patienceI was driving my daughter, Isabel, today to her little gym class today.  It was morning rush hour, and the streets were crazy. Pedestrians were blatantly jaywalking in front of my car when I had the green light; cab drivers were swerving past me just to break hard again for a red light; a car was literally on my butt, trying to pass me on a one-land street — and I was driving above the speed limit!

I should not complain — I was one of those folks not too many years ago: I was working 60-80 hours a week; I jay-walked all the time, and also brought plenty of that “rush” mentality to work, to my own detriment. I was a constant overachiever like most consultants: Any time I got an email about a client crisis or an emergency, I would rush myself and others to resolve all of it that evening. I ended up over-working, and I made others overwork unnecessarily. To me, it was critical to get things done as soon as I got them.

I didn’t learn the wisdom of patience until 6 years ago, when I learned how it makes me more efficient at accomplishing things. In 2004, I experienced a serious work-related injury called RSI. My doctor told me that I must not work more than 8 hours a day, in order to fully recover, for about 12 months. So, if I received any urgent requests at 5 pm or later, I had to wait until the next day to figure out how to resolve it.

Something miraculous happened: many times the problem resolved itself, or the solution would magically present itself — all by the next morning. Here are three reasons why:

  • People sending the requests to me were also rushers.   A lot of the time, people (clients, partners, my managers) jumped the gun and declared something a crisis.  They got too many people involved too quickly, and then, a few hours later, found information that basically made the crisis obsolete.  I would then get an email in the morning to ignore the request from the previous evening.  Perfect!
  • No one is optimal at addressing a crisis when rushed – It’s hard to think clearly when you are rushing or on an adrenaline kick.  You will end up picking the first solution you think of, instead of the wisest solution.   Most rushing is unnecessary and self-imposed — can you really not wait for the green light to walk to work?  Do you really need to solve the crisis tonight?  One of my ex-MD’s, turned consultant-friend, used to say to me, “will anyone die tonight if you didn’t do anything?  If not, you have time.”  That definitely puts things in perspective.  I found that giving myself a few hours to think about an issue made it clearer and easier to solve.  The problem took less time to resolve, and I was able to find the most efficient solution.
  • More people are available to help if you give it time – If you rush around, you may have to strong arm people to get them to help at the last minute or in the evening/weekends. Even when the consultants expect you to work more than 40 hours a week, no one wants to work for a manager that makes their team do unnecessary work. I have found that most deadlines are more flexible than they appear — instead of rushing, use that time to re-negotiate the deadline. On several occasions, I showed up in the morning and found that some of the best consultants were emailing me to see if I needed help, because they were available. I doubt they would have done that if I and been a constant slave-driver.

My golden rule now is to error on the side of patience. There is nothing more disastrous and time wasting than taking action without a clear, good vision.  When you stay calm, you solve the issues, respect your time and the time of others, and you avoid steam-rolling other people. Clearly, patience also has a great side-effect: It makes you someone that people want to work with and for. For any job where you have to work with others to get stuff done, this is an invaluable reputation to build – a reputation that can always help you achieve results faster in the long run.

Your comments:  How are you practicing patience at work?  Has it helped?   Add your comments below and we’ll have a discussion.

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I am always in your corner.

– Lei

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