What’s Your Speed Limit?

by Alli Polin on September 6, 2013

Busy is not productive or fulfilling, it's the path to burnout

Let me guess.

You had back to back meetings today followed by a few back to back conference calls.  The work plan that once made sense and was really do-able (if you actually had some time at your desk to get the work done) is now looking closer to herculean. You made it home for dinner but your brain was still swirling with work and you missed at least 50% of the conversation but you’re fairly sure  nobody noticed because you nodded a lot and smiled between bites.  After dinner wasn’t veg time in front of the TV, it was going to be workout time, but only if you didn’t have to fire up your computer to get through the emails that you didn’t get a chance to respond to today because of those back to back meetings…

How did life get this way?

Did you really think that all of those promotions and opportunities would get you here?

Many of my clients, friends and colleagues live this life and it’s one that I too lived for many, many years.  It’s not as easy as taking a few days off to relax and recharge to somehow rediscover you.  Heck, on a one week vacation, by Wednesday, you’re feeling pretty chill and then it hits you – it’s the halfway point and you start ramping back up into work-stress mode.

Balance is a foreign concept not only to leaders and working adults but also to moms, dads, teens and kids.

I was an alumni interviewer for my university and not one but three of the kids I interviewed were in the top 10 in their class, had a job, held leadership positions in multiple high-school clubs and led fundraising efforts to bring much needed items to an orphanage.  Wow.  It wasn’t even unique to travel overseas to support an orphanage!  The ones that actually got in?  They assured me that they thrive on less than five hours of sleep and have been that way for as long as they can remember.

Maybe those teens that don’t sleep were once like my children’s primary school friends.  They play tennis, netball, are on the swim team, take ballet and are active in girl scouts.  It’s only a minor annoyance that on Tuesdays they have to get picked up from school five minutes early and change in the car and on Thursdays they have to leave netball 30 minutes early to make it to tennis on time… before dinner… and homework.

Busy is not a badge of honor – it’s the path to burnout ~ Alli Polin (Click to Tweet)

Triple booked is not a way to live

You may have learned to always be early to meetings and get incredibly annoyed when others keep you waiting.  You may be the one that is always running in the door late, apologizing.  The real issue isn’t late or early.  The real problem is you’ve got to stop running 1000 miles an hour.

Ask yourself:

What would life at 75 mph feel like?
Things go past in a blur but you’re getting there fast!  No time for details or for that interesting roadside stop after all, you don’t want to be late.

Life at 60 mph?
Really fast but not quite as furious.  You can hold a conversation on the way to where you’re going, smile and connect even if it is only for a moment on your way to the bathroom.

Life at 50 mph?
Still on the go but…  You’re moving with purpose and you’re tires don’t make an awful screeching noise when you have to make an unexpected left turn.

  • Time for you
  • Time to meet with your team, colleagues
  • Time to trust that others know their stuff and can go to the meeting, conference, call instead of you
  • Time to eat dinner and listen and laugh

Life at 40 mph?

  • Time to take care of you – exercise, eat right
  • Time to breathe
  • Time to say yes to that coffee you’ve wanted to grab forever
  • Time to take a long weekend and know that the world won’t collapse

Don’t get stressed that this is another post tell you to slow down or pay the price.  You don’t need to make the leap from 1000 to 40 to live a life that’s meaningful and fulfilling but you do need to be intentional about your choices and find the mph that works for you, your work, and your life.  (Trust me, there is a whole world outside of work!)  Week to week, month to month your hours and speed may fluctuate but your commitment to finding balance through intentional choice should not.

How do you get out of the 80, 75 or 60+ hour habit?

As much as it can be addicting to feel important, make the leap by saying no to those things that don’t have to have you in the mix.  Empower others to step up and stretch into new skills.  Advise as the back of the room expert instead of being the front of the room leader.  Brainstorm with a coach or trusted advisor on what steps are most authentic for you as you work to lead with purpose and enjoy life today; not only at some far off time called retirement.

Bragging rights to doing “it all” are not worth the cost.  Trust me.  I’ve been there.  (Click to Tweet)

What if the mph was the number of hours you worked a week?  What would that feel like?  What’s the right mph for you?

Are you ready to make the leap from busy to leading with more fulfillment, power and purpose?  For coaching, consulting or speaking Let’s Connect!

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Jon Mertz September 6, 2013 at 7:38 am

Spot on questions! It is something I have been thinking about a lot lately…. Haven’t decided my speed limit for the next year. Great way to frame this life and work question, Alli. Thank you.


Alli Polin September 6, 2013 at 8:37 am

Thanks, Jon! I’m constantly adjusting my speed. It used to only be fast and furious. Life in the Outback is helping me make another choice. Hope that the next year brings the right balance for you.


Johann Gauthier September 6, 2013 at 8:08 am

Thanks for your post Alli which is quite timely for me.
Allowing ourselves to slow down and transition is key.
I think am going to simply watch a movie tonight, have a glass of Vesper Martini and unplug!
High regards,


Alli Polin September 6, 2013 at 8:40 am

Johann – I think that you are definitely a 1000 mph (or kph) person. Your passion has enough power to fuel a rocket ship! Time watching a movie and relaxing sounds perfect. Appreciate you!


Jackie Yun September 6, 2013 at 8:27 am

Alli ~

Loved your examples of life at different miles per hour. We do need to be intentional in our “driving”. Maybe it’s time to shift gears into a Sunday morning drive and breathe in the view. Just shared your post on LinkedIn!

Jackie Yun


Alli Polin September 6, 2013 at 8:42 am

Many thanks, Jackie! It really does come down to intentional choice. When we need to put in the hours, do it. When we don’t, step back, breathe. Sunday morning is the perfect time to block time that’s sacred for ourselves each week too! Many thanks for sharing and all of your support.


Blair Glaser September 6, 2013 at 4:49 pm

Two years ago Arianna Huffington was giving speeches to groups of women about the importance of sleep. And I thought — what the EF is going on in this world that grown women are lining up to hear another very busy woman talk about the importance of *SLEEP??!!!*
Thanks Alli for bringing us back to basics with this stark and priceless mirror. When we whizz through life fueled by ambition, we set ourselves up for a crash of epic proportions — when we finally realize that everything that truly matters has passed us by.


Alli Polin September 8, 2013 at 7:16 am

HA! Yes – so crazy busy we have no time to sleep but we DO have time to hear others tell us why we need to sleep.

Can’t add much to what you wrote other than it’s always our choice and when we look back on our life, it’s too late to wish we’d made another one. The time is now…

Thanks, Blair!


Judy Martin September 8, 2013 at 12:33 am

Interesting perspective Alli. It reminds me of one of the most important components of stress management, after identifying and assessing how a stressor is impacting your life, it’s the mastery of choice that truly puts us in the “drivers seat” .. pun intended. 🙂 @Judymartin8


Alli Polin September 8, 2013 at 6:36 am

Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, Judy! Stress is much greater when we don’t think that we have a choice and when we’re in go-go-go mode so often that’s the case (or it feels like the case) Balance is never about 50-50 on some imaginary scales, it’s making intentional choices that fit our life. Sometimes that’s more work and sometimes it’s more time out of the office… but I’m with you – choice is the key.

Thanks again!



Mike Brown September 8, 2013 at 9:30 am

Good advise here… Many people become “busy” because they are avoiding the real issues that will allow them to move forward in life… Many times the “real experiences” happen in between the big events – and if we are running to quickly, we may miss them… As my friend Ferris says http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52UxIgsC_0g


Alli Polin September 8, 2013 at 7:42 pm

You have totally made my day and have me laughing. The hard part with going so fast – we take ourselves so darn seriously!! A life without any opening to be playful is a tough choice to make but so many of us (myself included) fall into that way of living.

Seriously appreciate you!!!


Stephen Lahey September 8, 2013 at 2:14 pm

What kinds of people make it to the top echelons of the U.S. government, the most powerful corporations, professional sports, etc.? Intensely driven, crazy busy people. Of course, they do pay a price. Is it worth it? Only they (and their families) can say.


Alli Polin September 8, 2013 at 7:38 pm

Great point that’s absolutely true. The hard part is when we see everyone around us as if there is only one speed that’s acceptable, it makes it hard to make another choice. Bottom line, it is personal, and each one of us needs to decide for ourselves.


Alice Chan September 8, 2013 at 5:11 pm

Great post and advice, Alli! In the U.S. especially, it seems that busy could easily be a badge of honor. I was just about to sit down and write my post for this week about getting nudges from the Universe that I don’t have to do it all. Reading your post serves as yet another reminder. Thank you!


Alli Polin September 8, 2013 at 7:40 pm

Look forward to reading about your nudges from the Universe! It’s such a hard message to internalize (at least for me) Even after making great strides, I still struggle with accepting space to BE instead of BE BUSY.

Thanks, Alice!


Terri Klass September 9, 2013 at 3:08 pm

I just realized that I never slowed down enough to read this incredibly important post, Alli! You really are speaking to me with your profound thoughts and words here.

I am in so deep with my investment of time that my husband has now referred to himself as a “social media widower”! And he is no slouch in his work hours.

I do need to slow down and breathe, reflect and get some more sleep. Your reminders are so essential for “tired” leaders.

Great job with the post, Alli! You nailed it!


Alli Polin September 10, 2013 at 5:00 am

Oh my gosh, Terri! I think my husband would relate to the Social Media widow. He works a ton but we’re not always busy on our individual work at the same time… can be like two cars passing in the night.

Slowing down is so easy to write or talk about but much harder to put into practice. The good news is that it’s not all or nothing. Sleeping now will give both of us energy for the next sprint.

Thanks for taking the time to read, comment and share your experience, Terri!


Sarupa Shah September 9, 2013 at 3:56 pm

Great timing to come back and visit your blog Alli…and pun intended of course, I have been on an enforced and unavoidable go slow – and ironically as ever I re-learn I get as much if not more done then going for break-neck speed…time bends when you feel abundant with it…I needed to remind myself that ;0)


Alli Polin September 10, 2013 at 5:04 am


It’s so funny that we’ve been trained to feel that going fast means doing more. It may mean that but it does not always equate to doing things throughly or remotely joyfully. I truly love what you wrote here: Time bends when you feel abundant with it. Letting that sink in 🙂


Lolly Daskal September 11, 2013 at 10:09 pm

When we are in a full speed ahead we are overworked . overwhelmed and overburdened.

The secret for our lives lies in the fact that it takes flexibility more so than finding balance.
Balance you are still trying to do everything.
Flexibility on the other hand- allows for us to prioritize
we are flexible with all the things we need to do.
We let go of must do and only concentrate on what is really important.

You ask great questions! Made me think… I really like it!


Alli Polin September 12, 2013 at 9:24 am

Flexibility. Definitely. Choice. Absolutely. The myth of balance being scales in perfect symmetry is just that – a myth. We need to make conscious choices that serve us instead of getting lost in the action. Love the addition of flexibility here because balance is a word that just doesn’t really capture the essence of the time challenge that we’re all facing daily.

Many thanks!


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