Slowing Down to Speed Up
Author: collin stewart
Dr. Todd Snyder, a recent guest on the Predictable Revenue podcast, found his path to psychology as a highschool student. After a stint of living abroad, Dr. Snyder found himself having to transition back into US culture when his parents moved the family to a small town in rural Illinois. At first, he really struggled, but after a couple of years at odds with his new surroundings, Dr. Snyder stumbled upon a genre of writing that would change his life course. The genre was that of self-help. These books had a dramatic impact on his social skills and happiness, so much so that he was compelled to find out where their power came from. That is when he discovered psychology, and he never looked back. Now a doctor of clinical psychology, Dr. Snyder works as a consultant to entrepreneurs, helping them with state management, certainty, and long-term strategy to boost their productivity and help them meet their ultimate goals.
SLOWING DOWN TO SPEED UP
When Dr. Snyder started working in earnest on discovering productivity hacks for entrepreneurs, he realized that a lot of what holds them back is indecisiveness. As their own bosses in full control of their time and direction, entrepreneurs are particularly vulnerable to “shiny object syndrome.” In other words, they are vulnerable to their own great ideas, of which they may have many a week, and they are often pulled off course to explore them. This takes an entrepreneur’s mind off of the big picture or the long-term goal and means that they don’t focus their energy on actually accomplishing that long-term goal.
Here’s why slowing down helps. Imagine you’re swimming towards an island across a vast stretch of water. You’d probably pull your head above water every now and then to make sure you’re still on course. And, maybe, after swimming for a little while, you see another island appear on the horizon, and this island has more trees on it and less craggy rocks on its shore – so you decide to swim for that island instead.
Now, let’s put that into perspective for an entrepreneur. If you keep your head down, nose to the grindstone, you may stray off course or you may miss new, better, higher-value opportunities that emerge. A lot of entrepreneurs confuse being busy with creating real value, but it’s easy to waste time on the wrong things when you rush to make decisions. If you give yourself the opportunity to slow down, take stock, think about where you are, what you’re doing, and what you really want, you reduce operational rushing and increase strategic initiatives that allow you to get to your ultimate goal faster.
Part of Dr. Snyder’s training as a psychologist was studying various theories behind intelligence. He has administered hundreds of IQ tests over the years for the state, to individuals, and to curious entrepreneurs. Though those who study intelligence still don’t have a great idea of what it is or where it comes from, Dr. Snyder has learned a lot about intelligence through this process.
Generally speaking, conscientiousness and intelligence are the two best determinants of who will “succeed” in life, by traditional standards. But IQ doesn’t take into account social intelligence or artistic intelligence, which have a massive impact on a person’s success in real life. Various scientists have poked holes in traditional ideas of IQ, but it was Michio Kaku, the theoretical physicist, who pointed out that the ability to predict the future is a form of intelligence that may explain what it really means to be intelligent better than any other theory. But he didn’t mean crystal balls, tea leaves, and tarot cards kind of predicting the future.
Here is his example. Take a kid who didn’t do well in school, ended up dropping out and becoming a bank robber. If you had given that kid an IQ test in school or as an adult, he probably wouldn’t have scored very high. But this bank robber knows how the bank tellers will respond when he draws his weapon, which route the police will take to block off the area, and how to launder millions of dollars without being caught. He can effectively predict the future.
Dr. Snyder has elaborated on Kaku’s ideas, and his definition of intelligence centers around one’s ability to create a mental simulation of the future so rich that you can plot your course, step by step, and sidestep any obstacles in the way of achieving your ultimate goal. We can only achieve this by slowing down.
WHY ENTREPRENEURS STRUGGLE TO FOCUS ON LONG-TERM GOALS
It’s human nature to focus on what’s right in front of us, and that fact is magnified in entrepreneurs 100 fold. There are a couple of influencing factors here: an entrepreneur’s freedom as their own boss means there are literally infinite possibilities for them to explore, and the speed with which we are exposed to new ideas in the digital era multiplies those available possibilities again. Additionally, a lot of entrepreneurs self-diagnose themselves with ADHD tendencies, which often makes up part of the reason they were drawn to entrepreneurship in the first place. Even if an entrepreneur does spend a lot of time thinking about their long-term goals, it is common for them to overestimate their own reasoning power when it comes to making good decisions in the moment, and underestimate the power of long-term decision-making and commitment.
Dr. Snyder’s Solution:
Create sprints and take long-term decision-making off the table. Make a short, achievable goal, and commit to it. It could be anywhere from 1 week to 90 days – short enough that you know you can keep the commitment. This allows you to relieve the sense that you have many important things to do and many decisions to make and reminds you that you made a commitment that until a certain point you are going to sprint towards a single goal. It keeps you from being pulled into making decisions on the fly, or responding to what your team is calling for – accidentally defaulting to what feels urgent in the moment.
We know that the best way to slow down to speed up is by giving yourself the opportunity to pause. But the reality of being an entrepreneur is that there are always fires to put out, problems to fix, and opportunities to chase, and the last thing you want to do in the wake of all that is stop and have a think.
Dr. Snyder’s Solution:
Create a tripwire that prevents you from falling into the natural human tendency to rush. Build a regular interval into your life that serves as a reminder for you to stop, think, observe your own behaviour, and project your mind into the future. This could be a task that comes up on your to-do list or an event that pops up in your calendar. Whatever it is, make sure you hold yourself accountable to actually doing it.
THINKING ON PAPER
If you try to think through a complicated decision in your mind it can be tough to see the whole picture objectively. Whatever your attention is focused on in a given moment skews your perception of reality in favour of that one part of the equation.
Dr. Snyder’s Solution:
When you write all your ideas down or talk them through with someone else, you are expanding your working memory – like the RAM of a computer. Writing it down allows you to simultaneously spread your attention across more variables, and see how they interact. In doing so, you enrich your mental map of the future, and this increases the chance you have of finding loopholes, shortcuts, and opportunities to leverage excess capacity to achieve your goals quicker.
If you’re thinking about implementing this new, slower decision-making process into your business strategy, you might be wondering, “how much thinking is too much? How do I make sure I don’t become paralyzed with overthinking every decision?” But Dr. Snyder’s strategy doesn’t ask you to put in more time. Au contraire, it encourages you to spend fewer, more focused hours making the right decisions.
Dr. Snyder’s Solution
Score yourself on this process – the sprints, the tripwires, your goals. Did you follow through with what you set out to accomplish? Did you do it in time? This prevents you from drifting for too long and too far from your goals. If you have a decision to make, set a deadline to make that decision and then figure out what you need in order to make that decision with certainty. If, after doing your research and pulling data and looking at everything you thought you needed you still can’t make a decision, perhaps trying to make that decision right now isn’t the best use of your time. We often see situations as binary, black or white, all or nothing, and we miss the opportunities in between. So put that decision on the back burner and return to it when you have certainty because certainty unlocks speed.
WHO DOES THIS WELL?
Warren Buffet changed the investing world by, instead of trying to figure out what the market was doing that day or that week, slowing down and researching a potential investment. He spent many weeks studying the fundamentals of a business, trying to figure out if they had what it took to be profitable and still be in operation in one, two, three decades. Through this method, he became the wealthiest man alive for many years.
Though there are a few mavericks who seem to be able to accomplish feats of productivity no one else can pull off and they never seem to slow down, Dr. Snyder maintains that any entrepreneur who you’ve heard of because of their success employs this type of decision-making strategy to some degree.
In Dr. Snyder’s own experience working with entrepreneurs, he’s seen his clients 2x or 3x revenue in 6 months by turning their attention back to their long-term goals. And in a 2010 Harvard Business Review study that looked at hundreds of businesses with different decision-making strategies, it was the ones who slowed down that had 40% higher productivity than their peers.
A lot of entrepreneurs see business as “go go go”. They have audacious revenue targets, plans to multiply headcount, and want to gain market share as quickly as possible. And the solution to achieving that is counterintuitive. Entrepreneurs need to identify their long-term goals, break them up into achievable sprints, and build a regular interval into their workflows to slow down, take stock, and make sure they are on the right track or if another, better path has emerged. So slow down, procrastinate on purpose, and work towards certainty, because certainty unlocks speed.
More on psychology & business: How fear of uncertainty is holding us back (and why it shouldn’t)
And on long-term goal-setting: The power of coaching and long-term goal setting with Lever’s Kelly Del Curto
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