How to Ease Impatience

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Wherever deadlines, deliverables, and metrics exist, we will experience impatience from time to time. Sometimes clients, supervisors, or board members will be impatient with us or our work, and sometimes we will simply feel impatient with them, with ourselves, or with some part of the process we do not have total control over.

Business systems and projects are marked and measured by time, starting with the hours we work every day and extending into longer chunks, quarters and years, project timelines and launch dates. Organizing by the clock and the calendar are useful tools, but this way of measuring can often generate pressure to work faster, or make us anxious to reach the next milestone, especially when it’s something important to us.

But does impatience help us? More often than not, it brings our mood down and compromises our work and our communication with others. Like other forms of anxiety, it pulls us out of the present moment, and when we are speculating about the future or believing we’re behind schedule or simply not fast enough, we think less clearly and make unnecessary mistakes. We may even freeze. We’re less creative in general, and less able to focus.

Whether you work for a large or small company, as a consultant, or for yourself, learning to be patient with yourself and with others is a process of accepting and getting comfortable with the unknown, and with a certain lack of control. There are many things we can control, prevent, predict, and solve for, but the conditions of our work are increasingly unpredictable, and there seem to be more and more new challenges, variables, and people throwing monkey wrenches into our best laid plans. The reality is that we have less control than we think we do, and that fact can be unsettling.

To support the illusion of control, we want to believe we can make things happen in a certain time frame, which is usually faster than what we observe or faster than what would actually be realistic. Sometimes pressure comes from clients, supervisors, or boards, but we can also pressure ourselves from within. We have the ability to imagine the future, and so we feel the gap between our vision and our achievement very keenly. Patience asks us to stand in that gap, and to withhold judgement of how much time it takes to get something done well. Here are some suggestions to let go of impatience and stay present with where things are today:

1. Reality Check – How urgent is the request, task, or event that is triggering your feelings of impatience? Can it safely wait another day or another week? What truly needs your attention now? What part of the project is under your control? What can you act on now? Whatever you choose, give it your full attention.

2. Accept the Unknown – There are times you will simply not know how long something will take. You may be waiting for your boss to get back to you with an approval, or you may be troubleshooting code or cold-calling potential customers. Impatience often creeps in with thoughts such as, “I should know how long this will take, I should be able to do this in the time I have decided, but I don’t, or I can’t! But I should! But I can’t, but I should, etc.” There remains an element of unknown in the timing of our work, as much as we try to divide it into neat little boxes. Shut down the looping shoulds and you have conquered impatience. Here’s your internal shut-down script: “I don’t know. It’s ok that I don’t know. I’ll keep doing the best I can.”

3. Trust the Process – Another way of thinking about the quality of patience is trusting the process. When you actively choose to trust the process and the people involved in it, you are relinquishing the desire for individual, personal control. Trusting the process is you seeing yourself not as an individual, but as part of a collective of people working together for the same goal. The larger our collective, the less individual control we have. Collective time may appear to be slower than individual time, but it may also be necessary in ways that are difficult to see from your individual perspective. Trust also means believing that you or your company will be ok, even if something takes longer than you would like it to.  

What are your insights around the feeling of impatience? When does it strike, and how do you change the internal conversation? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.