How to Slow Down and Still Get Things Done
Human beings aren’t meant to operate like machines — at high speeds, continuously, for long periods. We have natural rhythms that influence our energy throughout the day and throughout the year.
And yet, most of us spend life stuck in overdrive.
“Busy” seems to be a standard answer to the question “how are you?”. It’s even become something of a status symbol – we feel important if we feel busy. So, on we struggle, filling every moment of our time.
Not just with work. With activities, and personal development, with friends and family, and commitments. We spend all our time doing, very rarely being present.
Life moves at such a fast pace that it seems to pass us by before we can really enjoy it.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Slowing down and taking time to be present – to be – actually helps us do more effectively.
Taking time to appreciate and enjoy whatever you’re doing. Being present on whoever you’re talking to or spending time with. Slowing down is the opposite of always being connected to an iPhone or laptop, always thinking about work tasks and emails, worrying about the past, and fretting about the future. Making time to enjoy your morning, instead of rushing off to work in a frenzy. Doing one thing at a time rather than switching between a multitude of tasks and focusing on none of them.
Slowing down allows us to come back into connection with ourselves. It’s our time to breathe and to notice what’s happening in our bodies. It’s the space to feel our own experience. It’s an opportunity to let go of assumptions and be curious about ourselves and others.
Slowing down can be challenging. Feeling our emotions – all of them – can be deeply uncomfortable. It’s one of the reasons many of us operate at this frenetic pace; it’s our attempt to outrun our emotional experience. If only I stay busy, I won’t feel lonely/hurt/scared. But those feelings stay with us, bottled up and shoved down. When we slow down and feel what needs to be felt, when we release our grip, there is a softening in the body and we allow our feelings to flow. Rather than being trapped, our emotions can express themselves and move on.
So here’s my proposition: Work as often as you want. It’s your life; these are your moments to fill and hopefully enjoy.
But if you find yourself feeling stressed or detached from the present moment—if you sense life is passing you by as you scramble to get more—you may benefit from slowing down from time to time.
Slowing down is a conscious choice, and not always an easy one, but it leads to a greater appreciation for life and a greater level of happiness.
Let’s rebel against a hectic lifestyle and slow down to enjoy life. Here are five ideas to help you slow down a little more today.
- Breathe. We have the world’s best stress management system available to us 24/7. The simple act of breathing. When you find yourself speeding up and stressing out, pause. Take a deep breath. Take a couple more. Really feel the tension soften as you breath in energy and breath out stress. By fully focusing on each breath, you bring yourself back to the present, and slow yourself down. It’s also just nice to take a deep breath or two — try it now and see what I mean.
- Do nothing for fifteen minutes after waking up. Does this sound like you? The alarm goes off and you immediately start checking your phone for messages, scrolling through social media and checking your email before you’ve even got out of bed? Or perhaps you’ve mentally gone through a dozen items on your to-do list before your feet have touched the floor. Taking even five or ten minutes to just be first thing in the morning eases you into the day without such a sense of urgency; you can connect with yourself and your priorities before taking on everyone else’s. This could be a formal meditation; it could just be lying in bed for a few moments (without going back to sleep!) and tuning into your senses – what do you see, hear, taste, smell and feel?
- Remember Parkinson’s Law: “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” This saying reminds me to limit my work and still get it done so I can then focus on other things. Most of us are stretching work we could do in 4 hours to last a whole day, thanks to procrastination, distractions and multi-tasking. Set yourself stricter time limits for work; incentivise yourself by adding in those fun things you feel you never have time to do.
- Focus on people. Too often, we spend time with colleagues, friends and family and we’re not really there. We’re distracted by devices. We are there in body, but our minds are off worrying about other things. We listen, but we’re actually thinking about what to say in response. Instead, make a conscious effort to be present with the person you’re with. Put devices away. Slow the conversation down. Pay attention to what they’re saying and how they’re saying it; notice how your experience changes in their presence. This means that just a little time spent with people can go a long way — a much more effective use of your time which leaves you both feeling more nourished. It means we connect with people rather than just meeting with them.
- Get outside. Many of us are shut in our homes and offices and cars and trains most of the time. We rarely spend time outside. And even when we do, we’re glued to our phones, earphones on. Find opportunities to be outside, even briefly. Observe nature – notice the colours and the sounds. Enjoy its serenity. Feel the sensations of the elements on your skin. Rather than meeting a friend for a coffee, go for a walk together. Exercise outdoors. Yes, that’s always easier when the weather is “good” but, as Alfred Wainwright said, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing” so get bundled up in the winter and go notice how the cold and the wet feel (then get back inside and notice how good it feels to be warm and dry!)
Slowing down doesn’t need to kill your productivity. In fact, slowing down boosts your focus and energy. Small moments of presence, awareness and connection throughout the day create a feeling of spaciousness and abundance. Keep getting stuff done – after all, action changes things. Just remember that you don’t need to it in a state of panic, stress and overwhelm. Finding a more peaceful and relaxed process is likely to make you feel more satisfied, more fulfilled and more effective.
Need help slowing down?
Uncommon, in association with The Practical Balance, are offering two free workshops for a taste of The Spaces in Between on 15th May in Fulham and on 29th May in Liverpool Street. And for a deeper dive, The Practical Balance are hosting a one-day urban retreat – the Instant Pause – on 6th September. Uncommon members can get 30% off their tickets by emailing [email protected].