The first time I tried to swing a golf club, it was like a clown show. Nothing made sense. Bend the knees, keep your head down, let the club do the work, keep your wrists locked. I wanted to do all the opposite things. It was the most counterintuitive thing I’d done in my life. And it took me about 15 swings, in front of 30 laughing kids, to actually move the ball about 10 metres.
I got better at it, and eventually ended up school champion. But I’ll always remember that day, and the idea that some things just feel counterintuitive at first. Like, it feels natural to do it THIS way. But that just won’t get you the result you are looking for. You have to do it THAT way, even if it feels like the most stupid thing in the world.
I’ll give you a few examples.
The sooner you start the meeting, the sooner you’re finished, right? Wrong. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, has this interesting rule: start with silence. Everyone takes 5-10 minutes at the start of the meeting to get themselves mentally in the room, to read the memo that they’re about to discuss. He makes sure everyone is informed, aligned, and present. And then they start. He built the world’s E-commerce juggernaut that way.
If you are the leader, and people come to you for guidance, and you know exactly what they should do, you instruct them right? Wrong. You will get a lot of stuff done quickly that way, but you’re not teaching people to grow the neural pathways or the confidence to work out the solution for themselves. The greatest leaders in the world follow a coaching mindset, where they take more time to ask the right kind of questions – in order for their teams to work out what to do by themselves. This allows these leaders to take themselves out of the decision process (unless they really need to be in it) and concentrate on the important stuff. This is hard stuff. Listening – really listening? With the intent to reflect, not to diagnose or prescribe? It is a hard skill to learn. But it’s worth it.
I think we can all agree that Bolt is a gifted freak, and those long powerful strides are why he dominated the short sprints. And if a short sprint is what you’re there for, then you need to use your height advantage. But a while ago, my brother-in-law Andy shortened his strides (he is tall like me) in marathon training. His coach advised that for the longer distances, those long legs are not an asset. You want to have high cadence, train for shorter steps but more of them every minute, which will give you a better average time over distance. And if it feels a lot harder at first, well good. That means you’re going in the right direction. Stick with it, and it will become easier. It’s kind of like anything. You do the small things well every day but with discipline and rhythm, and the big things just become a lot easier to accomplish. He knocked almost 20min off his best marathon time, by the way. Cadence is king. Shorter strides win the race.
ON HITTING THE ROOF
And this is where it really landed for me the first time. Kilimanjaro, the roof of Africa, has its summit at 5850m. On the last day, in the freezing midnight cold, you walk about six hours at an agonizingly slow pace from about 4600m altitude to get there. It was one of the hardest things I ever did in my life, and I always remember the constant refrain from our guide, which he had consistently repeated over the preceding days: “Pole pole”. Swahili for “Slowly slowly.”
I’m talking about a snail's pace. A frozen water bottle and an uneatable Bar One, a seemingly endless Pink Floyd Brick-in-the-Wallish line of hikers slowly shuffling up a winding path, an uncaring full moon documenting our labours.
We took an extra day to get to this point, so as to get ourselves used to the altitude. And my instinct would be: Run up the mountain. Get it over with. But that’s not the way it works. Slow and steady wins the race.
We all made it to Uhuru Peak, but I saw lots of fallen heroes in other groups that just didn’t heed the call. Guys that looked fit as hell, and probably thought they knew better. But listening to our guide, and taking it slow…was the key to success.
I think life is super busy. We’re so busy doing that we don’t take the time to reflect, to plan, to recharge our batteries, to assess whether we are actually focused on our priorities. So busy driving that we run out of petrol. So busy hustling that we drop the ball with the people that are already in our corner. So busy looking after others that we forget all about ourselves. THERE’S JUST NO TIME.
BS. There’s lots of time. You just need to claim it.
That’s why it’s good to stop. To take some deep breaths. To write in your journal, to put on the meditation app, to go for a long walk or swim. And just slow down. That way you’ll have a much better race performance.
There’s this great tool called the Eisenhower Matrix that we use to separate the Urgent from
the Important. Time Management is tricky at the best of times, and I think it’s time to shake up the paradigm: It’s not about getting more things done with the time you have, it’s about slowing down enough so you’re just doing the things that you should be doing. And doing them fully.