Slowing Down To Speed Up

Some of us learn our lessons slower than others.  Thankfully (though it may not feel that way at the time) our benevolent Universe will keep handing us opportunities over and over to learn what we need to make our lives easier and more successful.

tailgatingCase in point:  Ever been running behind and, in order to get somewhere in a hurry, driven your car like a crazy person?  Ever tailgated the person in front of you, planned your move, passed them at the first possible (sometimes risky) opportunity, driven at the outer edges of the speed limit (or maybe slightly over), and put pedal to the metal when approaching the stoplight only to curse the unnatural changing of the light at seemingly lightning speed from green to yellow to red?  Ever watched in your rearview mirror with your foot nervously tapping the accelerator and your fingers drumming the steering wheel as the car you tailgated and sped past pulls up slowly beside you at the light?   Your fellow driver turns to smile with a satisfied look that says, “Hello, my silly friend.  Looks like we’ve arrived at the exact same time, and all that huffing and puffing back there really didn’t gain you a thing.” 

No?  Well, me either.  I just heard about it.  But I hear that the other driver looks cool, calm, and collected.  And I look ridiculous. 

This week at a client’s office, we discussed how this same dynamic shows up in their busy, successful practice.  They work a very full schedule every day, with two docs, 10 rooms, 3 hygienists, and complicated surgeries.  Some days they are speeding so fast that they run into each other rounding corners, bump the patient in the chair as they fly into the operatory, knock over supplies in a rush, make costly mistakes, and worst of all… look harried and frazzled to patients. 

As a reminder to them and to me, I decided to engage them in a training exercise we call “Push/Pull” (courtesy of my colleagues, Bob Spiel and Art McCracken).  The scenario is this:  The team stands at a counter and is asked to work together like an assembly line whose task is to create as many “greeting cards” as they can in 5 minutes with minimal waste.  They are given a ream of blank paper and a “job” for each person such as outlining the paper, drawing vertical or horizontal lines, writing numbers in the squares, totaling the numbers, folding the paper, or decorating the outside.  In our first round they made 11 cards and had 21 uncompleted in the pipeline.

The second round is exactly the same as the first with one exception:  They may not pass their paper to the next station until it is “open.”  In other words, no bottlenecks.  This becomes in essence a “forced” slow-down of sorts.  They are still trying to beat the clock, but they must slow down and be more deliberate in their flow.  They were sure they had lost on the second round because it felt slower, but what did the results show?  The second round produced 21 completed cards and only 12 “wasted” products in the pipeline.

slow downWhen we are stressed and anxious about “getting it all done,” most of us accelerate to the point of diminishing returns.  We feel the stress in our bodies, we make mistakes, and we lose our patience.  When we look like we are going Mach Five with our hair on fire to patients, they perceive us as losing control… not a characteristic you desire in your healthcare provider.  But when we concentrate, focus, and maintain a steady but controlled speed along with a positive outlook, we tend to produce more and have less wasted effort.  We minimize mistakes and appear calm, controlled, and capable to our patients and co-workers. 

This week, remember the push / pull exercise.  Remember the two cars reaching the stoplight at the same time.  Remember the way you want to feel and the way you want your patients to perceive you and the excellent care you provide.

Remember sometimes you have to slow down to speed up.

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“Some of the secret joys of living are not found by rushing from point A to point B, but by inventing some imaginary letters along the way.”   ~ Douglas Pagels, These Are the Gifts I’d Like to Give to You

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