How to Make Great Things Fast

Across all the professions I’ve happened to work in, I’ve realized there’s a common phrase all the seasoned professionals have said to me at one time or another.

“Don’t rush.”

Acting, directing, fight choreography, personal training, fundraising, construction, writing…in all of these, at one time or another, one or more old pros have said this to me. “Don’t rush.”

At the same time, across all the jobs I’ve held, I’ve always had times where we had to deliver fast. In fact, a demand for speed is absolutely the norm.

So what gives? Why do all the people who know their stuff say “don’t rush” but at the same time we are constantly demanding speed out of our work?

First of all, yes, there are times when the boss is demanding impossible speed, when the market wants something before it’s ready, when I myself am demanding too much out of my own capacity to deliver. Sometimes somebody has to be told things will have to slow down or else things will fall apart.

But the boss isn’t always wrong. And sometimes great things get done quickly.

So there must be a difference between speed and rushing.

Rushing is blind – it’s focusing on the finish line, it’s cutting corners. It’s heedless – let’s just get something to show that we’ve done something. I’m going to write 5 pages today so I can tell myself I wrote 5 pages. For me, it often comes from a place of needing to validate my identity as an artist, a writer, a mature person, what have you.

Speed is different. Speed requires focus, concentrated energy drilling down on the immediate problem. You can’t rush a screenplay, but a professional knows how to focus in and work on THIS scene, THIS character moment, THIS line, this action beat. And then how to step back and assess it QUICKLY against the mechanisms of the whole story, then dive back into the immediate.

In weightlifting, I’ve encountered a phrase that I think is a key concept, perhaps even worthy of being called a mental model. I first encountered it specifically in Olympic lifting, which is a VERY technical art form, and can result in a lot of bodily pain if done wrong, repeatedly. The phrase is this:

Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

It doesn’t mean move in slow motion. It means give every overlapping portion of the movement its due – there’s a setup, an initial pull off the ground, a movement of the hips, a pulling from the shoulders, almost pulling yourself DOWN under the bar as it moves up over your head, and a solidifying of the body as you land beneath the bar.

It’s a lot different from “throw this bar over your head 20 times.”

So if you’ve trained each movement, separately, and also how to move from one to the next, a more complete movement emerges. A smooth one.

But this also refers to taking action. When you slow down your mind, you focus on the moment, and then the next moment can follow smoothly, and the next, and the next, and because you’ve smoothed out the motions, the bar travels upwards at unbelievable speeds. Instead of focusing on several movements, you’ve re-integrated them into a single smooth motion.

You can muscle things out, or you can remove the friction. One beats you up. The other doesn’t, and leaves you ready for the NEXT movement.

So when the old timers have said to me “don’t rush” they didn’t necessarily mean “don’t ever move fast.” Rushing, to me, means I’m prioritizing muscle over removing friction.

You can’t rush writing. You can’t rush acting. You can’t rush directing. You can’t rush producing. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t go fast. The key components, then, are knowledge and focus. KNOWING what to focus on, one moment at a time. Knowing HOW to slow down in order to speed up.

Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

(To be clear – I think this quote originates the Navy SEALS, referring to how to train for operations, and also execute them. I may have gotten it from Jocko Willink, Tim Ferriss, or Dan John – I honestly don’t remember)

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