“How To Slow Down To Do More”, with Elizabeth Su
Don’t book back-to-back meetings: Nothing makes me more frazzled than running from one meeting to the next. When I can, I try to schedule 25-minute and 50-minute meetings to give myself time to run to the bathroom, get a sip of water, or cruise around the block before my next meeting.
As a part of my series about “How to Slow Down To Do More” I had the pleasure to interview Elizabeth Su (www.elizabeth-su.com). Elizabeth is an Executive Coach, Organizational Consultant, and Clinical Researcher who mentors high-performing women and teams to prevent burnout, feel confident, and excel with fun and ease. She recently left her job in Silicon Valley to pursue her master’s degree in Clinical Psychology with a concentration in Spirituality Mind-Body Practices and an advanced certificate in Sexuality, Women, and Gender from Columbia University in New York, NY. She is a Research Assistant in two clinical psychology labs where she studies perfectionism, burnout, belongingness, and creating thriving workplaces. She is a contributing author for Talkspace, an online therapy platform, and has been featured in numerous media outlets including OZY, Create & Cultivate, Thrive Global, Brit + Co, Bustle, Elite Daily, and PopSugar for her expertise in work/life balance, overcoming perfectionism, and the science of happiness. She is also a certified yoga teacher.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have always been interested in what it means to live a happy life. Having spent most of my life adhering to social norms and trying to people-please my way to happiness, I learned the hard way that happiness starts from within.
I found myself deeply unhappy in my corporate job so decided to blaze my own trail in search of a more fulfilling path. I started my first business in 2017 as a wedding doula (or The Woula® as I went by!) helping brides and couples create authentic and intentional wedding experiences. It was so fun to build something from nothing, let my create side run free, and feel valued for showing up as my true self.
In order to learn how to facilitate even deeper transformations for my clients, I left my job in Silicon Valley and moved across the country to pursue my master’s degree from Columbia University in New York, NY in Clinical Psychology with a concentration in Spirituality Mind-Body Practices.
While at school, I noticed my studies almost exclusively focused on why corporate women were burning out, doubting themselves, and not reaching positions of leadership. I uncovered astounding research around the ways in which the modern workplace contributes to these problems, which is why I have now expanded my business to support both individuals and organizations.
According to a 2006 Pew Research Report report, 26% of women and 21% of men feel that they are “always rushed”. Has it always been this way? Can you give a few reasons regarding what you think causes this prevalent feeling of being rushed?
I think smartphones have contributed significantly to people feeling rushed because suddenly everyone is accessible at any given moment and there is an unspoken expectation that responses need to be immediate. Instead of taking time to sit down, prioritize, and delegate, people are mindlessly replying to whatever enters their inbox first.
Also, according to Pew Research Center, nearly half of adults (47%) in their 40s and 50s are part of the “Sandwich Generation,” which means they are taking care of aging parents in addition to children. This would inevitably leave people more strapped for time than in years past.
Finally, research indicates that household responsibilities are still not distributed equally between heterosexual partners and women continue to carry most of the weight. With the same amount of work as men and more of the household responsibilities, it’s not surprising that women report a higher prevalence of feeling rushed.
Based on your experience or research can you explain why being rushed can harm our productivity, health, and happiness?
In our fast-paced society, everything can feel of equal and urgent importance. As a leader, learning how to take action on the right priorities is critical for daily productivity and long-term sustainability. It is impossible to operate at 110% all the time.
Research shows that working non-stop is counter-productive and leads to emotional and physical exhaustion, otherwise known as burnout. Burnout contributes to a wide variety of mental, physical, and organizational consequences including depression, coronary heart disease, and decreased productivity.
On the flip side, can you give examples of how we can do more, and how our lives would improve if we could slow down?
Slowing down gives us the opportunity to assess the importance of a particular task or project.
Practicing mindfulness meditation can be extremely valuable in enhancing your ability to slow down and cultivate the discernment needed to be an effective leader. Mindfulness meditation teaches us how to 1) pay attention to present moment experiences (i.e. not trying to change or get rid of them) and 2) cultivate non-judgmental awareness so we learn to accept things as they are.
For clients who struggle with overthinking or analysis paralysis, I recommend practicing “Vipassana”
meditation (also known as “Zen” or “Insight” meditation). This specific style of meditation (from the Buddhist tradition) helps people develop a greater awareness of the present moment so they can make decisions more clearly. There are a lot of wonderful guided Vipassana meditations on Insight Timer, which is my favorite free meditation app.
Think of Vipassana meditation like a dust buster for your brain. Instead of trying to think your way to a solution, you clear all the junk that’s standing in the way of the answer that’s already there.
We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed. Can you share with our readers 6 strategies that you use to “slow down to do more”? Can you please give a story or example for each?
1. Pencil in your morning meditation: I have a daily calendar invite to meditate every morning so this time is held sacred and doesn’t get scheduled over. I try to meditate for at least ten minutes (although it’s not always possible!) because research suggests people can reap the benefits of meditation including stress reduction, increased focus, and lower levels of anxiety in as little as ten minutes a day (even if you are new to the practice).
2. Set a weekly intention: Every week, I choose one word to help me focus my energy for that week such as “present,” “deliberate,” “vitality,” “ease,” “fun,” or “clarity”. Setting this weekly intention is an important way for me to be mindful about how I spend my time inside and outside of work.
3. Don’t book back-to-back meetings: Nothing makes me more frazzled than running from one meeting to the next. When I can, I try to schedule 25-minute and 50-minute meetings to give myself time to run to the bathroom, get a sip of water, or cruise around the block before my next meeting.
4. Create email boundaries: Since it’s possible to be connected to work 24/7, it’s important to establish email boundaries with yourself (and preferably your team). This one is hard for me, but I have a nightly alarm to prompt me to get off of my computer and start winding down.
5. Take a vacation: Research confirms that time away from the office is vital to preventing burnout. Taking time to rest and have fun has been proven to help reduce work stress and avoid the costly effects of burnout.
6. Device-free meals: It is tempting to work through meals but giving yourself a few minutes of breathing room during the day can be a great energy-booster. Keeping meals device-free is an easy way to recharge and engage in meaningful conversations with your loved ones and coworkers. A win-win!
How do you define “mindfulness”? Can you give an example or story?
“As soon as you are aware that you are not in the moment, you are in the moment.” — Deepak Chopra
I love this quote because I don’t view mindfulness as shutting off our thoughts. To me, mindfulness is noticing our thoughts enough to catch and release them. For example, if my inner critic shows up to criticize me about something I said or I start second guessing a decision I made, I take a deep breath and try to honor my feelings without getting too attached to them.
Can you give examples of how people can integrate mindfulness into their everyday lives?
1. Take a few deep breaths while you are in the shower
2. Try commuting without listening to music or your favorite podcast
3. Go on a 24-hour digital detox
4. Schedule in mini-breaks throughout your day
5. Do a short body scan in the morning
6. Create a stop-doing list to get unimportant items off your plate
Do you have any mindfulness tools that you find most helpful at work?
1. The free meditation app: Insight Timer
2. Noise-cancelling headphones
4. Walks around the block
5. Eating away from your desk
6. Blocking time off for uninterrupted “deep work”
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to use mindfulness tools or practices
· Video: “What is Mindfulness?” by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn
· Book: “Wherever You Go There You Are” by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn
· Book: “The Wisdom of Sundays: Life-Changing Insights from Super Soul Conversations” by Oprah Winfrey
· Free meditation app: Insight Timer
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen” — Brené Brown
This quote has been one of the most important guiding lights on my path. I spent much of my life trying to contort myself into the person I thought other people wanted me to be and it wasn’t until I came across Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly that I realized how much of myself I was sacrificing to gain the love, acceptance, and approval of others. Once I found the courage to start re-writing my story and standing up for the life I wanted to lead, my whole world changed.
Whenever I feel scared about speaking up for myself or what I believe in, I come back to this quote and am reminded that vulnerability is brave, authenticity is a strength, and the greatest risk of all is not making the impact we were born to make.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I am a woman with many dreams! If I had to choose one movement that I feel most passionate about creating right now, it’s a “Lean Out” movement. I deeply respect Sheryl Sandberg for her “Lean In” movement and appreciate her hard work and dedication to support the advancement of women in the workplace. I feel we are ready for a new wave of feminism that focuses less on helping women conform to a broken system and more on fixing the system itself.
Research confirms that the modern workplace environment remains the site of a masculinity contest culture among men, which leaves women, minority men, and anyone else who doesn’t care to adhere to the norms of these toxic workplace environments at a loss. One of the norms of what these researchers refer to as Masculinity Contest Cultures is “Strength and Stamina.”
A workplace norm of “Strength and Stamina” seems to perfectly reflect our society’s obsession with leaning in, doing more, and achieving more when it comes to work. I feel this is a primary reason we are seeing record-high numbers of workplace stress. In fact, The World Health Organization refers to job stress as a “Worldwide Epidemic.” Job stress is not only bad for employee health and well-being but it’s also bad for business. According to the American Institute of Stress, job stress costs the U.S. industry an estimated $300 billion annually due to issues such as absenteeism, employee turnover, and diminished productivity.
There are lots of ways companies can address this issue including the four-day work week, job sharing programs, longer vacations, onsite childcare, and stricter boundaries around email use on “off” hours. The key is that workplaces have to 1) truly encourage employees to utilize these benefits and 2) stop promoting work/life balance policies (especially maternity leave) as programs that only support women because research shows this creates unintentional consequences.
If we want to create thriving workplaces where all employees can show up as their best selves and do their best work, then everyone needs to lean out. Research says it’s good for the employees and it’s good for business. What are we waiting for?
Thank you so much for these great insights!