I missed a deadline this week. Want to hear something even worse? This was the second deadline I’ve missed in thirty days. Thankfully the deadlines were for two separate projects and two separate clients, but sadly the mistakes were made by one single person — me.

Recovering After Missed Deadlines

Ever since the second missed deadline, two responses have been battling in my head.

As a responsible, professional person, this is a pattern that troubles me. Alarm bells have been sounded suggesting I look into why this happened and review my workload and my work habits.

The second response is a bit less measured and mature.

As a raging perfectionist, I’m in a tizzy. I’m questioning my abilities and focusing on the failures instead of the lessons that could emerge from them.

Both responses are understandable, but guess which response is louder? Guess which response is taking more energy and yielding less progress?

I’m happy to report, other voices have emerged (no, they aren’t in my head) to help tackle the responsible “why” questions and quiet that raging perfectionist.

Go Slow and Say No

In November, I attended a Chicago Humanities Festival lecture by author Carl Honoré. Honoré’s book In Praise of Slowness, now more than a decade old, is an examination of our obsession with speed. Convicted after hearing him speak, I bought his book determined to live my life a little more slowly.

Two months later, after missing two deadlines because I’d packed my schedule so tightly I was unable to get everything done, I picked up the book again and finally dug in. I’m gladrecovering-after-missed-deadlines I did.

Though the book isn’t a prescriptive manual — as I secretly hoped it would be — it’s more of a mirror. I was looking for a quick fix. What I found instead was a slow, meditative tool. The book doesn’t provide a list of simple tasks to slow us down and magically make life better; rather I found ideas to help partially explain why my time flies by and my life looks like it does.

For instance, Honoré writes, “…working on computers can make people impatient with anyone who fails to move at the speed of software.” I found myself nodding my head as I read that sentence. I know I’m guilty of that! I’m certainly a member of the “cult of speed” mistakenly believing that fast is better and efficiency is to be revered above all else.

This is part of what inspires me to pack my schedule full, cross as many tasks off the list each day as I can, and try to move at the speed of software and with similar accuracy. I’m beginning to realize that that’s not a sustainable long-term pace, though. It’s one that sets me up to fail.

After reading the book, I decided that it’s time to give myself a little grace and not expect humans to operate like computer software. Speed and efficiency are important, but they aren’t always the most important. After all, “slow and steady wins the race,” right?

My missed deadlines showed me that I’m moving too quickly and taking on too much. It’s time to see what needs to be pruned from my schedule. It’s time to slow down – not all the time, but some of the time. Couldn’t we all do with a little more slow in our lives?

Musician Uwe Kliemt sums it up nicely in Honore’s book when he says, “The world is a richer place when we make room for different speeds.”

Honor Where You Are Today

The second voice of reason came during a yoga class this weekend. As if on cue, my instructor quieted that perfectionist down and offered her a little slice of reality. She didn’t say anything differently in class than she usually says, but I heard and understood what she said in a way I hadn’t before.

For years I’ve taken yoga because it makes my body feel good. It stretches and strengthens me, and heck it ends with several minutes of lying on the floor in quiet meditation. That, for me, is the best exercise there is — at least until someone discovers that eating brownies burns calories.

Yoga is meant to be slow. Often instructors suggest that you honor where your body is that day. They encourage you not to compare yourself to your last practice and to let go of expectations. Usually, I respectfully dismiss those suggestions and push myself to the limit. Like everything else in my life though, my yoga practice tends to be a quest for perfection. For the first time though, it wasn’t. I slowed down. I was gentle on myself.

In the midst of honoring where I was, a lightning bolt hit me. I realized this lesson applied outside the studio too! What if instead of beating myself up, I honored where I was when I missed those deadlines? Stay with me now. I didn’t miss the deadlines because I overlooked them. I knew they were coming and chose to miss them. I missed the deadlines because I prioritized other work.

When I missed the deadlines, I communicated with clients and took responsibility for my choice. Even more importantly, I work with incredible teammates who picked up my slack and covered for me. By continuing to beat myself up, not only was I not honoring my choice, I wasn’t honoring their support.

The Moral of the Story

Mistakes happen and when they do, lessons can be learned from those mistakes. As I look ahead, I intend to find more ways to “go slow and say no.” But whether I do that well or not, it’s important to honor my decisions.