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Slow Down To Do More: “Allow Your Brain To Rest” with Ashley Graber and Celeste Headlee.

Our brains work best when they alternate between work and rest. Currently, we never allow our minds to rest and so rarely approach tasks with a fresh mind. If we focus on one task at a time instead of trying to multitask, we can get our tasks done more quickly. Although it feels more productive […]


Our brains work best when they alternate between work and rest. Currently, we never allow our minds to rest and so rarely approach tasks with a fresh mind. If we focus on one task at a time instead of trying to multitask, we can get our tasks done more quickly. Although it feels more productive to multitask, our brains aren’t designed to do two things at once and attempting to do so actually slows us down. That’s the irony. If we slow down and focus on one thing at a time, we ultimately work more quickly. We’ll also feel less stress

As a part of my series about “How to Slow Down to Do More” I had the pleasure to interview Celeste Headlee. Celeste is an award-winning journalist, professional speaker and author of Heard Mentality and We Need To Talk: How To Have Conversations That Matter. In her 20-year career in public radio, she has been the Executive Producer of On Second Thought at Georgia Public Radio and anchored programs including Tell Me More, Talk of the Nation, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. She also served as co-host of the national morning news show, The Takeaway, from PRI and WNYC, and anchored presidential coverage in 2012 for PBS World Channel. Celeste’s TEDx Talk sharing 10 ways to have a better conversation has over 19 million total views to date.

Celeste serves as an advisory board member for Procon.org and The Listen First Project and received the 2019 Media Changemaker Award. Along with artist Masud Olufani, Celeste is host of PBS’s new weekly series “Retro Report” which will debut in the fall of 2019. She is also co-host for season three of the Scene on Radio podcast — MEN. Her work and insights have been featured on TODAY, Psychology Today, Inc., NPR, Time, Essence, Elle, BuzzFeed, Salon, Parade, and many more. Celeste has presented to over 100 companies, conferences and universities including Apple, Google, United Airlines, Duke University, Chobani and ESPN. She lives in Washington, D.C.


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

I resigned my full-time position last year and became a small business owner, specializing in workshops and keynotes on conversation and improved communication. I thought I would be happier and less stressed when I became my own boss, but that’s not what happened. As my income went up, so did my stress. As I increased control over my schedule, the number of commitments also increased and the amount of free time went down. The past two years have been devoted to researching this topic so I could not only solve my own problem, but write a book that can help others who are in a similar situation.

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?

Since we began carrying our work with us, it has become impossible to truly escape from the office. We answer email on our phones, take business calls, text co-workers, and check documents and spreadsheets. Our brains are thinking about our phones whenever the devices are visible. Even if the phone is not getting notifications about emails or texts, our brain is expending energy preparing to respond to a notification. This means we are rarely truly at rest. It helps to explain why we are so often exhausted, even while on vacation.

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

There is solid scientific evidence that when we feel pressed for time, we are moreprone to make errors. We are also likely to be less compassionate to others and morelikely to make bad choices about how to use our time. Just the feeling that we areoverwhelmed can makes us less productive, whether we really are pressed for time ornot.

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?

Our brains work best when they alternate between work and rest. Currently, we never allow our minds to rest and so rarely approach tasks with a fresh mind. If we focus on one task at a time instead of trying to multitask, we can get our tasks done more quickly. Although it feels more productive to multitask, our brains aren’t designed to do two things at once and attempting to do so actually slows us down. That’s the irony. If we slow down and focus on one thing at a time, we ultimately work more quickly. We’ll also feel less stress.

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?

Here are a few of my favorite:

Disable most of the notifications on your phone. You don’t need to know every time someone likes your post on Facebook or comments on your Instagram pic. I get notifications only for texts and calendar appointments. Sometimes hours pass without any sounds coming from my phone.

Stop multitasking. It can be difficult to break the habit, so I started by splitting my work day into half hour increments. I closed out extra tabs on my computer, including my email inbox, and silenced my phone. I found that once I stopped switching back and forth between social media and email and other tasks, I finished tasks more efficiently.

Stop answering email in your off-hours. You will likely have your smartphone with you at all times, so it’s crucial that your phone not be so closely associated with work. Leave your work at work and make your home into a refuge again. I don’t answer email after 6pm. If I send email over the weekend, I delay delivery until Monday morning so that no one feels pressured to answer me in their off-hours.

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

Mindfulness is merely the ability to exist in the current moment, without being distracted by memories of the past or thoughts about the future. I meditate, but found it was fairly easy to remain focused while sitting quietly with my eyes closed. I like to practice mindfulness while exercising. Instead of thinking about all I have to do while I’m walking or on the elliptical, I try to rest my attention on my muscles and the movement of my body. I try to focus on my five senses, noticing what I hear and see and feel, and taste.

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

Another excellent way to practice mindfulness is to pay attention to every bite while you eat. Don’t eat at your desk or in your car, set aside 15–30 minutes, sit down and actually focus on your meal. Try to chew more slowly and taste what’s in the food. Not only will you enjoy your meals more, you are also less likely to overeat.

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

Not really. You don’t need special tools to practice mindfulness. If you spend 3 minutes focusing on your breath with your eyes closed, that’s a mindfulness exercise.

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

I use the Headspace app for meditation. I also use the Strict Workflow browser extension, which uses timers to help me stay focused on one task and then take a break. Any book or podcast can contribute to mindfulness if you read or listen with focus and relaxed attention.

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

I love the poem, “For One Who Is Exhausted, a Blessing,” by John O’Donohue. Here’s a wonderful excerpt: “You have traveled too fast over false ground; Now your soul has come to take you back. Take refuge in your senses, open up to all the small miracles you rushed through. Become inclined to watch the way of rain When it falls slow and free.”

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 would like to inspire a movement to recreate the boundaries between work and home. Make off-time off again. We work in order to enjoy our free time, so must stop using careers, spend more time hanging out with friends and family. Find another question to ask instead of “What do you do?”.

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


About the Author:

After 15 years working in Commercial Real Estate in New York City, Ashley Graber changed the coast she lived on and the direction of her life from Real Estate to the worlds of Psychology and Meditation & Mindfulness. Ashley came to these practices after getting sober and in the decade plus since, she now runs a busy mindfulness based psychotherapy practice at Yale Street Therapy in Santa Monica, CA where she see adults and children and speaks on the benefits of meditation and mindfulness practices.

Ashley is an Owner and Director of Curriculum for the next generation meditation app & mindfulness company ‘Evenflow’ and launched the company’s one to one online mindfulness mentoring program. Ashley also educates teachers and administrators in schools and presents in businesses across Santa Monica and Los Angeles.

Ashley was trained in Meditation and Mindfulness practices by prominent teachers; Elisha Goldstein, Richard Burr and Guiding teacher at Against the Stream Boston, Chris Crotty. Her Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) certification was done through The Center for Mindfulness at UC San Diego. Additionally, Ashley is trained by Mindful Schools to teach Meditation and Mindfulness practices to children and families. Ashley’s unique combination of psychotherapy, trauma reprocessing and meditation and mindfulness practices make her a sought after therapist and mindfulness educator and speaker. Her passion for the benefits of mindfulness practices as well as her enthusiasm for helping young kids and adults is the drive to teach these very necessary, life long skills and why she wrote and runs the Mindfulness for Families program at The Center for Mindful Living. This is where she teaches groups of families with children ages 6–12. Ashley was featured on Good Morning LaLa Land, presented on Resilience at the renowned Wisdom. 2.0 Mindfulness & Technology conference, and presented at the TED Woman conference offering an in-depth look at the profound psychological and physiological consequences of chronic stress, and how meditation and mindfulness practices can alleviate these effects.

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