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Take Control of Your Day With This Slow Down Exercise

Image via Chris Pole/

There's a rule in life I often forget: You can only do one thing at a time. For as many directions as I get pulled in a given day, I'm never truly "multi-tasking." When I take on multiple tasks at once my attention toggles between tasks quickly, though I'm never actually doing two things at any given time.

Studies show that this divide and conquer approach to accomplishing competing tasks can actually disrupt brain function and slow you down. As Dr. Edward Hallowell, an ADHD specialist, told, "It's like playing tennis with two balls: Your game's not as good as it would be with one ball."

No doubt, taking on many things at once is a necessary part of being a federal manager. With the expectation that more be accomplished with less, it's key to getting by. But sometimes you need to slow down, if not for your own sanity then for your ability to focus and recharge after a busy couple of hours.   

Leo Wildrich, co-founder of Buffer, wrote about a slowdown technique he learned from Paulo Coelho's book The Pilgrimage. It's called the Speed Exercise:

It is very simple. You pick a route to walk and you walk at half the speed that you normally do. You do this for 20 minutes.

Doing this exercise was very difficult for me at first. In such a busy place like Hong Kong, where everyone is rushing through the streets, you get a lot of impulses to just speed up again. But after the first five minutes I was ok and in a good rhythm...And after those five minutes, things changed a lot. I started to look around. I started to see things I have never seen before—small side streets where people where finishing their day's of work, piling boxes on top of each other, loading them on a dirty truck...Everything seemed different during those 20 minutes. I could feel my head getting a lot heavier and then all of a sudden lighter. As if every step made me lose a few pounds. I felt extremely happy.

You can read Wildrich's full post on his blog or at Lifehacker.

When you're feeling burned out during the day, how do you refocus and get back in the game?

Update: If I'm going to write about "promising practices," I'm of the mind I should take most of them for a spin. So, coming back from lunch today, I gave the Speed Exercise a try--and boy does it work. I felt the burden of work lift and I think it was the longest I've gone in quite some time without looking at a phone. I took in flowers, noticed things I hadn't seen before and stopped to talk with co-workers I saw on the street. When I got back to work I felt energized. Fair warning, you're violating a social norm here, people may look at you like you're crazy. Small price to pay for a bit of renewed focus. Give this a try and share your experience in the comments. Last tip, be careful if walking slowly across the street...  

(Image via Chris Pole/

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Mark Micheli is Special Projects Editor for Government Executive Media Group. He's the editor of Excellence in Government Online and contributes to GovExec, NextGov and Defense One. Previously, he worked on national security and emergency management issues with the US Treasury Department and the Department of Homeland Security. He's a graduate of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs and studied at Drake University.

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