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Slow Down To Do More: “Every so often, look at what you have to do and question whether you really need to be doing it”, with Dr. Sasha Nair

Every so often, look at what you have to do and question whether you really need to be doing it. What could you delegate? What is not a priority for right now and could be rescheduled for later? What could you cut out entirely? Cutting down tasks that are not essential for you to do […]

Every so often, look at what you have to do and question whether you really need to be doing it. What could you delegate? What is not a priority for right now and could be rescheduled for later? What could you cut out entirely? Cutting down tasks that are not essential for you to do right now frees you up to focus your time and energy on what is really important and what will give you the most forward momentum towards your goals.

As a part of my series about “How to Slow Down To Do More” I had the pleasure to interview Dr Sasha Nair. Sasha is a physician and a success coach for driven professionals. Her coaching clients are mostly multi-talent doctors and executives who want to customize their careers, amplify their creative capacity, discover effective ways to work smarter, relax more fully and most of all use their unique blend of talents to make an even bigger impact in the world than they already are. Sasha is an Endocrinologist with particular expertise in Womens Health. As a speaker she has presented at forums such as the World Congress of Human Reproduction, The Health Education England inaugural Portfolio Career Conference and the New Zealand Endocrine Society annual conference. Sasha has co-authored scientific publications and currently writes a personal development blog on her website drsashanair.com. As a coach Sasha has been featured in publications such as Elite Daily, Fupping and Thrive Global.


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

Ihave always been the kid with a list of things I wanted to do as long as my arm, and I certainly have spent a lot of time rushing around trying to fit them all in! In my 20s I kept myself busy clocking in up to 16 hours a day as a junior doctor, conscientiously writing up research projects, enthusiastically speaking at conferences and feverishly juggling dance gigs and music-writing on the side. I was exhausted most of the time but, I was passionate about everything I did. However, while I told myself this is what I wantedwhat I really believed deep down was that this was just the path to what I really wanted and that “some day” I would get to the point where I would be able to relax and really enjoy life. What I didn’t realize was that I was running very close to burn-out for years. Or if on some level I did, I think I somehow believed that it was a good thing to constantly live at the edge of my limits. Don’t get me wrong, challenge is necessary for growth and very healthy when it is followed by periods of recovery and comes from a place of already embracing yourself and wanting to be even better. But never slowing down because you don’t believe you deserve to relax and enjoy life until you have achieved what turns out to be an ever-moving target is neither healthy nor a recipe for optimal performance in the long run, and in retrospect, that is what I was doing.

Then suddenly, in a relatively short period of time I was faced with a dash of health issues, a dollop of misfortune, and some incredibly sad and testing events in my personal life. I put on a good front, and from the outside, everything looked fine, but on the inside, things were unravelling. I had minimal time to sleep let alone any time to pursue my non-clinical passions for music and dance, and my physical and emotional reserves were dry. Life had become a matter of daily survival. One day, having had enough of going through the motions to survive my schedule for the week, I remembered how as a geeky teen, my guilty pleasure had been self-development books about how to optimize performance. I immersed myself in personal development resources, reading everything I could find on the topic. I applied what I was learning and used Emotional Freedom Techniques, mindset work and creative thinking techniques to move past grief, let go of my anxieties, recharge myself, and get clarity and a new sense of purpose for moving forward. And I’ve come back stronger, more balanced, happier with myself and my life and more sustainably productive than ever before.

I couldn’t believe I had wasted so many years feeling rushed, stressed and unhappy, and even though I was highly productive, I had not been optimally productive. I quickly realized I wanted to help other people experience the transformation that I had, and that was the beginning of my journey as a coach.

I am still the kid with a list as long as my arm of things I want to do. But now I know how to focus my mind for maximum efficiency and when to allow myself to slow down and recover. In fact I have developed two interlaced systems which enable me to get a lot done in a short period of time and stay calm and organized despite always having a variety of projects on the go! Using these systems, for example, last year I was able to take 3 online business courses simultaneously, work a full-time job in Endocrinology, parent a 2 year old, build my coaching business from having no idea what it would look like to a successful launch, and still have time for weekend outings, getting through a self-development book a week, watching the occasional movie and lovely European holidays away…all within 6 months.

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?

Certainly some of us (myself included) have personalities which tend to make us want to be in constant action. But in terms of the prevalent feeling of feeling rushed, no I don’t think it has always been this way. Having spent time in Borneo, Malaysia (my mother’s homeland) growing up, I got to observe how people in the rural villages lived. They lived in simple huts, rose with the sun, had one or two main types of tasks for the day and relaxed after dark. Most of the people had very little money and that must have been incredibly difficult, but there wasn’t really the opportunity to rush around and take frenetic action to do something about it, so they just made the best of what they had.

Modern life in the Western world on the other hand, is exciting, fast-paced and complicated. We have experienced a digital revolution in our time. When I was a child in the 80s I wouldn’t have been able to comprehend having a smart phone that could act as a talking map, take and share videos and photos on voice command, instantaneously video-call someone on the other side of the world , answer pretty much any question, translate languages…! Even when I was at university and spent hours making trips to the library to look up scientific papers using the Dewy decimal system and photocopy them, I never imagined how soon we would be able to access such papers on a hand-held device within in seconds. I never imagined when I joined up to my first social media account on Facebook that in just a few years so many of us would become “mini-celebrities” broadcasting our every move, thought and meal to the world. I think that as a society we haven’t quite caught our breath and developed widespread coping strategies to cope with the pace with which technology has developed. We see other people on social media forging forward rapidly and looking well put together and happy (whether or not that is the case) and suddenly the pressure is on to keep up! I think that’s why mindset coaching is growing so quickly, it provides the much-needed tools to deal with these new pressures.

Suddenly now, we have more options, possibilities, opportunities, than ever before. We can work online in different time zones with people across the world. Can’t find a niche for your idea in your industry? You can create your own online business in no time! But with the increased opportunities comes an increase in demands and expectations on our time and performance, sometimes from others but often from ourselves. We fear missing out and want to do it all. We justify the rushing around to ourselves by telling ourselves that it is temporary, that if we work really, really hard now, “someday” we will be able to relax and enjoy it. Except that when that way of thinking becomes a habit, “someday” never comes –it tends to make reaching goals feel slightly hollow, so we set new ones and rush off again… I think that possibly in response to the recent developments, we have developed a culture of rushing. It is easy to forget that it is possible to put in the hard work towards a dream and yet also take time to relax and fully enjoy the journey. And enjoying the journey is so important because accomplishments are only momentary. The journey is everything else.

I have a theory that another contributor to the prevalence of feeling rushed is a low sense of self-worth. In this digital age everyone is more visible. We measure ourselves against all the successes of people around us and in the media. We might rush to rack up as many accomplishments as possible, hoping that this will validate us, make us feel less intimidated by others accomplishments, or make us feel more worthy so that we can then be happy. When actually the truth is that you become truly happy when you allow yourself to be.

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

Feeling rushed is a form of stress. Based on my personal experiences and my clinical experience as an Endocrinologist I have seen stress cause a range of symptoms including poor sleep, poor concentration and memory, low mood, hair-loss, irritable bowel symptoms, acid reflux, PMS, muscle pain, tension headaches, weight gain and more. Research also points to a range of adverse health outcomes related to chronic stress.

Feeling exhausted and unable to concentrate let alone being troubled by other physical or mental symptoms can only have a negative impact on productivity and it’s also very hard to feel happy when you feel stressed, rushed, exhausted, obligated or, trapped.

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 believe that it is the process of slowing down regularly rather than necessarily going slowly that is key. That is, having highly productive periods of working fast but also regularly slowing down in order to optimize overall productivity, creativity and high performance that is sustainable.

As I mentioned before that I have two interlaced systems that I developed to harness the advantages of regularly slowing down to optimize productivity and minimize stress even when you have multiple projects on the go;

My first system is incorporates 4 “speeds” of operation, all of which are important to cycle through for optimal productivity.

Speed 1. Action Time

This is the most fast-paced type of day in my week. I find having the occasional tightly packed task-oriented day with deadlines (even if they are self-imposed) helps to create momentum. It is encouraging and motivating to be able to tick a whole lot of things off my to-do list. But a fast-paced day doesn’t mean you should have racing thoughts and feel rushed. Schedule what would be a reasonable amount of time for each task if you were working efficiently and include breaks and buffer time. It is more important than ever on a day like this to take the time to “get in the zone” and include regular breaks in order to be fully focused on the task at hand.

Speed 2. Maintenance Time

Going at full speed even when you are doing something you love can be exhausting. So it’s ok to have days where you maintain your forward progress but work at your own pace without necessarily pushing yourself to work as fast as possible.

Speed 3. Play Time

Fun activities, stimulating experiences and energizing interactions can provide food for creativity.

Speed 4. Restorative Time

This includes self-care and restful restorative activities. This is the time to slow down, still the thoughts and be present in the moment. Worrying about things you have to do is mentally and emotionally draining even if you happen to be in a yoga pose at the time! This time is important to recharge and prepare for the next “fast” phase. Also, when studying or learning a new skill, often it is in the recovery time when that things “set” or consolidate. I often get the most profound insights, creative ideas and solutions to problems is when I use creative thinking techniques during restorative time.

The second system is my 5-layer organizational system. On a “slow” day I may only use one layer (my Google calendar) which alerts me to any immediate deadlines or events that need my attention. On a day that I want to be highly productive, I will use all 5 layers. This system enables me to keep my long term dreams, short term tasks and medium-term milestones in sight which is important in order to strategically plan “fast” task-oriented time blocks and “slow” creative periods in order to reach my targets.

Finally, as much as I love using systems, for optimal productivity it is important to regularly check in with yourself and see whether you can adjust your schedule to how you are feeling that day. If you have a “slow” time block planned but are full of beans and raring to dive into your to-do list, by all means don’t let that energy and enthusiasm go to waste! On the other hand on a “fast” day it can be counter-productive to keep pushing yourself when you are tired. Sometimes the most efficient thing you can do is call it a day and start afresh after a good rest.

So in summary how do these systems help you to “slow down to speed up”? By slowing down and speeding up regularly, strategically and responsively.

(I am currently writing an e-book that walks you through personalizing and implementing these two interlaced systems which will soon be available free for a limited time to my subscribers at drsashanair.com).

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. Take the time to plan how and when you tackle your to-do list.

Sometimes when you have a lot to do it can feel like a waste of time to sit down and strategize and schedule. But trying to get something done while thoughts are buzzing in your head about all the other things you have to do, worrying about forgetting something or whether you will have time for everything will interrupt your focus and slow you down. When you have scheduled everything you need to get done, you don’t need to give those tasks a second thought until their scheduled time. You could use the two systems I described but at the very least, “brain dump” all the urgent things you need to do onto a list. That way you don’t need to keep trying to remember what you had to do and worry about forgetting something.

2. Do one thing at a time

Multi-tasking might seem like a good idea, but we can actually only make one decision at any one time. So simultaneously attempting two tasks both of which require active thought and decision -making actually forces you to interrupt one to attend to the other, thus disturbing your train of thought and slowing you down. If you are going to multi-task, at least one of the activities should require little conscious thought, for example folding laundry while listening to a podcast might be a reasonable combination.

3. Alternate tasks and speeds

When you have a lot to do, sometimes you can trick yourself into feeling like you have had a break by alternating different types of tasks. For example, when you feel your concentration waning after sitting at the computer for some time, 30 minutes of housework or tidying your work-space gets the muscles moving and allows your mind to rest while you do a task that is not so mentally demanding.

4. Prioritize self-care

We all know it but don’t always practice it; exercise and good nutrition are essential for an optimal sense of wellbeing and performance. Spending quality time time with family and friends and having fun ultimately is too.

5. Sleep

While quality sleep falls under the category of self-care, I wanted to give it a separate mention, because (speaking from personal experience) this can be the hardest thing for highly driven people to prioritize! Firstly is so tempting to cram as much as possible into the day at the expense of sleep. Secondly, even if we remember that quality sleep is essential for optimum health and productivity, prioritizing sleep requires a different mindset to other goals. With everything else in life, including other some aspects of self-care such as exercise and diet, you can challenge yourself to work hard at it. But sleep is more a matter of allowing it to happen than working hard at it.

6. Take the time to trim the fat (from your schedule)

Every so often, look at what you have to do and question whether you really need to be doing it. What could you delegate? What is not a priority for right now and could be rescheduled for later? What could you cut out entirely? Cutting down tasks that are not essential for you to do right now frees you up to focus your time and energy on what is really important and what will give you the most forward momentum towards your goals.

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

Mindfulness to me is allowing your mind to be fully present in the moment. It can be nice to reminisce about the past, and exciting to look forward to the future, but all we ever actually have at any given moment is the present time so it’s important for our happiness to focus on the present moment at least as much if not more than the past and the future. Otherwise you find yourself always thinking about something that you don’t currently have. Being present in the moment also reduces anxiety because anxiety is usually related to the fear of something in the future. Being truly present means all you have to do is focus on doing your best in the moment at hand.

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

1.Gratitude practice in the morning. I like to mentally list 10 things I am grateful for while lying in bed before I get up for the day. This sets an abundant and happy tone to the day and sets you up to notice opportunities to bring even more blessings into your life. Pam Grout explains this really well in her book “Thank and Grow Rich”.

2. Eat mindfully. Eating mindfully means taking the time to fully appreciate food with all your senses, as opposed to eating mindlessly while working at the computer. Eating mindfully is not only more enjoyable but reduces the likelihood of over-eating because you savor and maximize enjoyment of and satisfaction from each mouthful.

3. Be fully present with the people in your life. When you spend time with people you care about, give them your full attention and just enjoy being with them. If you have a lot to do, shorten the time you spend with them if you have to, but make the time that you do spend quality time. Your relationships will benefit and will in turn boost your emotional reserves and energy, ultimately making you more productive.

4. Make a schedule for the things you need to get done to free your mind up to be present in each moment.

5. Celebrate regularly. Working towards a distant goal can be disheartening. So making a habit of taking stock of your successes every week, even every day is encouraging and motivating as you will often find that you made so much more progress than you thought. Taking it a step further, have you ever reached a major milestone only to be disappointed that it felt like an anti-climax? That may be because while you have developed the mental habit of being motivated towards a goal, you haven’t developed the habit of allowing yourself to celebrate success, so when that goal and the energizing motivation towards is removed, you feel hollow. Doing something tangible to celebrate your successes on a regular basis trains you to enjoy the journey, and practicing the habit of celebration is also important so that when you reach that big goal you know how to really enjoy it.

6. Call on all your senses from time to time. I enjoyed creative writing as a teenager and one of my favorite practices was to suddenly and randomly “stop to smell the roses” at various points in the day. I would stop and write a descriptive paragraph of the moment using all 5 senses so that I could later incorporate these passages into stories and essays. Drawing on all your senses is an easy way to immediately bring your focus into the present moment.

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

  1. A really good organizational system

As I’ve mentioned a few times now, having tasks scheduled out means that you don’t have to think about them until their scheduled time, freeing you up to be mindful in the moment.

2. The Worry Cloud Visualisation Exercise for Focus

One of my favorite techniques to quieten a busy mind and get focused on the task at hand is this, which I have adapted from an exercise in Brendan Burchard’s book High Performance Habits:

Close your eyes and imagine all the worries and thoughts buzzing around in your mind gathering together as a cloud in the forefront of your mind

Take some deep breaths, and with each exhalation imagine you are breathing out that cloud of thoughts. Keep doing this until you feel the cloud has been cleared out.

Now visualize yourself excelling at the task you are about to start, feeling energized, successful and focused and being incredibly productive.

Zip-Up Visualization Exercise to Serve Fully Without Feeling Drained

The idea of this exercise is to allow you to put aside any issues of your own and yet protect your own sense of emotional reserve which will allow you to be more mindful and present in an interaction with a client or colleague. In personal interactions with those close to you, you can ideally relax, let your guard down and both give and receive attention and support. But at work with patients, clients or even sometimes colleagues, it is often not about you, but about you being there for them. I find these sorts of interactions always more smoothly when I remember to do this visualization beforehand.

Imagine being safely zipped up into a cozy and comfortable but protective high-necked jacket which means that nothing the other person says can trigger you or affect you personally unless you allow it to. Your head and arms are free to listen, speak, express empathy and be fully present with the person. You can also imagine the jacket as protecting your energy from being drained out. Think of it as displaying energy when you talk animatedly with them, not so much as giving them your energy to minimize the feeling of being emotionally drained by the interaction.

3. Take a walk in nature

Studies show that taking a break to walk outside improves mood (1) and creativity (2). When feeling distracted, taking a walk and using all your senses can be helpful to draw yourself back into focusing on the present.

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

  1. Thank and Grow Rich by Pam Grout
  2. High Performance Habits by Brendan Burchard
  3. The Big Leap –Gay Hendricks

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

When feeling stressed frazzled, and anxious, I like to tell myself “Don’t worry, you have everything you need to get through this”.

I have found this at once comforting and helpful in refocusing to take purposeful action in a variety of situations, from wondering how to safely prioritize, see and manage sick patients during a busy hospital on-call shift, to times of worrying about money, to dealing with difficult events beyond my control. Repeating this phrase can act as a reminder to take a breath, refocus on whatever the next step needs to be, and think of all the resources at your disposal. For example if you are trapped in a sticky situation, what can you see around you that you can use to help (MacGyver style)! If you are exhausted from worrying about how to make ends meet, do you need a good night’s sleep and then to roll up your sleeves and map out a game plan forward drawing on your strengths in the morning? If you feel out of your depth, who can you call upon for advice, guidance and help?

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 want to inspire people to be comfortable with themselves, and yet also believe in their infinite potential and that they can reach for it. When we challenge ourselves, the person we become is capable of more than the person we were before that, and in that way, our potential could be considered infinite. I want to help people to discover that whatever it is that would make them feel fulfilled is possible, and give them tools to move towards it in a way that will bring them joy during the journey.

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

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