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This counterintuitive trick can help you be more effective at work

Yes, ‘productive pausing’ is a real thing, and it can transform your approach to work.

This counterintuitive trick can help you be more effective at work
[Source photo: Westend61/Getty Images]

It’s no secret that we live in an overstimulated world, where being fast and busy is highly regarded. In fact, our sense of self is often not only connected to our achievements, but also to our amount of busyness, stress, and tension, says Julia Paulette Hollenbery, author of The Healing Power of Pleasure: Seven Medicines for Rediscovering the Innate Joy of Being.

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“Personal well-being, our sense of safety and love, seem to be connected to [getting fast results],” she says. “Slowing down is an unusual—perhaps revolutionary—concept.”

The problem is that many of us confuse busyness with effectiveness. We also mistakenly think that slowing down sometimes means actually being slow.

“We fear grinding to a halt and think instead we need to drive ourselves constantly,” says Hollenbery. “We tend to value speed over quality, and fast decisions over good decisions. We think everything is urgent and must be done, rather than taking the time to discriminate: What is really important to do right now?”

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The Power of Productive Pausing

Instead of trying to maintain a breakneck pace, Hollenbery recommends practicing productive pausing, or stopping work for a brief break to improve your effectiveness. A pause can last just a few seconds, a few minutes, or a quarter of an hour. You can simply be still or experiment with a power nap, snack, shower, exercise, or walk in nature, says Hollenbery.

“The question is how much of your time at work do you need to be working to be really effective?” she asks “Is it 100%? 99%? 98%? 95% Or maybe 85%? When you stop working for a moment, you are improving your own capability, coming back from a haze to yourself.”

The idea is based on the idea that everything in nature pauses. “You are not a machine,” says Hollenbery. “[Pausing] interrupts the unnatural habit of non-stop doing. It is a micro-opportunity to improve your concentration and energy at work.”

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Six Steps for Slowing Down

Productive pausing takes practice. Hollenbery recommends these six steps for learning how to accomplish it.

  1. Choose to “consciously interrupt the unconscious habit of non-stop doing.”
  2. Listen to yourself and respect your body, mood, and needs. “Don’t ignore yourself,” she says. If you feel the call, eat something, take a rest, and don’t forego a bathroom break. “If you are bored, maybe go out for a walk or put on a song, and dance,” she adds. “Or just make a cup of tea and chat. Your body knows what is best for you and is nudging you in the right direction.”
  3. Then pause and do nothing. “For example, when you arrive at a meeting, pause for a micro-moment before continuing. Wait a moment before responding to the alert of a phone call, email, or message. In essence, this is a mini-meditation.”
  4. Sense your body, your arms and legs, your belly and your back, feet on the ground, and bottom on the chair, she recommends. “What, if anything, do you notice or realize?” she asks. “A useful insight or resolution? An impulse to act or note something?”
  5. Feel your breath in and your breath out. “Notice your feelings, perhaps frustration, sadness, or something else,” she says. “What do you need for yourself? Is there an emotionally intelligent conversation that you really need to have? It is okay to be an imperfect feeling human, doing your best to get some work done.”
  6. Enjoy. From your pause, find your “inner smile” of mini-contentment. “That smile is yours, no matter what’s going on with colleagues, deadlines, clients, or bureaucracy,” she says.

The Benefits of Pausing

The habit of always going fast can distance you from your feelings and the experiences of being a human. By practicing productive pausing while at work, you will gain benefits in all areas of your life, says Hollenbery. For example, pausing helps you reduce stress by grounding yourself in reality.

Another positive result can be accessing a sense of “flow” in your work—that feeling when time stops, and work becomes effortless. Pausing also helps you reclaim the essence of yourself while getting all the tasks done. “You feel that you matter,” says Hollenbery.

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“Decide that work does not have to be hard work before collapse or reward,” says Hollenbery. “Work itself can be fun and enjoyable. And you don’t have to pause only at work. You can productively pause anytime, anywhere, with anyone—and reap the benefits.”

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