In 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that technological change and productivity improvements would drastically reduce the working week, with people choosing to enjoy more leisure time as their material needs we satisfied. This reflected a trend in wealthy nations in the first half of the 20th century that saw the average working week fall from around 60 hours to 40 hours a week.
How false that promise has turned out to be.
Not that a 15-hour working week isn’t possible. Technological advances are saving us time. Yet, we are choosing to use that time to do more and more things. And so our lives feel more fast-paced and hectic than ever. “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.
If you haven’t noticed adverse effects on your personal relationships or the other areas of your life, you’ll likely keep plowing full-steam ahead and only stop when you have a compelling reason.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
In fact, somewhat counterintuitively, slowing down and taking time to be present - to be - actually helps us do more effectively.
Slowing down means taking time to appreciate and enjoy whatever you’re doing. It means 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. It means making time to enjoy your morning, instead of rushing off to work in a frenzy. It means 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.
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?
Do less. It’s hard to slow down when you are trying to do a million things. Instead, make a conscious choice to do less. Rather than trying to ten things in the day, focus on three things that are important, that need to be done, and let go of the rest. Put space between tasks and appointments - just a moment or two - so you can move through your days at a more leisurely pace.
Block half an hour of unplanned time in your calendar. As someone who believes passionately in the power of scheduling, it’s easy to have everything so planned out that I lose all sense of spontaneity. Having unplanned time in the diary allows you to follow the flow of your energy. There’s no need to plan a walk or a meditation (although those aren’t bad ideas). Instead, do whatever you end up doing. Get up, walk around, and see where that takes you. Follow your own curiosity.
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.
Disconnect to reconnect. Being connected to our devices all the time means we are at the mercy of others; even subconsciously, we are waiting for messages to come. We are subject to interruptions and constantly stressed about information coming in. It’s hard to slow down and be connected to yourself when you’re always connected to a device. Turn your phone off for half an hour; better yet, leave it behind when you go out for a while. Have time away from your laptop during the day.
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.
Do routine tasks mindfully. We spend much of our lives on auto-pilot - thankfully, otherwise we would be paralysed by the sheer volume of information and decisions going on in every moment. But bringing more awareness to routine activities cultivates a sense of pleasure, gratitude, and spaciousness. Try eating more slowly, savouring each bite, appreciating the flavours and textures. It likely won’t add more than ten minutes to your meal time, yet it will give you the chance to seep into the moment. Find the enjoyable aspects of washing dishes or folding laundry - feel the sensation of the water and suds, the heat and freshness of clean clothes. This simple practice can make even the most tedious task full of pleasure.
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!)
Be present. Slowing down is more than changing pace; it’s about becoming aware of whatever you’re doing at the moment. When you find your mind running off to think about something you need to do, or something that’s already happened, or something that might happen, gently bring yourself back to the present moment. Focus on what’s going on right now. On your actions, on your environment, on others around you. Don’t worry if your mind wants to keep disappearing off into thoughts; thinking is its job. The practice it is to notice what’s happening for you right now, including that your mind might be busy being busy, and to gently, kindly guide your attention back to what’s happening.
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.
Struggling to find time to slow down?
Here are a few ways I can help you:
Join us for a series of online Pauses - 30 minutes a week for 6 weeks
For a deeper dive, come to my one-day urban retreat, The Instant Pause, on 6th September
Get the right balance of doing and being with my Energised Entrepreneurs Programme