From the many things we have learned or developed over this last year of restrictions, the gift of extra time is high up on many peoples list. A few friends of mine normally had a 60-90 commute to work each way – so they’ve gained up to 3 hours a day. What an amazing gift! The trick of course, is what to do with that time. Many have taken up a new skill or started a new exercise regime (whatever that is!). Others have been able to spend much more valuable time with their family. But come on, hands up who vowed a year ago to learn a new skill or start something new, but all they’ve developed is a working knowledge of NetFlix?!
So, as restrictions start to be lifted, that extra time may still be there so what are you going to do with it? How are you going to manage it? Or if you’re going to lose some of that time for reasons beyond your control, how can you still remain as productive and chilled as before but without moving towards burnout? The answer – slow down to go faster!
That may sound weird but stick with me.
Ever heard the phrase ‘slow and steady wins the race’? And any Top Gear fans will know that part of the trick of getting a top time on ‘the lap’ is often to take some of the corners slower and more controlled. It’s not about ‘pedal to the metal’ all the time. It’s about consciously slowing down. Let’s explore this a bit.
John Ortberg describes this idea as “cultivating patience by deliberately choosing to place ourselves in positions where we simply have to wait.”
So if you regularly say you haven’t got time, this quote seems to indicate that there’s a choice you can make to make that time and it usually comes by doing less but doing it better. Now before you lynch me – especially the parents reading this – I’m a parent too and I’m also good at taking extra stuff on. So I’m speaking as much to myself here! Lets learn and develop together!
John Mark Comer, in his book “The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry” lays out four practices for unhurrying your life, and one of those is the practice of Slowing. He explores ways of slowing down both mind and body. I get that. I’m pretty good at slowing my body down but my mind is constantly on the go and that can be just as tiring. So Comer lays out 20 ideas (stick with me – I’m just taking 12 of them) for slowing down your overall pace of life. Ironically, even though I’ve not taken all the ideas, I’m still going to race through them! I’ll give my thoughts around his headlines with a few quotes from him interspersed. The first few relate to something most of us do regularly – driving a car – but then we move on to life in general.
- Drive the Speed Limit. Okay this is the law, but how many would say they might just see what they can get away with. Why do it? Forget the “instant gratification of a life of speed” and just slow down.
- Get into the slow lane. (This will apply more from Friday when you’re allowed to go into other local authority areas!) Comer says “settle in. Feel the wheel, the road. Watch the scenery pass.” Use the time as a chance to practice slowing of your mind as well. It really works.
- Come to a full stop at stop signs. Again, this is actually the law according to the Highway Code. But how hard is it to do this? You just keep on rolling a little until you can move on safely. There’s an in built desire to keep moving but even if you’re not driving, how about occasionally just coming to a complete stand still in whatever you’re doing. Intentionally.
So let’s move on from driving and take some other ideas:
- Get in the longest checkout line at the supermarket. This will probably be an unpopular one and I know most supermarkets will open another till if the queue gets too long! It seems like wasting time on purpose doesn’t it. But this is why Comer does this: “It’s a way to slow down my life and deal with the hurry in my mind. It gives me a few minutes to come off the drug of speed. … And when I get up to the cashier … say hello, ask a few questions, and say thank you. (Rather than my default of paying for my items while texting with work, while podcasting via headphones, all the while treating the poor cashier like an ATM instead of a person.)” He suggests it’s wise to “regularly deny ourselves from getting what we want … that way when somebody else denies us from getting what we want, we don’t respond with anger”.
- Turn your smartphone into a dumbphone. Now I can say I’ve done this. The simplest way to do it is to turn off all notifications except for calls and texts – even just allow texts from select people. You could go further and actually remove the apps from your phone if you want to go hardcore. But taking away the notifications stops you being a slave to your phone. You can choose when you’ll look at it. Choose when to go on social media. Choose when to respond to someone who doesn’t need an urgent response. Delete every app that you don’t need or doesn’t make your life a whole lot easier. Keep your home screen as free as possible. And here’s a powerful one: “Set your phone to grayscale mode. This does something neurobiologically that I’m not smart enough to explain, something to do with decreasing dopamine addiction. Google it!” Or better still, just get a basic phone – you know, the ones that just phone and text and might have the snake game on it. It’s about taking away things that could drain your time unnecessarily.
- Parent your phone; put it to bed before you and make it sleep in. Comer and his wife put their phones ‘to bed’ at the same time as their kids: 8:30pm. He says “we literally set them to airplane mode and put them in a drawer in the kitchen. Otherwise we burn time and end up frying our brains with blue screens rather than winding down for bed.” But how will you discuss things on social media about the latest episode of Line of Duty? Here’s a thought – do it tomorrow! Maybe even just give someone a call to discuss it?
- Keep your phone off until later in the morning. Comer says “The stats are ominous. 75% of people sleep next to their phones and 90% of us check our phones immediately upon waking. I can’t think of a worse way to start the day than a text from work, a glance at an email, a quick (sure…) scroll through social media and a news alert about that day’s outrage. That is a surefire recipe for anger, not love. Misery, not joy. And definitely not peace.”
We’ll take a pause here to point out that “none of this is legalistic. These ideas are simply self-imposed guardrails to keep the trajectory of my life between the lines and on the way to life”.
- Set times for email. Pretty much every self-help writer, time management study, workplace efficiency expert etc all say the same thing. I struggle with this but am getting better. Listen, if something is that urgent the other person will phone you and you can answer calls. So don’t just glance at the emails when you get a free moment. Don’t answer randomly through the day. “Set a time to do email and stick to it”. The accountant for my previous job did exactly this and put it on her auto email response so you knew when you might expect a response from her. I know there have been times I’ll turn the emails off on the laptop so I can focus – especially when a deadline is looming! Most experts will recommend no more than twice a day for email. Comer points out “the more email you do, the more email you do“!
- Set a time limit for social media. This is huge whether personally or professionally. How often have you opened the app and started scrolling and scrolling and scrolling. The next thing you know the programme you’d put on to watch has finished and you’re still scrolling. Comer says “it just eats up my time and with it, my joy”. Why not even set a daily allowance of social media time – there are apps to help you with that. If you can, why not even try coming off completely? If it wasn’t for a work need then I might consider that. Social media can be really helpful but it can also become a hotbed for negativity. It’s so easy to bang out a comment without really thinking and without facing much comeback on it. Things can grow arms and legs so quickly. For me, give me a proper conversation with someone – even if it is on Zoom – rather than just 280 characters in a tweet and then another one and another one.
- Turn off your TV. “Even more than social media, TV consumes the lion share of our so-called free time. For the average person (note – this was written before lockdown!) that is up to 35 hours a week.” How much binge watching have you done on Netflix recently? It may not be something to be proud of when you look at what you could have been doing. Check this out: “when asked about the competition from Amazon Prime and other up-and-coming streaming services, Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, shrugged. He said their biggest competition is sleep”. Wow. That is what the world has become. Creating something that competes with sleep. And we wonder why we’re not as productive as we used to be.
- Single-task. Now I’m a guy quoting from another guy. We all know the line that men can’t multi-task. I beg to differ having worked in catering for a while when I first moved to Scotland. But read this: “multi-tasking is just sleight of hand for switching back and forth between a lot of different tasks so I can do them all poorly instead of doing one well.” Or what about this: “multi-tasking is the drive to be more than we are, to control more than we do, to extend our power and our effectiveness. Such practice yields a divided self, with full attention given to nothing”. Ouch!
- Walk slower. Unless you’re late for picking your kids up from school (go on – admit you were watching something on telly or you got lost in social media? See above….!) then just walk slower. You’ll still get to where you’re going. Now I’ve lived in London. I’ve worked in Edinburgh. You know the pace of people. I’ve even found myself clocking someone else going in the same direction and pretending I’m in a race with them to the next lamp post! Just me?! Comer says “One of the best ways to slow down your overall pace of life is to literally slow down your body. Force yourself to move through the world at a relaxed pace.”
As we’ve said, these are just some ideas. They might not all work for you. So why not come up with your own ideas as well. But don’t just come up with a list – actually put them into practice. To finish with a word from Comer “There’s more to life than an increase in speed. Life is right under our noses, waiting to be enjoyed.”
So if I don’t respond to you quickly. If I’m walking slowly. If I’m just that bit slower. Join me!
All quotes taken from John Mark Comer’s book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry published by Hodder and Stoughton.