“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” ~Gandhi
Both the industrial and digital revolutions promised increased productivity, meaning people could work less and live a more balanced life. We all know that’s not how history has played out.
Even as technology advances, we work longer hours than ever, and ironically, struggle financially and accrue more debt with each passing year.
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.
So here’s my proposition: Work as often as you damn well please! 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 complete spreadsheets and eat at your desk—you may benefit from one of these ideas to slow down throughout the day:
1. Eat slowly.
This is a tough one for me. I devour food—always have. But I’ve found that eating more mindfully can be a meditative practice.
Chew every bite more, analyze tastes like you’re a foodie, and generally savor the experience. 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.
2. Do nothing for fifteen minutes after waking up.
Have you ever opened your eyes and immediately pulled out your iPhone or laptop? Or how about this: Do you roll out of bed two seconds after waking, having already created a ten-item to-do list in your head? Taking fifteen minutes to just lay with your thoughts allows you to ease into your day without such a sense of urgency.
3. Stare at a photo online instead of reading an article.
We’re knowledge seekers, which is a great thing. The more we learn, the more we understand and grow. However, the digital era presents a unique challenge: with so much information available, it’s tempting to seek knowledge far more often than you apply it.
Instead of learning something new on your lunch break, kick back and appreciate a beautiful image. Stillness is the answer to many of the questions you’ve been asking.
4. Choose an activity you usually multi-task and do only that.
Choose one task to complete mindfully today, and maybe add to that tomorrow. My favorite is folding laundry. It’s warm, clean, and, most importantly, done!
Since I have an overactive mind, I need to tell myself certain things to stay in the moment: Enjoying this moment is my only task; there is nowhere to get to—only right now to be; nothing exists but this laundry in front of me (obviously not true, but it keeps me grounded).
5. Stare at your turned-off-TV for ten minutes before turning it on.
A lot of us fill our downtime binge watching our favorite shows. Absorbed by external stimulation, you miss out on the opportunity to connect with yourself—and before you know it, hours have gone by, and you have to get back to work. Or your kids. Or dinner.
Before you get to your show, take a few minutes to just sit there and breathe. Use the screen as a canvas for visualization. Project your daydreams onto the tube, and sit with that for a few.
6. Block a half-hour of unplanned time in your planner.
Don’t plan to take a walk or meditate (although those aren’t bad ideas). Instead, plan to do whatever you end up doing. Get up, walk around, and see where that takes you. Maybe you’ll end up helping your neighbor wash his car, or playing jump rope with your niece. Nothing makes you feel present like spontaneity.
7. Write Parkinson’s Law somewhere you can see it often: “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”
Maybe you really need more than ten hours a day to get everything on your to-do list done. Or maybe you’re stretching your work to fill longer hours because society associates so many positive things with busyness. This saying reminds me to limit my work and still get it done so I can then focus on other things.
8. Notice the sights when you drive.
Have you ever watched a frantic driver bob in and out of traffic, passing and merging, only to find him right beside you at the red light? If road rage saves time, it’s generally not much, and it usually isn’t worth the stress it creates. Play some soothing music; notice license plates, bumper stickers, and the scenery; and allow yourself to enjoy this time.
9. Metaphorically toss your phone in the ocean for a half-hour every day.
I love the classic movie scene where the overworked protagonist tosses her phone into the ocean, or a fountain, or out the window and reclaims her sense of freedom. It’s not easy to disconnect from our always-on world, but the benefits of being unreachable make it worth the initial discomfort.
10. Say no.
Saying yes can open you up to new possibilities, but saying no can give you a chance for me-time: an hour when you don’t have to keep any commitments or please anyone else, or a half-hour when you can just kick back and do absolutely nothing.
Small changes throughout your day can slow down your pace without killing your productivity. Go ahead and keep getting things done. Just remember you don’t need to do it all in a panicked state of stress. If you find a more peaceful process, you’ll likely be both happier and more effective.
Photo by Nicholas A. Tonelli