Slow Down to Speed Up

On a particularly busy day, piano tuner Thomas Sterner decided that, since he couldn’t get a day off, he would at least go slowly. Just for the day. When he arrived at the concert hall, he walked to the grand piano slowly. He took his tools out slowly. He even tuned every string with deliberate slowness.

“Trying to work slowly creates funny feelings,” Sterner wrote about the experience. Your inner voice screams at you to speed up. Anxiety builds around all the work that lies ahead. “That is because working slowly goes against every thought system in today’s world.”

Unsurprisingly then, at first, Sterner struggled to slow down. “We spend so much time rushing everything we do. Rushing had become so much of a habit that I was amazed at the amount of concentration it took to work slowly on purpose.” He had to take off his watch and focus intensely on each small task.

By his second piano of the day, however, Sterner noticed a shift in his inner state. “No nervous stomach, no anticipation of getting through the day, and no tight muscles in my shoulders and neck. Just this relaxed, peaceful, what-a-nice-day-it-is feeling.” “Blissful,” he even called it.

As it turned out, “anything you can do in a rushed state is surprisingly easy when you deliberately slow it down.” When you’re not frantic about finishing, you can gift yourself the time you need to complete any challenge – no matter how daunting – by simply taking it one step at a time.

The ultimate revelation, however, came when Sterner finished work on the second piano. He wrapped up his tools one by one. He walked to the parking lot slowly. He returned to his truck, and when its clock came on, he was dumbfounded: “I had cut over 40 percent off the usual time.”

Sterner could not think of any logical explanation, except perhaps the special forces mantra that “slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.” Still, the time savings felt extreme, especially given Sterner was doing a job he had done for many years. Needless to say, he no longer bothered trying to speed up.

“When you work slowly, things become simpler. If you want to simplify something, break it down into small parts and work more slowly at each part.”

When we work slowly, a whole host of negative self-talk disappears. Your inner critic needn’t remind you that “you’re not good enough” or harass you to go faster. No. You’ve decided: You’re doing the work slowly, and you’re doing it right. It’ll take how long it takes, but both while working at it and once you’re done, you’ll feel good about it. Chances are, you’ll also do each task just once, and you might save a whole bunch of time in the process.

Who knew? The easiest way to accomplish your goals faster just might be to slow down. It’s true that if you drive half as fast, you’ll still get there on time – but apparently, you might even reach your destination with plenty to spare.