One of the things that used to bug me as an employee was how quickly I would complete my work. Not that anyone else was slow, I just work fast. I’ve always been like this. I finished homework quickly. I finished in-school work quickly. I finished tests quickly. I get to the airport two hours before my flight. I drive too fast. I don’t know how to be fashionably late.
You see, I’m impatient, I’m smart, my brain is always on overdrive, I don’t know how to shut off, and I’m rather – shall we say – competitive. I know, it was hard to tell.
None of that is a problem, of course. Until it is.
This “working quickly” super power worked against me in the beginning of my career life. At my first job I worked as an editor, editing radio advertisement scripts. I would get giant stacks of these ads in the morning and would be done by mid-day. And with nothing on my desk, I looked like I was slacking off. Everyone else was still working on them the next day.
I ended up in the computer room (yes, we had a computer room) to fill the time and, ultimately, ended up managing the system.
Later on I moved into the tech space at a telephony company where I ended up in a support role. I was responsible for a geographic area of customers and had a queue of tickets that were always cleared by mid-day. Sadly, that was not an accomplishment that got rewarded. My manager told me to slow down or find something else to do. So in spite of the fact that my customers loved me and I placed #1 in all of my tech trainings, my boss thought I was lazy because, well, I finished quickly and had nothing to do for a few hours each day. It made for a toxic corporate work experience.
Everything changed for the better when I went into business for myself. Working quickly benefitted my customers and they loved it. When you’re billing for time and competing for business, being able to say “yes, I charge more, but I will be done faster and you won’t have to call me back because I fix it right the first time” was a big boon to business. Also, it was true. I had mastered the knowledge and skills that my customer base needed and wanted.
Then I realized that charging by the hours wasn’t doing the trick for me so I charged for my knowledge instead of for my time.
I wasn’t being lazy. I had mastered the skills that were required of me to efficiently take care of my work and my customers. Thankfully, my customers recognized mastery as mastery. I recognize it too. But I still feel like I’m being lazy if I’m not busy.
I need to remember that mastery is not laziness. Mastery should be rewarded with time to relax.
It should. But, then, this is me and I like being busy. I like the feeling of accomplishment. I like signing off on a project. I like to tick the items off my list. I like to beat my deadline dates (competitive, remember?) – it drives me. I believe in underpromising and overdelivering in all things. It’s no surprise that I feel a strong sense of guilt if I’m not busy. I find it nearly impossible to waste time. I also find it nearly impossible to say in 500 words what should take 10 (term papers were a nightmare for me).
I have to remind myself regularly that just because I finish a task early, it doesn’t mean that I have to fill that freed up time with more work. Mastery is the answer, not more work. I need to internalize that and recognize that downtime is healthy. Time spent not working is something to be treasured and protected. Not working is NOT being lazy.
Downtime is healthy. Downtime is necessary. Downtime gives my brain the rest it needs to shift gears and learn new things. Downtime is good. Maybe if I say it enough I’ll actually believe it. 😊