Slow Down To Do More: “How to Not Get Ahead Of Your Skis” With Ashley Graber and Lindsay Satterfield

Ashley Graber M.A., LMFT
Apr 22 · 19 min read

In my work, I see that often people are “ahead of their skis” in an effort to keep pace with the information, interruptions, changing priorities, commitments, and demands on their time. My clients often hear me say — go slow to go fast. It seems counterintuitive — and certainly, counter-culture. But in the rushing MO, we miss things. We make mistakes.

Consider top athletes. If they are ahead of themselves in their heads, they degrade their performance. I’m pretty sure that tennis great Rafa Nadal is not three strokes ahead in his mind. He is so fully present in the place and time that his reflexes are primed to anticipate what he next needs to do. Maybe we could take a page of that playbook.

Mindfulness practice helps us become aware of what feels “good” and what feels “not so good” in work and in our personal life. When we begin to take note of what works, from the inside out, we can more easily discern where to put our time and energy.

As a part of my series about “How to Slow Down To Do More” I had the pleasure to interview Lindsay Satterfield. Lindsay teaches professionals — in groups or solo — how to be productive in a fast, fascinating, and messy world. In today’s amped-up, on-demand environment, many are drowning in email, sidetracked by busy work, and preoccupied with daily “firefighting.” Most are running to keep up — with little time left to get to the things that matter most.

Lindsay shows people how to regain control, make space, find time, get clear, and accomplish the things that are important to them — while staying calm, cool, and collected.

She works with small businesses and large enterprises in international development, non-profit, for-profit, and government sectors. She shares her expertise with clients globally — from Latin America to Africa, the Far East and beyond — because it seems everyone everywhere is looking for ways to survive and thrive in the information-saturated, constantly-changing, always-on world of work and life. She draws on the latest findings in brain science to help make accomplishment a daily routine.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?

My professional background is in leadership development and training. About 13 years ago, I decided I wanted to focus on productivity — which is a big umbrella — a lot of things fit under that. But specifically, I saw that people were drowning. And that takes a toll not only results, but on motivation, confidence, and sense of fulfillment. My goal with the “productivity business” is to help people find their way back to their own power — their power to impact, their power to choose, their power to create, their power to lead.

There’s a moment I adore in my work. It’s when it dawns on the client that it’s actually possible to get back some control, to focus on the things that matter to them. It’s a light-switch moment, a flash in the eyes, that never fails to thrill me.

The way-back backstory? An image seared into my mind is my dad (who passed away in 1989) sitting at his desk making to-do lists with his characteristic block letters on a yellow legal pad. The items on his list numbered into the triple digits! This thrilled my dad. The more, the merrier. He loved to work — for the creativity of it, for the craftsmanship of it, for the joy of it. So maybe, my work is a little bit of his legacy.

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?

Technology, poor dear — it gets blamed for everything! But in the case of feeling more rushed, it may be one of the culprits. It’s easy to forget that that the iPhone was introduced a mere twelve years ago. Little did we know, as Steve Jobs was prancing on that stage proudly showing off his baby, what was to come. Looking back, we can see it as a watershed moment. Suddenly, we’re carrying in our hands the power of a hyperconnected world. Mobile technology — “souped up” with social media, email, text, video, live stream, the cloud, and the search engine — has put access to information, ideas, and people at our fingertips. Literally.

When it comes to the pervasiveness of mobile technology, there’s good news and bad news. The good news? You’re reachable. The bad news? You’re reachable. So yes, there’s a clear upside to mobile technology: it allows for greater flexibility in lifestyle, and opportunities to connect and collaborate across time and space. A downside is that, with so many platforms for information to flow, the information pipeline has expanded exponentially — and with that, the perception of speed.

If you consider information like mile markers on the highway, get enough of those flying by, and it feels fast. With the information pulsing through our hands, flying through our notifications, flooding our email — it’s no wonder we feel like we’re living in the fast lane. Add to that a dose of addictive hormones that trigger us to compulsively check mobile devices and other technology for a quick, feel-good dopamine hit, and it’s no wonder that people feel rushed. They’re trying to keep pace with the speed of technology, of information, rather than their own natural, biological rhythm.

As we’re absorbed in this information flow, we begin to lose contact with our surroundings. We’re in some virtual Starbucks somewhere that puts us figuratively — and perhaps literally — out of time. Dr. Aoife McLaughlin, a professor of psychology at James Cook University, has studied the phenomenon of time perception changes due to high technology use and connectivity. She’s found evidence that those with high connectivity through mobile devices, etc. have an accelerated sense of time passing. This false perception can lead to “time stress” — the sense that time is passing too quickly to keep pace with it, and perhaps the genesis of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).

Based on your experience or research can you explain why being rushed can harm our productivity, health, and happiness?

As a productivity trainer and coach, I daily witness the effects of people running on adrenaline to keep up with their buzzing phones and bursting schedules. For many, adrenaline starts to become their primary energy source. This stress-prompted, hyped-up energy becomes the go-to strategy for fueling action. And this always-on, “so busy” mode gets glorified in the workplace and in the culture at large. It eventually can seem like something is wrong if we aren’t stressed out — if we aren’t rushing. The only problem is, over time, this approach degrades performance.

These stress hormones — cortisol and adrenaline — that go with “life-in-the-fast-lane” — trigger the fight-or-flight mode, which, in turn, powers down key centers of the brain in an effort to preserve energy to deal with that phantom “emergency.” These stress hormones may help us run to the next meeting, but they won’t help us solve a problem or innovate a solution.

In fact, when in the fight-or-flight mode, the visual cortex is impacted. We actually take in fewer visual cues — so we can miss things. In this hyped-up state, we succumb to that “deer in headlights” feeling or the sense that we’re the last one in on the joke.

In this stress mode, the learning center of the brain powers down — putting deeper information processing, analysis, and problem solving out of reach — or at least making it much harder. The fight-or-flight mode is designed to engage as a fast-acting strategy when under threat — not as a lifestyle. And certainly, the health risks of sustained negative stress are well documented — from fat storing to cardiovascular effects to mental health challenges.

From my experience and observation, this sense of being rushed often goes hand-in-hand with overwhelm — that foreboding sense that we can’t keep up — no matter how hard we try. Overwhelm can foster feelings of inadequacy, lack of confidence, and guilt. Eventually, it attacks motivation. Perpetual rushing often accompanies a feeling of things being out of control. A sense of control is one of the prime triggers for the calming, neurochemical cocktail of motivation — dopamine and serotonin.

In the rushing, reaction mode, we cede decision-making and action to whatever (or whoever) grabs our attention. While all that busy bluster may seem “productive,” over time, it becomes clear it’s more like cotton candy — sweet for a split second but lacking any sustaining nutrition. Rushing lacks productive staying power.

When rushing, we’re less tuned in to other people — and may lose the muscle of social intelligence that is so critical to effective performance.

In my work, I see that often people are “ahead of their skis” in an effort to keep pace with the information, interruptions, changing priorities, commitments, and demands on their time. My clients often hear me say — go slow to go fast. It seems counterintuitive — and certainly, counter-culture. But in the rushing MO, we miss things. We make mistakes. Just yesterday, I was meeting with a client whose attention kept flitting from here to there and back again. She couldn’t take in some very basic concepts because her mind was revved up — her mind was rushing so she couldn’t listen. She couldn’t process the information. I had to repeat things several times to penetrate the veil of distractedness, which is a sidekick of rushing.

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?

Much of my work is about helping people find their productive rhythm — syncing up action and time, moving with time rather than frenetically trying beat the clock. For most, this means slowing down.

When we slow down to our natural rhythm, we’re able to tune in to our environment. Why? Because the mind isn’t the only game in town. So much information, sensory input, etc. is mediated and absorbed through the body. If we’re just in our heads all day speeding forward, we likely have no idea what’s going on.

Slowing down gives space for clarity, decision-making, reflection. It keeps us out of frenzy where we are at-risk for thoughtless mistakes, insensitive communication, unnecessary blunders.

When we slow down to our natural rhythm, we align with our own biology, which supports performance. We know when we need to eat or sleep. We are in tune with how we perform best — how our energy cycles in time.

Slowing down helps us “tone” our performance, rather than shred or exhaust it.

In my work, I’ve come to notice that those who are a half-beat behind are really ahead. They aren’t speeding through work and life like lemmings. They aren’t trying to prove they can keep up with the crowd. Rather, they’re observing. They’re considering. They’re trusting. And then, they’re acting from confidence and competence.

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. Listen.

I wish this were fancier. But good, old-fashioned listening can regulate our pace to match the moment. Listening is a powerful tuning-fork for effective performance. It aligns and focuses our senses. Listening helps us connect to here and now — the only time and place for masterful action, composure, and presence.

Those who listen have an immediate competitive advantage — given most people are not listening. Rather, they’re “in their heads,” rushing — frantically trying to keep up with the notifications, information, and interruptions — disconnected from the needs and the opportunities of the moment.

Listening is fundamental to true information gathering, problem solving, and social acumen — all potent drivers of performance. Listening slows our pace to the place and time, which creates a calming effect. Our breathing fills out. There’s a sense of natural alignment and ease. We are synced up with ourselves and our environment, not our phones. This is where skillful performance, peace of mind, clarity of thought, and confidence are born.

Listening can take many forms:

Listening to people without rushing with a response or showing signs of impatience. (What are they saying? What is their tone of voice and body language saying? What is the message behind their words?)

Listening to (noticing) the environment/surroundings (What do I see and feel in the environment?)

Listening to thoughts (What am I thinking?)

Listening to intuition or emotions (What am I sensing or feeling? What is my gut saying?)

Listening to the body (what is my body telling me? Are my muscles tense? Am I hungry or getting hangry? Am I thirsty? Is my energy low?)

The listening mode inevitably slows us down from the artificially amped-up rush of modern life to the natural, unified pace of mind, body, and emotions — here and now.

2. Put yourself in Time Out.

When you start to notice that you’re ahead of your skis, that you’re out of sync with time, please, for the love of God, put yourself in a Time Out. Regardless of how you feel about the Time Out practice for children, it’s a great pausing technique that helps you gather all your faculties for improved performance. Often when a child is in a Time Out, it’s because they’ve gotten themselves so wound up that they’re struggling to absorb all the stimulation coming their way. That’s not a kid thing — that’s a human thing.

Our (adult) meltdowns may be primped up a bit (or not), but we have them all the same. How do you know when you need an adult Time Out?

When you’re thinking is unclear;

When your emotions are revved up;

When frustration is fraying your composure;

When you can’t make a decision;

When your breathing is shallow, or you hear yourself sighing;

When you just want to scream…

Of course, when you most need a Time Out, you’re least likely to take it — because everything is so urgent and important and…. Resist the inflated urgency and take a Time Out. Sit quietly (without your phone or email) for a few minutes. Take a few deep breaths. Stretch. Drink a glass of water. And pull yourself together — so you have the wherewithal to bring your best to the situation.

3. Keep a don’t-do list.

As much as it’s important to keep a to-do list (to support the limited working capacity of that beautiful, prefrontal cortex of yours), it’s just as important to keep a don’t-do list. This is especially vital for those “yes people” out there. For many, saying “no” to things — particularly those things that could be interesting, and helpful, and valuable, and I-really-want-to-help-out — can feel unnatural. And it’s easy to succumb to over-commitment in the heat of the moment. So be prepared. Work out in advance what it is that you say yes to (and why) and what you say no to (and why). When you have your don’t-do list handy, you can simply follow your rules, your game.

And, big bonus: A don’t-do list will help you rock out your to-do list.

4. Marie Kondo your schedule

With the Marie Kondo Netflix craze, it makes sense to take a page out of her playbook and apply it to your schedule. Look at your calendar and pile up all those appointments and meetings. Add to the pile your list of projects. And one by one, determine if it sparks joy for you. If it doesn’t, consider thanking it and letting it go.

Now, I know what you’re thinking (I think): “But what about those things that I have to do that don’t spark joy?”

First, question if you really “have to.” If you do, see if you can reframe it in a way that does spark joy — so that you naturally want to choose it. (“Have to” is a productivity and energy killer.)

The bottom line is: You’ve probably acquired too many things for your schedule to hold. See how you can simplify your schedule — so that your time is beautifully curated. You might find that giving some space in the calendar will open up greater creativity, clarity, and progress.

5. Use a Simple Joy list.

Not to go too “new-agey” on you, but productivity, happiness, and health — all happen in the present moment. If you’re ahead of your skis on some mental slope — disconnected from the people and things in this moment — you will compromise your effectiveness. But it’s so easy align with the accelerating speed of the notifications on your phone and the cramped schedule that has no breathing room.

We also know from the work of positive psychology that happiness precedes successful outcomes across many domains — health, relationships, work, finances, etc. So we’ve got it backwards a bit. We’re chasing all those things — perhaps thinking it will yield happiness, when actually, a little focus on happiness upfront might help bring them on.

This is why I have a Simple Joy List, and why I recommend it to my clients. This is an inventory of super-simple things that you enjoy. I mean simple: a cup of coffee, reading a magazine, calling a friend, taking a walk, vacuuming (some people are weird like that), arranging flowers, puttering in the garden, taking a bath, chatting about the day with your family, playing with the dog… You get the idea. And here’s the kicker: you don’t just have the list — you do at least one thing on it a day.

Learning the art of savoring, of enjoyment — puts you back in the present, releases all kinds of happy hormones, and calms the nervous system. And when you think you don’t have time for a few minutes of joy — that’s when you most need it.

The reason to have Simple Joys on a list? You don’t need to think about it. If you have to think about it, you probably won’t do it. The list makes it literally a no-brainer.

6. Breathe.

Breathing: we all do it, but rarely appreciate it. Your breathing can let you know what’s happening under the surface that you may have ignored in the rush of the day. Pay attention to your breathing and you’ll get alerted if you’re feeling stress, anxiety, overwhelm. Not only does your breathing give good intel, you can consciously regulate it to calm your nervous system and reconnect to your environment. It’s a friendly bridge out of your head — into the body, where life happens.

When I’m feeling out of sorts, or like I’m ahead of myself, or anxious, I pause to check my breathing. Inevitably, I discover it’s shallow — or I might even be holding my breath. This kind of breathing only further reinforces the stress response. How to get out of it? Take a minute (literally) to regulate the breath and even it out. Start with a full breath in and a full breath out. Then, consciously breathe in and out for the same count.

The breath is an underutilized, always-with-you tool you can use to calm the nervous system and get you back in the game — on pace with the moment. Something so simple, so basic, can shift your mood and performance.

How do you define “mindfulness”? Can you give an example or story?

Mindfulness is the syncing up of the mind (one’s attention) with the moment. Ironically, mindfulness, while emphasizing the mind — is about aligning the mind and the body — the receptor of sensory input. It’s focusing on, attending to, the here and now. In today’s world, we’re rushing to keep up with the flow of information and the result is that we, as I said before, lose contact with our surroundings or the people around us. Just look down any city street. You’ll see people immersed in their phones with no real awareness of where they are. In fact, injuries related to mobile-phone absorption is a thing in emergency rooms.

In our effort to be so “connected,” we’ve become dangerously disconnected from ourselves, from the people around us, and from the place we inhabit.

Mindfulness is the practice of returning, rewinding to the present location and time.

With my clients, I like to use the term “timefulness.” Instead of rushing ahead in an effort to beat the clock — it’s about slowing down to the here and now — the place and time — the only arena of action.

Consider top athletes. If they are ahead of themselves in their heads, they degrade their performance. I’m pretty sure that tennis great Rafa Nadal is not three strokes ahead in his mind. He is so fully present in the place and time that his reflexes are primed to anticipate what he next needs to do. Maybe we could take a page of that playbook.

Can you give examples of how people can integrate mindfulness into their everyday lives?

Many of the tips that I gave to “slow down to do more” help integrate mindfulness in everyday life: listening, time outs, a simple joy list, breathe. These techniques bring us to the present. And that calms the nervous system and aligns the mind, body, and emotions, which is so critical for great performance in all domains.

I also like the edict: Go slow to go fast. I often repeat this to myself (and my clients) and that helps me purposefully slow it down so I can sync up with the moment.

Do you have any mindfulness tools that you find most helpful at work?

(See above) The breath, a time out, listening intently in a meeting, turning off notifications.

Another technique for mindfulness is to take your meeting on a walk. If you’re meeting with one or two people, consider taking your meeting on a walk. Physically moving and being in another location helps people to connect not only to the intellectual content but to the people and environment. Taking the meeting on a walk keeps people off their phones (a mindfulness killer) and brings some oxygen to the brain — which never hurts.

Another idea? Consider keeping a tally on moods, which you can do on a variety of apps, such as Happify. Mood monitoring helps us to reconnect to the body — because that is the medium for translating mood.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to use mindfulness tools or practices

For me, training for happiness supports mindfulness — so I love the book The Happiness Advantage, by Shawn Achor.

Of course, the practice of meditation can help build the muscle of mindfulness, specifically integrating the mind, body, and emotions. And there are some great apps that can support dipping into a mindful state on the go (so to speak), including Headspace, Calm, and Insight Timer.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

With your one wild and precious life?

~Mary Oliver

I think of this quote often — as it captures the unique, limited-time opportunity we have to make a mark that means something to us. So much of the “hoopla” that we get caught up in — really doesn’t matter. And these words remind me of that on the daily.

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. :-)

In my work, I’m about people taking greater hold of their power. In fact, that’s my frame for productivity. Productivity, for me, isn’t about organizers or apps. It isn’t about color-coding or an impressive to-do list. I don’t really care about Inbox-Zero. Productivity, for me, is about power — the productive exercise of the power each human has.

What I see in the workplace and in the culture at-large is an insidious, seductive victim-mentality. I’m not talking about those who are actual victims. I’m talking about the mindset of being powerless to act or impact.

Listen to the conversation. It’s hard not to hear someone divesting themselves of their power. Some of it may seem trivial or innocuous — but when we practice the habit of the powerless in the small things, we train ourselves not to exercise our power in the big ones. I want people to see how to take hold of their power — in every situation — even when the circumstances are out of their control. Too often, we let go of our power. This may be due, in part, to the fact that the exercise of our power makes us responsible. We’re on the hook. We might fall short. It’s easier to be the critic or the “pretend” powerless. We trade our power for a pass — to not have to stand up and be counted, to not have to put our efforts on the line.

The movement I want to inspire? Power to the people. Every day. All day. In the little things that don’t seem matter. And the big things that do.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

About the Author:

After 15 years working in Commercial Real Estate in New York City, Ashley Graber changed the coast she lived on and the direction of her life from Real Estate to the worlds of Psychology and Meditation & Mindfulness. Ashley came to these practices after getting sober and in the decade plus since, she now runs a busy mindfulness based psychotherapy practice at Yale Street Therapy in Santa Monica, CA where she see adults and children and speaks on the benefits of meditation and mindfulness practices.

Ashley is an Owner and Director of Curriculum for the next generation meditation app & mindfulness company ‘Evenflow’ and launched the company’s one to one online mindfulness mentoring program. Ashley also educates teachers and administrators in schools and presents in businesses across Santa Monica and Los Angeles.

Ashley was trained in Meditation and Mindfulness practices by prominent teachers; Elisha Goldstein, Richard Burr and Guiding teacher at Against the Stream Boston, Chris Crotty. Her Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) certification was done through The Center for Mindfulness at UC San Diego. Additionally, Ashley is trained by Mindful Schools to teach Meditation and Mindfulness practices to children and families. Ashley’s unique combination of psychotherapy, trauma reprocessing and meditation and mindfulness practices make her a sought after therapist and mindfulness educator and speaker. Her passion for the benefits of mindfulness practices as well as her enthusiasm for helping young kids and adults is the drive to teach these very necessary, life long skills and why she wrote and runs the Mindfulness for Families program at The Center for Mindful Living. This is where she teaches groups of families with children ages 6–12. Ashley was featured on Good Morning LaLa Land, presented on Resilience at the renowned Wisdom. 2.0 Mindfulness & Technology conference, and presented at the TED Woman conference offering an in-depth look at the profound psychological and physiological consequences of chronic stress, and how meditation and mindfulness practices can alleviate these effects.

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Ashley Graber M.A., LMFT

Written by

Founder of the Evenflow App. Motivational Speaker, Psychotherapist, & Mindfulness Educator

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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