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The Power Of The Pause: A 3-Second Strategy To Reduce Distractions

How a simple parenting technique taught me to become a better teammate at work

The last thing I expected coming back from my maternity leave was becoming a better manager due to baby sleep advice.

When I was pregnant with my first kid, expecting parents were reading Bringing Up Bébe by Pamela Druckerman. It’s an American mom’s account of having a baby in France, and all the differences between the American approach to pregnancy, childbirth, and the baby years vs the French approach (spoiler alert: the French do it way better).

There is a chapter called “Le pause” all about giving babies a few minutes to settle down on their own before rushing to their side at night when they wake up and cry. Americans are trained to soothe right away, whereas the French give the baby “le pause” or a few minutes to learn to self soothe before taking action. Le pause is powerful because it helps a baby learn to be self soothe vs being extra stimulated and woken up by a concerned parent who means well.

It turns out that “le pause” is extremely useful at work too.

Pausing allows us to consider the needs of our teammates

In the current reality of constant pings, interruptions and distractions, building a habit of taking a beat before asking for help or responding to a question helped me become a better manager. Waiting before responding immediately helped me regulate my response rather than let emotions make the best of me and setting the expectation that I was not available at all times helped my team learn to be self sufficient. 

In our Slack window open all day culture, it’s easy to ask someone for help as a knee jerk reaction or respond right away when someone pings you with a question. However, this undermines our ability to be self-sufficient critical thinkers and it is detrimental to overall professional and team growth.

Studies show that it can take up to 23 minutes and 15 seconds to recover focus after a distraction. This is bad enough if you’re asking a teammate a question, but when chat channels might have 10 or 100 people in them the collective distraction quickly adds up.

It can take over 23 minutes to regain focus after a distraction

This is where the power of the pause comes into play. Taking a pause of three to four seconds is already a well-known technique when trying to resist urges that prevent us from forming better habits and improving emotional intelligence. Plus, it allows us to minimize reactionary outbursts to negative feedback that could have long lasting impacts on team interactions.

But what I realized is that "le pause "is also a great time to consider whether you are asking your question in the right tool or whether you should be asking that question to a teammate at all, because most questions do not require an immediate answer and the information you need is probably already documented somewhere else. 

Whether it’s a project guideline in Notion, a product overview in Loom, or a decision outcome in Hoop, this information should be well documented and easy to find so that you can avoid dropping interruptions in Slack. 

Similarly, many questions like asking for feedback on a newsletter draft or deciding where a team offsite should be are questions that are better suited for asynchronous collaboration tools. This way teammates can engage when they have the time and mental capacity, and avoid the negative consequences of context switching.

By taking a pause we’re stripping away unnecessary urgency and taking into consideration the needs of our teammates.  In an over-connected, hyper-collaborative world this is a small but crucial humane step.  Old habits might be hard to break, but by taking just four seconds, you might save hours and contribute to a more pleasant and functional workplace.

Back at home, I successfully employed “le pause” with both of my children and can report that it helped them develop healthy sleep habits.

Now that they’re older, I try to remember to pause when they ask me questions rather than doing something themselves, or take a breath before reacting to the newest mess they’ve made. It’s a useful mental muscle to flex and results in a happier me both at home and at work.

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