how can we address that, are important questions for organizational leaders to ask. Remember that most new technologies are introduced because someone is trying to solve a particular problem, but inevitably that solution will create a few new problems to be solved. That’s not necessarily a bad trade off, but one that we tend not to deal with as openly and proactively as we should.

Based on your experience or research can you explain why being rushed can harm our productivity, health, and happiness?

There is a lot of credible research on the biology of stress and the negative impact of chronically elevated levels of cortisol on our bodies. To the extent that an individual perceives the feeling of being rushed as stressful, then it can become harmful over an extended period of time. The key word here is “perception”. If an individual does not perceive time pressure as particularly stressful, then that will mitigate the negative effects.

On the flip side, can you give examples of how we can do more, and how our lives would improve if we could slow down?

In an effort to get more done, faster, many people make the mistake of foregoing breaks. They think, “If I just work through lunch” I can go home earlier. But our ability to focus and do our best work actually diminishes significantly when we don’t take breaks. We are more productive when we recognize our need for idle time and plan our day accordingly. Similarly, we are less vulnerable to burnout when we actually take our vacation time instead of banking it.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed. Can you share with our readers 6 strategies that you use to “slow down to do more”? Can you please give a story or example for each?

1. Schedule self-care first. Maintaining your health and wellness is essential for sustainable performance at work and a satisfying personal life. For some people, what’s required to achieve this is a lot more than for others. Find out what you need to be your best and schedule time for those things each week, first. Then schedule your other commitments around that.

2. Take a nap. Even for people who regularly get the recommended 7–8 hours per night, a 20 minute nap in the afternoon can significantly boost your concentration and productivity for the rest of the day.

3. Ask what can I finish today vs. what can I start? When people try to make a little bit of progress on a very long list of things all in a day but don’t actually complete any tasks, it adds to the feeling of stress and overwhelm they experience. Cognitively, we don’t have capacity to deal with more than 3–7 things as “urgent priorities” in a given time period so we are better off completing tasks and shortening the list than we are keeping 20 pots boiling on the stove for several days.

4. Calculate what your time is worth. If you’ve never done the exercise of calculating a value for your time, you may be surprised at how your thinking shifts when you do this.

5. Don’t assume you will be less busy someday. The illusion that we will have more time to catch up on things later is incredibly seductive. It lulls us into a false sense that our busyness is temporary. It can also prevent us from making tough choices necessary to align how we actually spend our time with our deepest values and our passions.

6. Feed your passion and starve your should-do. Whether it’s volunteering your time with an organization whose mission you are passionate about, losing yourself in a performance you are watching, or playing a sport you love, honor what brings you joy “just because.” The time you invest en-joying your passion is “magical time” in the sense that rather than make us feel more rushed, adding it tends to help us feel less so. The problem with “should-do’s” is twofold. One, the list is endless and usually comprised of activities other people think are how we should be spending our time. Two, our satisfaction in completing should-dos tends to be very short lived and does not energize us the way feeding our passion does. I’m not suggesting that you never complete many of your should-dos, just make sure they aren’t the only list driving how you spend your time.

How do you define “mindfulness”? Can you give an example or story?

I think of mindfulness as paying attention to both your inner and outer worlds and the interplay between the two. It’s a state of focused attention that requires intentionality and energy to maintain. For example, when I am meeting with a client during a coaching session, I am 100% present and focused on listening to what they are saying and asking questions to draw out their insights. I don’t think about anything else. On rare occasions when my mind starts to wander during a session, I gently bring it back to the present and refocus.

Can you give examples of how people can integrate mindfulness into their everyday lives?

Many people have certain rituals they engage in every morning or as part of their bedtime routine to enhance mindfulness. Rituals don’t have to be associated with a particular religious practice, but rather create a regular discipline around focusing attention on a daily basis. For example, taking 5 minutes in the evening to journal experiences that you are grateful for is a form of mindfulness. Deliberating focusing your attention on the colors of the trees and the sounds of the birds while you walk the dog each the morning instead of making a phone call is also practicing mindfulness.

Do you have any mindfulness tools that you find most helpful at work?

Every couple of hours I do 2–3 minutes of breath work and visualization to monitor my physical, mental and emotional energy levels. If I notice that my energy is a little low in any of these areas, I take action to recharge. By doing this, I find I am able to extend my attention and stay fully focused during coaching sessions or meeting facilitation with clients. Increasing mindfulness and building a discipline around it is a core element in my work with clients. You can’t shift your thinking, behavior or leadership style without becoming more mindful of how you show up to and react in response to others,

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to use mindfulness tools or practices?

Eckhart Tolle’s writing is a great place to start. Yoga, tai chi and meditation are also great practices that have many proven health benefits in addition to being terrific tools for increasing mindfulness.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You can’t be less than you are.” I woke up with this thought one morning about 10 years ago, and it has been a guiding principle for me ever since. Our work to close the gap between who we are now and who we think we could be is meaningful and important. Extending ourselves, taking risks and testing our boundaries is how we learn and grow. Ultimately, our deepest satisfaction in life comes from that. Not from material things, not from what other people give or do not give us, but from our efforts to become the more of who we can be, even when it’s really hard.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-).

Brain literacy. How our brains work, why we think, feel and behave the way we do and how those things in combination with our perceptions shape our reality. It’s the key to understanding and overcoming the negative impact of unconscious bias in our world.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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