Yin, yang and the importance of ‘why’. A curious exploration of tempo, part 1

Those who know WHAT they do tend to work harder. Those who know WHY tend to work smarter.

— Simon Sinek

After drilling down into the nuanced ideas of slow movement last month, I found myself equally curious about the broader idea of tempo. The way we naturally change gears in response to a given situation or task, and the way that sometimes, when we are out of sync with our natural rhythms—in business and in life—we can find ourselves stuck in one gear. Full throttle, or stalled. Neither of which is helpful, or healthy.

The duality of tempo

In a recent conversation with Nat Woods from co-working studio and creative space The Corner Palm, she asked me if I was more yin or yang in business. My answer was yang in a yin way—a blend of both. This is how I like to think of tempo. We’re not built for one speed at all times. It’s never all or nothing, but rather a balance of the two.

In my view, a sustainable, strategic tempo is characterised by its fluidity and duality. Tempo should exist in a dynamic relationship with your specific needs—after all, when we drive, we change gears in response to steep inclines or descents, traffic or other hazards to keep the motor running in an optimal way. The same is true when it comes to our businesses. 

For me, a balanced tempo means being highly focused and efficient when I need to be (say, in one of my three-hour clarity workshops), yet preferring to work in a calm, nurturing way that supports and makes space for those times when I need to kick it up a notch. This duality is also an inherent requirement when you’re a strategist—working closely and calmly with business owners to listen and align their creativity and strengths, while at the same time being able to quickly untangle any big ideas or roadblocks and put an actionable framework around them. In fact, one of my clients, Lucy Tweed of Every Night of the Week, likens this ability to change gears and distil confusion into clarity to that of a 50s telecom switchboard operator! 

The relationship between your ‘why’ and tempo

Largely, tempo is a gut thing. Most of us instinctively know when we need to speed up, or when we need to slow down and take a considered approach. But that instinct is fed by being crystal clear on where you want to go, and why it is you are doing what you do. It’s when you’re cloudy on what you core goals are, or you’re stuck in the muck of too much busy work and unable to see the road ahead, that you end up stuck in overdrive or just completely burned out—something I see all too often in this small business community.  

Finding your own tempo is a natural by-product of being able to confidently identify your ‘why’ and make decisions accordingly. This all might sound easier said than done, so if you’re someone who is currently operating at full throttle with no end in sight, here are three simple steps to help you slow down and find a balanced tempo.

One: Step away from the desk

Tools down. Switch off the laptop, take a walk, have a long brekkie, go for a dip in the ocean, take that morning yoga class you’ve been putting off, spend an hour in the kitchen or garden. Whatever it is you enjoy, take a moment to do that, step away from your desk and let your mind find a little slice of calm amid the chaos. It’s a simple step and also one of the most powerful circuit breakers for that endless spinning of wheels.

Two: Say no 

If you know me, you’ll know how much I believe in the power of this two-letter word. Saying no to the things we deep down know we need to say no to give us so much freedom, headspace and strength to move forward. This freedom helps us reassess and readjust our tempo, and get us back into alignment.

Three: Push pause 

Stopping can seem counterintuitive, but if the steps above haven’t freed up that all-important clarity, then it’s time to push pause and work with an independent consultant to create some space around what you’re doing and the speed you’re doing it in, so you can work smarter, not harder.

Keep an eye out for part 2 of this month’s blog series, which addresses the flipside of operating at an unsustainable tempo—being stalled—and gives you some handy tips to get those wheels rolling again. 



Katie Graham