Focus on humility — Regardless of whether I would categorize a day as “good” or “bad” I try to spend the final moments at my home office desk reflecting on who helped drive success that day — This reminds me that I cannot accomplish broad, ambitious goals without a team.
As a part of my series about “How to Slow Down To Do More” I had the pleasure to interview Paul Gentile of LogMeIn.
Paul Gentile is a workplace collaboration expert and senior director of product marketing at LogMeIn.
Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
Istudied communication at school, so working with others and helping to create products that foster collaboration was always something I wanted to do. When I joined LogMeIn back in 2018, however, what really attracted me to the company was the culture. LogMeIn was (and is) a fast-paced environment, but that doesn’t mean it emphasizes stress or urgency for the sake of urgency. Things get done quickly because the decision-making process is effective and promotes strong and regular internal communication between teams involved. When things run smoothly, that helps individual employees slow down and lower stress to get more done, even if the project as a whole is moving quickly. It’s a structure and philosophy that aligned well with my own approach to work — I can help design great products quickly and efficiently, while still taking the time to slow down, remain thoughtful and enjoy my work.
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 feeling rushed occasionally is an inescapable part of work — but it absolutely shouldn’t be a constant feeling, and it’s absolutely become worse in the last few years. The average American worker is busier than ever, and that “always-on” feeling is contributing to widespread burnout.
Part of the problem is that workers are dealing with a combination of both technical and social pressures. On the one hand, we’re constantly connected to work through our devices. Even when we’re “offline” for the day, we have a steady stream of emails, chat notifications and project updates popping up our computers and phones. And let’s be honest, it’s hard to genuinely relax and step away from our work when we have constant reminders chasing us.
At the same time, we’ve developed what’s come to be known as a “cult of busy” in our lives. Because we are always connected, we feel pressured to always be engaged and doing something, even with our free time. In a sense, true downtime spent doing nothing has become a cardinal sin of our social cult, and is looked down upon often both by ourselves and our peers.
The problem is that downtime is crucial to our mental health. It allows us to de-stress and de-clutter our thoughts so we’re recharged for the next day of work. When we don’t get that break, we actually become less productive, work slower and things pile up — leaving us in an endless cycle of stress, rush, stress, repeat.
Based on your experience or research can you explain why being rushed can harm our productivity, health, and happiness?
Stress is a natural reaction from our bodies, and in certain situations it serves a valuable biological purpose. If a car suddenly swerves into your lane of the highway, for example, your brain registers the threat and releases adrenaline, cortisol and other chemicals that trigger a series of reactions to block out distractions, increase reaction speed and more to help you avoid the danger. The problem is when we’re subjected to these chemicals on a regular basis, especially when we’re sitting at our desks and don’t need an actual fight-or-flight response, they can lead to serious health issues like depression, heart disease and difficulty concentrating. When our health suffers, so does our happiness, and by extension, our productivity. It’s a repeating cycle, and if we don’t make changes to reduce our stress, one that can have long-lasting repercussions.
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?
I’m a strong advocate for what Canadian journalist Carl Honoré dubbed “the Slow Movement” back in 2004. The movement emphasizes mindfulness, creativity, and a balanced working environment. That doesn’t mean being lazy and deliberately getting less done — quite the opposite, in fact. By taking a few extra moments to slow down, collect our thoughts and balance work with the rest of our lives, many people actually find that they are able to get more done in less time, and with less stress. Personally, I like to start my day by taking a couple of minutes to plan out my day and make sure I’m relaxed before I ever open my laptop. That helps me start my day calm, focused, and knowing that I have a handle on my priorities before I throw myself into emails or new projects that might otherwise cause stress. Part of this exercise is to do so without technology, which includes placing my smart phone screen-down and on silent.
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?
Over the course of my career, I’ve developed a few best practices to help myself and others slow down to feel better and actually get more done:
- Set boundaries — It may seem obvious, but look ahead at your schedule and set hard boundaries between work and free time. Having a set time for work helps you concentrate on what needs to get done, and setting time away from work allows you to decompress and take time for yourself.
- Embrace monotasking — Many people consider multitasking a valuable skill, but when we try to keep several balls in the air, things will inevitably go wrong or end up forgotten. Just think what happens if you try to read an email while on a videoconferencing call. Even if you’re not speaking at the moment, you’re trying to process two discussions simultaneously, and you’ll ultimately only understand bits and pieces of each.
- Manage your schedule with timeboxing — Just as you need to schedule boundaries between free time and work, it’s also important to schedule boundaries between separate tasks at work. Say I need to finish an important report, check in with a coworker and write a blog all in one day. By employing timeboxing, I give myself two hours for the report, 20 minutes for my meeting, and another hour for the blog, based on the time I estimate it will take me to finish each task, and set those aside on my calendar. By doing so, I help keep myself on deadline and allow myself to concentrate on one task before I move to the next one.
- Take breaks — It’s a myth that the average goldfish memory only lasts three seconds, but that doesn’t mean our attention spans are infinite. Give yourself a few minutes every 30 minutes or so to disconnect from your work, collect your thoughts and relax — you’ll feel better and come back energized and more productive. Case in point: a recent study by the American Psychological Association found that participants given just a five-minute break during a 45-minute task performed significantly better on the task than participants who weren’t given a break.
- Set aside time for things you enjoy — Now that our work and home lives are sharing the same space, it’s easy to let one consume the other. But whether you enjoy riding your bike, reading a book or learning to sew, make sure you set aside time in your day to separate yourself from your home office to do things you enjoy. It doesn’t matter when you do it — before work, after, or during a break in the afternoon — just as long as you make time for what make you happy.
- If you need more time, ask — Meeting deadlines is important, but you shouldn’t have to sacrifice the quality of your work to do so. If you’re designing the interface of a new app, for instance, but feel you need another day or two to really fine-tune the system, don’t be afraid to ask your manager for an extension. Chances are the project supervisor would much rather get a well-designed system a day later than expected than a flawed one at the deadline originally set, and the small extension will likely save them time and effort in the long run.
How do you define “mindfulness”? Can you give an example or story?
I define “mindfulness” as being aware of not only our own thoughts, feelings, and physical bodies, but to the feelings of those around us and our environment at any given time. In this way, being mindful can help us better cope and interact with any person or situation that presents itself to us. Really, it is all about being present and in-the-moment.
One example is making sure to incorporate at least one meaningful conversation with a colleague that is about their personal life. This could be at the start of a morning scrum meeting, or reaching out to them separately over video to check in on how a particular personal event went the evening before. Prior to the pandemic, I tried to make a point to join a colleague at a local cafe for a short, but deliberate engagement for ten or fifteen minutes without technology.
Can you give examples of how people can integrate mindfulness into their everyday lives?
I’ve talked a lot about slowing down and maintaining mindfulness at work, but it’s a useful skill in nearly every aspect of our lives — both work and personal. Let’s use the traditional Japanese tea ceremony as an example. On its surface, making tea isn’t all that complicated; you heat the water, pour it into a cup with your yea of choice, and drink. But professionals trained in the traditional tea ceremony take years to practice their art, to the point where each action, from scooping the matcha powder to picking up their mixing brush, is simultaneously calm, deliberate, and mindful. In effect, the entire process becomes something like meditation. Now, we can’t expect to bring that level of mindfulness to our entire lives (we’d move at a snail’s pace if we did), but it’s a valuable example of the benefits it can have for helping us purposely introduce calm and thoughtful action in even mundane tasks that are part of our everyday lives.
Do you have any mindfulness tools that you find most helpful at work?
Absolutely — There are a several that I am cognizant on practicing daily or weekly, but here are two that I have been focused on as of late:
- Focus on humility — Regardless of whether I would categorize a day as “good” or “bad” I try to spend the final moments at my home office desk reflecting on who helped drive success that day — This reminds me that I cannot accomplish broad, ambitious goals without a team. So I reflect on, what was a strong contributor to my work and to the collective team’s work? And then simply drop them a quick chat-message to them or make a note to thank them tomorrow morning… it is great way to focus on the culture that we all want to be a part of.
- Take a walk outside — I know that can sound ridiculous, but getting fresh air and sunlight is a terrific way to recalibrate and recenter yourself. This doesn’t mean going to workout for an hour, it means making a brisk walk around the block, or to the local coffee shop for five to ten minutes. Forcing your mind to stretch and breathe, will help your productivity upon return.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to use mindfulness tools or practices?
There are countless examples, but I was recently reminded of Jim Collin’s book Good to Great — actually, I saw this on my father’s bookshelf as a “book on CD” while recently visiting them in Kansas City. This best-selling book outlines examples of companies that found a way to have greatness as part of their DNA from the onset, and that their organizational leaders all showcased personal humility, which is why I have been so hot on that aspect lately. For me, I’m revisiting Collin’s work right now as it’s an excellent reminder that by focusing on others, and your own mindfulness, greatness emerges and is contagious. Thus, creating balance and health for an entire company.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” — Peter Drucker — well respected and admired thought leader in the management field.
I absolutely love this quote and it is one that I use in my own motivation, with my team members and nowadays, even with my kids as their social and team-dynamics become increasingly important based on their age. This quote means that you can have all the right plans in place and even the best ideas — but truly it is about the environment you create for your peers — that is how the real work, and fun, happens.
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. 🙂
I’ve said this before, and it is based on commentary from a female CEO at a prior employer of mine — but I would force people to change their job role every four to five years. This doesn’t imply that you should be a “hopper”, but that you have to be committed to life-long learning and personal development. Too often, we get way too comfortable and that can be masked by success; one way to break through that monotony, is to push yourself to gain new insights, make new human connections, to ensure that your development will continue — to me, that is the ultimate reward.
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!