Slow Down To Do More: “Why We Need A Surgeon’s Schedule” With Ashley Graber and Don Maruska

A successful approach that’s worked for me and the thousands of people whom I’ve coached is what I call the “Surgeon’s Schedule.” Surgeons succeed with laser like focus on the highest and best use of their talents in the time when they are at their creative best. Those are their surgeries. They bunch everything else into office hours, often juggling multiple demands as they catch up on patient visits, communications with colleagues, and office administration that don’t just line themselves up in simple serial order.

From front-line employees to busy C-suite executives, setting up a few “surgery times” each week yields a huge boost in productivity and personal fulfillment. It takes planning and discipline to implement this approach as you need to get your work ecosystem aligned to support successful “surgeries.”

Mindfulness can be a lot of things. For Don mindfulness is about centering in the spirit and life force within us. It’s a way of being in the world but not becoming attached to all of the flashy things that try to attract our attention.

As a part of my series about “How to Slow Down To Do More” I had the pleasure to interview Don Maruska. Don founded and was CEO of three Silicon Valley companies and venture investor in startups that became public companies. He’s now a Master Certified Coach and author of “How Great Decisions Get Made” with Foreword by Margaret Wheatley (American Management Association, 2004) and co-author with Jay Perry of “Take Charge of Your Talent: Three Keys to Thriving in Your Career, Organization, and Life” with Foreword by Jim Kouzes (Berrett-Koehler 2013) serving high-growth firms and Fortune 500 companies. He earned his BA magna cum laude from Harvard and his MBA and JD from Stanford and previously led projects for McKinsey & Company.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?

After founding and leading companies in Silicon Valley, I learned some key insights on how to help leaders and teams thrive. I focus on two important leverage points for success: making tough decisions and growing talent. From decades of research and experience, I wrote a book on each of those topics and now enjoy serving as a Master Certified Coach to help others succeed.

According to a 2006 Pew Research Report report, 26% of women and 21% of men feel that they are “always rushed”. Has it always been this way? Can you give a few reasons regarding what you think causes this prevalent feeling of being rushed?

There are several fundamental reasons. First, the exponential flood of information. There’s simply more information and things to attract our attention. Second, we have devices that make us aware of that information flow. Third, responding to the flood of information is addictive. We are like pigeons pecking corn as we tap out our instant replies on our devices 24/7 for the satisfaction of being connected with and seeking validation from them.

Based on your experience or research can you explain why being rushed can harm our productivity, health, and happiness?

We lose focus. We become driven by the voices in the crowds. As a result, we chase other people’s paths rather than their own deeper guidance. This is profoundly disorienting.

On the flip side, can you give examples of how we can do more, and how our lives would improve if we could slow down?

I had a client whose favorite phrase was “The slower I go, the faster I grow.” He knew that slowing down helps our minds sort through what’s really important versus what’s not. We also absorb and comprehend information more effectively and connect more deeply with others who can share their wisdom and help us move forward.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed. Can you share with our readers 6 strategies that you use to “slow down to do more”? Can you please give a story or example for each?

  1. A successful approach that’s worked for me and the thousands of people whom I’ve coached is what I call the “Surgeon’s Schedule.” Surgeons succeed with laser like focus on the highest and best use of their talents in the time when they are at their creative best. Those are their surgeries. They bunch everything else into office hours, often juggling multiple demands as they catch up on patient visits, communications with colleagues, and office administration that don’t just line themselves up in simple serial order.
  2. From front-line employees to busy C-suite executives, setting up a few “surgery times” each week yields a huge boost in productivity and personal fulfillment. It takes planning and discipline to implement this approach as you need to get your work ecosystem aligned to support successful “surgeries.”
  3. As my first activity when I get up, I journal. First, I note several things that I’m especially grateful for that day. Then I capture what my mind has been considering. I simply write what comes forward. This helps me become centered on what’s really important to me before I start responding to the world.
  4. I do morning exercises — the Five Tibetans — simple exercises that the Tibetan monks who live to 100 or more do each day. This provides a centering and calming pace.
  5. Then, I go swimming. My best ideas come when I’m swimming. I don’t try to go faster than my body allows. Instead, I target being in the flow of the water, my body, and my mind. It’s joyful and restorative.
  6. I practice reflective listening to hear and acknowledge what others are saying. This keeps me in sync with them and helps me avoid rushing headlong with my rapid fire thoughts.
  7. I try to focus on my calling. This encourages me to say “no” to things that I can do but which are not in alignment with my distinctive gifts. As a result, I have fewer things clogging up my time and attention.

How do you define “mindfulness”? Can you give an example or story?

For me mindfulness is about centering in the spirit and life force within us. It’s a way of being in the world but not becoming attached to all of the flashy things that try to attract our attention.

Can you give examples of how people can integrate mindfulness into their everyday lives?

I incorporate mindfulness more as a way of doing things than as a separate practice. While I’m impressed with the people who do mindfulness breathing and such at long stretches, I find try to follow the flow of my day.

Do you have any mindfulness tools that you find most helpful at work?

Enjoying my lunch at the seashore eases my mind with the flow of the waves. I remind myself that forces larger than humans are at work.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to use mindfulness tools or practices?

I learn mindfulness and centering in practices that I experience with others. For many centuries, this was the only way to learn mindfulness. I think it continues to offer special benefits.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“It’s never too late to let go of who we are for who we can become.” [unknown] This quote encourages me to continue to reinvent myself and grow.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The movement that I have been inspiring is how people can be their better selves. That is, how they can guide their own thinking and their interactions with others to bring forward their best thinking. Many people operate primarily from fear. While this is self-protective it doesn’t enable them to do their best work and sustain a healthy life. So, I help people focus on their hopes and why those are important them. This enables them to go deeper and tap the wellsprings of talent and insights within them.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

About the Author:

After 15 years working in Commercial Real Estate in New York City, Ashley Graber changed the coast she lived on and the direction of her life from Real Estate to the worlds of Psychology and Meditation & Mindfulness. Ashley came to these practices after getting sober and in the decade plus since, she now runs a busy mindfulness based psychotherapy practice at Yale Street Therapy in Santa Monica, CA where she see adults and children and speaks on the benefits of meditation and mindfulness practices.

Ashley is an Owner and Director of Curriculum for the next generation meditation app & mindfulness company ‘Evenflow’ and launched the company’s one to one online mindfulness mentoring program. Ashley also educates teachers and administrators in schools and presents in businesses across Santa Monica and Los Angeles.

Ashley was trained in Meditation and Mindfulness practices by prominent teachers; Elisha Goldstein, Richard Burr and Guiding teacher at Against the Stream Boston, Chris Crotty. Her Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) certification was done through The Center for Mindfulness at UC San Diego. Additionally, Ashley is trained by Mindful Schools to teach Meditation and Mindfulness practices to children and families. Ashley’s unique combination of psychotherapy, trauma reprocessing and meditation and mindfulness practices make her a sought after therapist and mindfulness educator and speaker. Her passion for the benefits of mindfulness practices as well as her enthusiasm for helping young kids and adults is the drive to teach these very necessary, life long skills and why she wrote and runs the Mindfulness for Families program at The Center for Mindful Living. This is where she teaches groups of families with children ages 6–12.

Ashley was featured on Good Morning LaLa Land, presented on Resilience at the renowned Wisdom. 2.0 Mindfulness & Technology conference, and presented at the TED Woman conference offering an in-depth look at the profound psychological and physiological consequences of chronic stress, and how meditation and mindfulness practices can alleviate these effects.

If you’d like to book Ashley for an inspiring speaking engagement, please click here.


Slow Down To Do More: “Why We Need A Surgeon’s Schedule” With Ashley Graber and Don Maruska was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.