Academic Leadership Advice: Slow Down

While I am far from a computer guru, I know the great value of technology and have become addicted to email. I am not sure how many hundred email messages I get each week, but my OCD tendencies lead me to an irresistible desire to check and respond to my messages many times a day. Such a compulsion is, I fear, only one symptom of my personal infomania and rushaholism. And I know I am not alone.

Writer Ed Wynn once observed, “Folks used to be willing to wait patiently for a slow-moving stagecoach, but now they kick like the dickens if they miss one revolution of a revolving door.” I know what he means; don’t you? High-tech communication devices can make us more productive and efficient, but making good decisions can be impaired when quantity squeezes out quality. Multitasking only compounds the manic high-speed pace as we rush to process an increasing volume of information.

Being never out of touch—at work, in our homes, and in our cars—has its downside. Leaders need time to muse, reflect, and daydream, and fortunate is the administrator who can locate hassle-free zones for such opportunities to shake off the effects of infomania.

We need to remember that good leaders take time to do things correctly. The key is to work at the right speed, not the top speed. What can we do to find our “inner snail”? Check your email on a regular schedule only once a day. Avoid sending long email responses (instead master the quick reply: “Got it—thanks,” “Will do,” “When can we meet?” “Call me.”). Establish rules for meetings by requiring cell phones, BlackBerries, and laptops to be turned off. Schedule more face-to-face meetings. Schedule time for meditation. Take a five-minute mental health break every hour. Find one hobby that slows you down (such as painting or gardening). Practice deep breathing while you shower or bathe. Turn off the TV and read a book.

In his book Timelock, Ralph Keyes says, “Just as we looked for ways to speed up life in earlier epochs, now we must find ways to slow it down.” Avoid the “speed trap” of your administrative life by occasionally stepping on the brakes instead of the academic accelerator. Our productivity and peace of mind depend on it.

Thomas R. McDaniel is a professor of education, senior vice president, and acting dean of graduate studies at Converse College in Spartanburg, S.C.

Excerpted from Academic Leader, June 2007.