One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that, if you want to get a lot of things done quickly, you have to slow down.
It feels counterintuitive. We can easily think that, in order to achieve a lot, we must do a lot—and fast.
But that’s the problem.
Because when we try to do too much all at once, we end up getting very little done at all.
When I tried to learn the guitar a few years ago, I thought that I needed to buckle down, practice for an hour every day, and make progress as fast as possible.
And, of course, that might work for somebody. But I bet you can guess what happened to me (and perhaps you can relate): I got overwhelmed, I got frustrated, and I gave up. A year had passed and I’d made no real progress at all.
After reassessing my goals at the end of that unsuccessful year, one of my favorite quotes from Rudyard Kipling scorched through my mind:
“If you don't get what you want, it's a sign either that you did not seriously want it, or that you tried to bargain over the price.”
Did I seriously want it? Yes.
And what exactly did I want? Not to learn everything, but to be able to play through a few of my favorite songs.
What was the price? Time. But I couldn’t afford it in one large installment upfront, in one burst of manic energy.
Instead, I could pay it over a much longer period.
So I decided that I was going to give myself, not a few months, but a year or more just to learn a couple songs. I decided to take it, not as fast as I could, but as slow as was reasonably possible.
What happened? Well, most importantly, I didn’t give up. And, after a few months of slowing down, I could play my favorite songs, which was all I ever wanted in the first place. It happened faster than I expected and much sooner than it ever would have had I kept trying to overexert. And, it was actually fun.
Because it turns out that the feeling that comes from slower but steady success is much more motivating than the feeling that comes from ambitious and immediate failure.
It’s not that working hard and working fast can’t work. Of course it can. It’s just that, for most of us, it doesn’t work.
We all have so much on the go, so many things we need to do and try, that trying to do it all at once usually just leads to frustration and disenchantment.
Trying to do everything quickly just gets us a graveyard of abandoned projects, marketing ideas, product plans, and business models that we threw ourselves into hoping for a quick win—but we got a painful disappointment instead.
As management expert Peter Drucker put it back in the 60s, “If there is one ‘secret’ of effectiveness, it is concentration. Effective executives do first things first and they do one thing at a time.”
Effective business owners and marketers don’t do everything all at once—they don’t even try. They do what’s best, they do what’s next, and they take their time.
They identify the minimum number of steps necessary to get what they want to do done, and they don’t try to overdo—they just do.
I love this quote by Greg McKeown, from his book Effortless:
“To be clear, identifying the minimum number of steps is not the same as ‘phoning it in’ or producing something you are not proud of. Unnecessary steps are just that: unnecessary. Eliminating them allows you to channel all your energy toward getting the important project done. In just about every realm, completion is infinitely better than adding superfluous steps that don't add value. And completion is something to be proud of.”
You’re not lazy if you reduce the number of tasks and to-dos in your business—you’re being more productive.
You’re not slacking off if you decide to do fewer things all at once—you’re being responsible and serious.
You’re not underachieving if you identify the minimum number of steps involved and put your heart and soul into accomplishing them.
And you’re not wasting time if you take things slowly. You’re maximizing the likelihood that you’ll get it done at all.
Because as McKeown put it so perfectly:
“In order to succeed at something, you have to get it done.”
And getting things done at a reasonable pace is much more satisfying than getting nothing done at a breakneck speed.
So identify what’s truly essential in your business and your marketing.
Figure out the minimum number of steps necessary to make what needs to be true a reality.
And takes things slowly, one step at a time.
Pretty soon you’ll realize you got everything done, and it wasn’t even that hard.
Because the hardest part is always just slowing down.