As slow As Possible (AsAP) is the counterintuitive way to thrive in a fast-paced world.
The key is slowing down at the right moments. Because that’s what will deliver faster, more sustainable results in the end.
Sounds weird, right? But it’s true: AsAP Is the Key to Less Stress, More Success, Real Results.
But what’s a Slow Moment? It’s here: Stories. Science. Framework.
I’m about as impatient a person as they come.
I couldn’t tolerate waiting for water to boil, so I bought an instant kettle that delivers my tea in 90 seconds.
That rainbow spinny wheel of death that pops up when a webpage takes too long to load or to save?
And if you’ve ever been in an elevator with me, you know how aggressive I can get with the DOOR CLOSE button. (Door-close-door-close-door-close!!!)
I like to go fast. I like speed. Most of us do.
But here’s the problem: In our always-on, mile-a-minute, accelerated world… we’re often missing out by moving too fast. So fast, that we don’t know when we’re missing out—and what we’re missing out on.
Some things do need a slower, more thoughtful approach. But what’s more: There’s magic in knowing which moments to embrace as Slow Moments.
Which is why we need to prize AsAP, or As slow As Possible (small s), over ASAP, or As Soon As Possible (Big S) at deliberate, specific times.
This is true if you are a marketer, a writer, a CEO, a student.. or a butcher, baker, or candlestick maker.
Slow business. Slow content marketing. Slow leadership. It’s all part of the narrative.
What AsAP Is Not
AsAP isn’t about slow for the sake of slow: That’s not just inefficient… it’s silly.
Walking is slower than flying, but it’s not inherently better. If I walk to my meeting next Wednesday in New York City, I wouldn’t be writing this on a Sunday—because I’d need to leave right now to make it on foot in four days.
That’s stupid, right?
What AsAp Is
My hypothesis is that we need a framework for slowing down at the right moments and spending mental energy at those moments, to deliver the best possible results. That’s what AsAP means:
As slow As Possible means slowing down at the best moments to deliver the best possible results.
AsAP is not about slowing down all the live-long day…
It’s about understanding where to slow down and spend our mental energy.
How do we recognize those critical “slow moments” that we need to embrace if we want to live our best lives?
What’s a Slow Moment, Anyway?
A few weeks ago, in response to my post about the need to rebrand ASAP or As Soon As Possible into AsAP or As slow As Possible, Paul Taylor asked a challenging question on Twitter.
HOLD UP, Paul said:
“Move slowly at critical moments? I’m struggling with that one!”
Move slowly at critical moments? I’m struggling with that one!
— Paul Taylor (@PaulCTayla) February 21, 2018
(Side note to Paul Taylor: I appreciated the charitable exclamation point at the end of the second sentence, which I interpreted an avuncular you don’t say! as opposed to a that’s asinine! I don’t know Paul. But I appreciated his civil tone, especially since our hotly politicized times are more often marked by more vicious exchanges between strangers.)
So yeah, how do you know when to pump the breaks (and avoid an accident)? How do you know when to slow down? And, conversely, when not to?
How do we grasp a better understanding of where to slow down and spend our mental energy for the best possible outcome?
Here’s what I’ve come to. With the science to back it up.
But first… a story about felt-tip pens.
Magic Marker Moments
I started my career as a journalist, covering municipal planning board meetings and the occasional school committee meeting for a small town outside of Boston.
Elected small-town officials have day jobs, and so the weekly meetings took place in the evenings after everyone drove home and ate a quick dinner.
In the meetings, the committee sat up front, behind a long table dotted with microphones. Sometimes the room was full of citizens interested in a certain issue up for a vote that night. But often the meetings were sparsely attended.
Still, I admired the seriousness with which the town officials approached their elected responsibilities—ensuring a quorum, reaching consensus, following Robert’s Rules of Order with the gravity of the Supreme Court.
For small-town officials throughout the country, there is nothing frivolous about their roles and little too trivial to discuss. And there is something noble in that.
The meetings usually took place in the upper meeting rooms inside stuffy town offices or, sometimes, empty school classrooms. As a news reporter, my job was to take notes on everything a board discussed.
This was in the Cro-Magnon tech area: early word-processing computers were in newsrooms, but the idea of a reporter with a laptop would still be a few years away. And so I’d take notes by hand, writing in a skinny 4×8 notebook literally called a reporter’s notebook. It’s designed to be held easily in one hand, with the spiral binding at the top so that it flipped over lengthwise. (You can still buy them for $4 each on Amazon.)
The committee talked. I wrote. I’d take notes sequentially, flipping the pages as we went. I wrote with a black felt-tipped pen.
Because felt-tips flow easily on a page, drying instantly and not smudging. That mattered only because I am a lefty, which means that ink or pencil lead makes a mess as my left hand trawls through whatever I’d just written. If you are a lefty, you know what I mean: you know how the left side of your hand pretty soon starts to look as black and greasy as a machinist’s.
I also like the way the felt-tipped pen… well, felt in my hand (ha!), and the way that some brands referred to “felt-tips” as “magic markers”—because what writer doesn’t relish the notion of a little magic in her writing...?!
But most of all I liked the way a felt-tipped pen required very little grip from me. I could point it loosely toward the paper and lazily move my hand across the page, without looking. Felt-tipped pens let you write quickly without thinking too much about the actual mechanics of writing, which is a key skill when you are trying to listen hard and capture precisely the look on council member Patricia Meuse’s face when the guy to her left rolled his eyes to disagree with her comment.
Finding the Focus
After the meeting adjourned, I’d drive the 6 or 7 miles to the newsroom offices. As I drove through the dark I’d be thinking all the way about the night’s discussion, and turning over in my mind the focus of the story or two I’d write.
It was late to be starting work—usually 10 or 11 at night. But in the newsroom there’d be a kind of a party going on, as all the local reporters from all the surrounding towns clocked in, too, fresh from their own school committee and selectmen and planning board meetings.
We all sat at word processing terminals. I remember them as hulking and huge machines: similar in size to a Starbuck’s barista’s, and just as complicated. I’m not sure that’s totally true: Time has a way of making so many things a little more outrageous than they actually were.
But what is true is how—when you switched the machine on and it warmed up—it groaned a little, like it wasn’t planning on working tonight. (I feel ya, buddy.) It took a few minutes for it to get used to the idea, until (OK, fine!) it signaled the go-ahead of a blinking green cursor on its black screen.
And then I’d write my story. Or (some nights) stories. As I wrote I’d flip the oblong pages of my reporter’s notebook, back and forth, searching for the moments and quotes that would flesh out the story I’d already formed in my head.
I read over the evening’s actions—what actually happened, what people actually said and how they voted, the asides or follow-up questions in the margins—but also I’d review other things I’d captured: that eye-roll from that guy, the reaction of any crowd, the way the room smelled of sweat and supper and floor polish wafting in from the custodian in the hallway.
Finally, when I was done, I pressed a button, and my article was sent by the giant barista’s terminal in front of me to the barista’s terminal in front of the copy chief. The copy chief sent it to the printing department’s barista station, one floor below.
Words swooping through the air and ducking and landing like magic is commonplace now; we no longer marvel at it. But 20 years ago, it felt like a miracle: What a time to be alive.
The next day, my article would appear in the newspaper.
Faster vs. Slower
I stopped covering town meetings a long time ago. I let go of my habit of carrying that skinny reporter’s notebook everywhere, too.
Then in 2009, I was researching my first book, interviewing brands and experts for Content Rules. Only this time, I didn’t use a notebook for my notes: I used my laptop. It was faster. More efficient. And my notes were more fleshed out and thorough.
But here’s the funny thing: They lacked something else. I needed to go over each interview a second time with a fat yellow highlighter, picking out the salient points, mining for the key ideas and connective tissue that linked thought to a bigger issue, and trying to recall how I felt when I heard this point or that.
Sure, the laptop was faster: I got more words down, the record was more complete. But my notes read as a transcript, not as a narrative. And when I sat down to work on Content Rules, I felt unclear about where to begin.
My typed notes may have been comprehensive, but they lacked meaning.
I had a better record of the conversation. But I had a harder time distilling an interview to its substance. I hadn’t been able to internalize and synthesize the information.
I thought back to that reporter’s notebook and the felt-tip pen. I remembered the way I captured nuance: how things were said—not just what was said. And I remembered the way that I somehow got a better grasp on the key points and main thrust of the interview, and I’d be ready to write when I arrived at the newsroom, late at night.
Why would that be? What would the more complete record—the typed notes—be somehow less efficient?
It turns out that there is a scientific explanation for this—or there would be, within a few years. In 2014, researchers Pam A. Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer would demonstrate in their study that taking notes by hand—versus a keyboard—deepens understanding and helps retention. (You read the study that right here.)
The research found that students using a laptop or similar device (like a tablet) “are more likely to take notes by transcribing content verbatim, which studies have shown indicates shallow processing. Because students generally cannot write as fast as they can type, taking notes by hand forces them to synthesize and prioritize which information is more important, thus leading to deeper and more active processing.”
Said another way:
When I took notes for Content Rules, I had a better record of the conversation, but I had a harder time distilling an interview down to its essence.
When I took notes by hand as a news reporter, I was able to sit down when I got back to the newsroom and bang out a story—more quickly—because, in the words of the researchers, during the note-taking I was “actively processing.” As a result, I had a deeper sense of the substance of the meeting.
In other words, my slow note-taking—a Good Slow, a strategic slow—allowed me to write faster when I sat down to write. But, writing out the entire article long-hand—a Bad Slow, a tactical slow—would have been excruciatingly inefficient. Instead, using a keyboard on that barista beast allowed me to get my ideas out my head and onto the beast-screen—much faster.
And THAT is the essence of the slow moment: The note-taking phase—and its equivalents in other endeavors—is a critical moment for slowing down and spending some mental energy in order to later achieve the best possible outcome.
It suggests other moments, too, in a similar vein:
- I work with a felt-tip and paper whenever I need to think big-picture. I slow down and use paper when I want to sketch out an idea, or plot out a big initiative, or think through an issue.
- But I need to use a keyboard when it’s time to share those ideas. In those moments, faster is better because it unlocks the “iterative joy of writing—the ability to race along, to sketch an idea out, to go back and change it, and to move back and forth as you move,” says Clive Thompson in a 2015 talk at INBOUND.
My exercise in switching back to a felt tip suggests this: We need different cognitive tools in our toolkit, based on what task is at hand. So:
- If we want to take in knowledge, we should slow down and use a felt-tip.
- And if we want to understand and retain knowledge, we should use a felt-tip. Because the researchers also found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand.
- But if we want to produce something important, we should use the faster keyboard. And we should type as fast as we can, so as to reduce friction and get The Ugly First Draft out of our heads and onto the page as quickly as possible.
Cool story, bro. So what does it have to do with Paul Taylor?
Let’s look at the As slow As Possible framework to figure out how. In the framework, the X-axis is the Urge to Act: “Whenever” vs. Now. The Y-axis is Impact on others: Massive vs. Miniscule.
The As SLOW As Possible framework is a kind of psychological Adderall to help us discern when it’s time to slow down.
How the AsAP framework works
Let’s look through this through the lens of a news reporter covering a town meeting. During the note-taking phase, I didn’t have a particular impulse or urge to act. (I was in the “Whenever this meeting ends” phase.)
But, still, my article would have massive impact on others—it was to appear in tomorrow’s newspaper and would be read by thousands. So I was thinking slow (listening to the issues), and acting slow (using a felt-tip).
Then it came time to write—the urge to act moved right: from “Whenever” to “Now” because I had the evening copy chief and the printing press waiting on me. I still was thinking relatively slow as I wrote—I needed to take care with how I wrote—but the process needed to be faster. So, it was time to put down the felt-tip pen and turn to the keyboard.
Not to get too meta but…
You might notice that it took me over a month to respond to Paul’s tweet to me. He asked me to clarify “AsAp” on February 21. Now, it’s April 25. What took me so long, eh?
Here’s why: Paul’s question to me represented a Slow Moment. So I responded… well, slowly.
The truth was that until Paul asked the question, I hadn’t thought through my ideas fully. (I’m still not done. But I’m further along.) The AsAP ideas weren’t just half-baked: They were still whirling around in the mixer bowl of the Kitchen-Aid, blending together into something that (with some effort), might transform itself from its raw form into something substantive. But I needed to put in that effort.
In Marketing, that kind of effort is worthwhile only on Slow Content marketing pieces: larger, more substantive, often long-form work that represents a foundation for other marketing.
Like this article. (Or book-article? Barticle? Because at nearly 3,000 words, holy wow this is creeping closer to a book than an article right now.)
AsAP is an important concept I’m working on, and that to me means I needed to deliver not just a thoughtful response. But also… well, my best thoughts.
If I want this concept to have Massive Impact on Others (and I do), then I need to slow down my thinking and writing until I had something useful to share—and not just more… well, noise.
Your turn. Talk to me.
There is certainly such a thing as a bad slow in business: Moving too slowly, and missing opportunities because you just can’t there fast enough.
But the revolutionary idea is that in today’s world there is a critical need for a good slow, too: Because moving slowly at the right time can both ignite our best work and help us thrive in a world that seems to challenge us every minute to hustle a little faster.
My framework seeks to deliver a better understanding of where to slow down and spend our mental energy for the best possible outcome.
I’ll get a little more specific with the seven places where it’s critical to adopt an AsAP mindset. I’m pledging to adopt the AsAP framework myself, and I’d love to hear if you find it valuable, too.
I’d love your feedback.
Does this resonate with you?
What Slow Moments have you experienced?
Are you willing to apply the framework to your own decision-making?
Are you ready to accelerate your own life and work by trying to move AsAP?