Growing up, I was told countless times to “Be patient and slow down!” Whether it was my dad yelling at me for eating too fast, or my mom telling me to speak slower, it’s a phrase I’m unfortunately familiar with.
As a naturally impatient person, I always want to get things over with as soon as possible. While my speedy delivery was initially rewarded both at school and in the workplace, it didn’t scale in the long run.
If you’re guilty, like I was, of trying to answer emails as soon as you receive them, finishing projects way before deadline, or rushing through your to-do lists with manic speed, then you’re overlooking the most undervalued workplace trait: patience.
Because slowing down and embracing patience means the following:
1. You Stop Creating Extra Work for Yourself and Others
One of my worst habits in my first position was answering emails—urgent or not—as soon as they hit my inbox. This not only caused a rapid back-and-forth of messages, but it also often created unnecessary exchanges that would’ve been solved, sometimes, by others on the thread—if only I hadn’t responded immediately. I used to think I was just being helpful, but really, I was trying to prove my competence and reliability in a superfluous way.
If you’re hardwired to check things off your to-do list ASAP (like I was), then you won’t find it exactly a piece of cake to take a step back before you fire off a response. However, once you begin to see that it’s more efficient and effective to wait for colleagues to weigh in, or for the sender to clarify or figure out the question themselves (for those non-urgent emails, that is), you’ll be happy you slowed your roll.
2. You Won’t Be Seen as a Pest
I didn’t realize how much I focused on what deliverables colleagues owed me, until I noticed that I spent more time following up and pestering people than I did on the work in front of me.
Instead of tapping your toe, waiting on someone to finish their contribution, exercise patience and you’ll be able to transfer your attention to tasks you want and need to complete. The sooner you realize that you can’t embed your sense of urgency in everyone, the better. And, even more importantly, your co-workers will benefit from your trust and ability to back-off, ultimately lending you the same courtesy in turn.
3. You Let Go of Stress
This might be obvious, but my impatient attitude often added up to a whole lot of stress. I wanted so badly to get everything done so that I could take a deep breath, kick off my boots, and relax, but, unsurprisingly, that’s not how things work. There were always going to be ongoing projects, and playing work whack-a-mole (at a maniacal pace) wasn’t keeping my stress levels at bay. In fact, it was making it worse.
When I finally accepted that some things, like monitoring analytics or building a review packet for an underperforming employee, were not going to be completed in a few hours or days, I could relax a bit. I could take breaks when I needed them even if I wasn’t yet at a point where I could check something off my list. This mindset change didn’t happen overnight, but as I grew more comfortable with leaving things “undone,” from one day to the next, or sometimes one week to the next, I thankfully spent less time worrying about my workload.
4. You Display Better Judgement
When I was in charge of about 25 people, I thought rapid decision-making was a desirable attribute. I had always despised wishy-washy leaders who took forever to make up their minds and get things done. What I failed to realize, until later, was that higher leadership could and did change their minds on guidance, and then the rapid decision you made, or communication you relayed to your team, must also change and be disseminated again.
Once I built a buffer from when I received information to when I acted on it, my team improved drastically. But, it took some long months of trial and error for me to realize that a slower pace and really thinking through things benefited us all. Not only did this give me a chance to refine certain items (whether it was a job my team needed to do, or a new policy I had to issue), it also afforded me more credibility simply because my message didn’t seem like a knee-jerk reaction.
As I progress in my career, I realize more and more how patience is tied to confidence. When you’re confident that you’re already perceived as competent, smart, and trustworthy, it’s a little easier to be patient—with yourself and your colleagues. So if you’re struggling to slow down, remind yourself: You’ve got what it takes, take a deep breath, and relax.