"My whole life has turned into an exercise in hurry, in packing more and more into every hour. I am Scrooge with a stopwatch, obsessed with saving every last scrap of time, a minute here, a few seconds there."
I once heard that I should budget my time more carefully than I budget my money because I can get more money but more time is impossible to come by. Solid advice. However, any virtue can become a vice if taken to an extreme. While trying to wisely invest one’s time is sensible, obsessing over efficiency and increasing speed to accomplish more is unhealthy. Some even wear their overburdened schedules as a badge of pride.
Why are we always in such a rush? What do we hope to gain from constant redlined effort? Author and journalist Carl Honoré explains In Praise of Slowness that we do not and should not do everything at full speed. After he considered implementing a one minute bedtime story to read to his children, he decided he needed to slow down.
"The great benefit of slowing down is reclaiming the time and tranquility to make meaningful connections—with people, with culture, with work, with nature, with our own bodies and minds. Some call that living better."
What do you do when you first wake up in the morning? Most of us consult the clock, checking the time to see if we are early or late. Then for the rest of the day the clock rules to one degree or another as thoughts of minutes and hours occupy our attention. We obsess over time and doing the most with it. Honorémakes it clear: not all efficiency and speed should be avoided. After all, such a focus helped produce the internet and air travel. However, modern day enjoyment aside, not everything should be approached with the fastest-is-best dogma.
What does it mean to slow down? Honoréexplains: “Being Slow means never rushing, never striving to save time just for the sake of it. It means remaining calm and unflustered even when circumstances force us to speed up.” Some things in life take time and suffer with relentless speed. Our relationships with friends and family, our health, and even personal growth stagnate and often wilt under a speed above all else approach. Yes, I might be able to buy a microwave dinner and save myself two hours of toiling in the kitchen. Fortunately, slowing down does not have to be a one size fits all approach.
"Most of us do not wish to replace the cult of speed with the cult of slowness. Speed can be fun, productive and powerful, and we would be poorer without it. What the world needs, and what the Slow movement offers, is a middle path, a recipe for marrying la dolce vita with the dynamism of the information age."
Some may resist slowing down fearing that they will be passed by, left in last place like a Luddite lackey. Honoréexplains that slowing down is not a one size fits all situation. For example, some activities make sense to do faster, like skiing or traveling on a transatlantic flight. Other undertakings are better enjoyed at a more leisurely pace: chatting with friends over a good meal, or going for a walk without listening to a podcast or audiobook.
The author explains the balance between slow and fast by suggesting that you “be fast when it makes sense to be fast, and be slow when slowness is called for.” This approach is what musicians call “tempo guisto”, the right speed. Choosing to slow down is not the opposite of doing everything fast. Slowing down is about making a conscious choice rather than allowing the pressure of the clock to impose itself on how you spend all your attention. Tempo guisto is about finding the appropriate speed for your activity. Just because you can do something faster, does not mean you should.
"... to make the most of our time, and avoid boredom, we fill up every spare moment with mental stimulation. When did you last sit in a chair, close your eyes and just relax?"
Studies indicate that when children have unstructured time to play they “develop their social and language skills, their creative power and their ability to learn.” Unstructured time provides an opportunity to process information and make connections, to truly digest a concept. Instead of a ballet lesson or soccer practice, unstructured time is hunting for unique bugs in the backyard or doodling with crayons. Unstructured time allows for curiosity and adventure.
As adults, do we lose the need to play, make connections with thoughts, or just be still? Unstructured time as a child led to some of my best forts or Lego creations. We strive to fill every hour of our days with “enriching activities” for their productive output because we fear falling behind and wasting time.
Finding a sense of personal balance can help to slow down when it is appropriate. Honoréadvises that we give ourselves “some leisure time, some recreation, some time for solitude.” Just as a machine cannot be pushed to perform at redline efforts without rest, we need a change of pace. Building a little unstructured time into your day doesn’t require you burn your calendar and to-do list on your way to a life without any sense of time. Try to open up some margin each day where you don’t have to be doing something. Once I became comfortable enduring longer periods of time without some form of mental stimulation I found the feeling freeing. The feeling of zoning out and making disparate connections is rejuvenating.
While reading In Praise of Slowness I tried to make more of a conscious effort to slow down. Recently my wife and I went on a camping trip with the express purpose of rejuvenating, so we left our days largely unstructured. We set our phones on airplane mode and went throughout the day without much notice of the time. We played board games, explored a limestone cave, and enjoyed s’mores around the campfire, but generally it was relaxed. Compared to most of our vacations where my planning goes into overdrive trying to cram so much into each day that I need a day to sleep it off, this trip was rejuvenating. Moving at a slower pace allowed me to enjoy many of the details that often escape my notice because we are always pressed for time.
While not everything can be, or should be, done slower, when the right things are it makes a difference.
In the comments let us know how you plan to slow down.