“There is more to life than increasing its speed.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Busyness is the new currency by which we measure our success and probably fulfillment. It has become the status symbol no one talks about, woven into our work, and lives. If you are not busy you do not have a life!
Busyness is reflected in our phones and computer screens filled with tons of emails, apps, to-do lists, and events. Mornings have become an anxiety trip to be get on the road. For many, lunch hour is just for “catching up” instead of recharging time. There are not enough hours in a day to take on all that we are expected to accomplish. Not even at the speed of light!
Busyness also shows up in our messy homes, laundry baskets pilling up and refrigerators filled with take-out food and endless sticky notes. Depending on the circumstance and our personality being busy might leave us exhausted or invigorated. However, busyness has become an addiction tugging at our drive to do more and more, faster so not to feel less and less.
In some cultures, like the American one, people seem to attribute higher social standing to individuals who are always busy. Although loads of work and responsibility might go hand in hand with hierarchy positions and roles in the business, political, financial, and career arenas; “looking busy” does not necessary mean “being productive.” Sometimes, “bumbling bees” personalities might give the impression of being busy when they are at best, putting up fires, having the “savior syndrome” triggered (taking tasks and roles from the hands of those who should be responsible for them) or distracted with mind-numbing tasks.
MOooove ! It is LATE! HURRY UP
Being busy walks hand by hand with another illness of today: being in a rush.
Getting things done and fast is a highly valued commodity. Our society lives on two speeds: lethargic sleepwalking or go-go-go. Rushing through one thing to another is paralleled by the way we experience life: moving from one moment to the other without discerning the impact events and people have and/or the lessons offered.
Our overall health and quality of life have been deadly compromised. Stress and burnout are common issues robbing us not only of years to live but the ability to apprehend the quality of the experiences and connections we are exposed to.
Deceiving Turbo button: Multitasking
Ever present in job descriptions! Multitasking has been absorbed into our roles and identities. The ability to multitask is expected from children, entrepreneurs, parents, professionals, you name it.
Neuroscience has brought down the myth of multitasking. Research shows how by forcing ourselves to focus on more than one thing at a time we sacrifice our inner power and the ability to be present for the sake of a “false perceived benefit” of improved productivity.
Moreover, multitasking not only accomplishes less, it also has a dangerous downside polluting our daily lives: the loss of our ability to focus enough to learn. Why? Because by constantly attempting to multitask, we do not give ourselves the chance to practice tuning out the rest of the word to engage in deeper processing and learning.
For the sake of efficiency and the likes
The idea of efficiency was originally developed to improve the functioning of machines during the Industrial Revolution. However, it moved beyond machines and conquered human beings under the promise of allowing us to do what we already do or want to do, better, faster, and cheaply.
This idea has gotten out of control, and we are left with a “fake” urgency to move faster in every layer of our lives without stopping to think why or if it is worthy at all!
Today, entire markets are devoted to time management and personal productivity. Apps and tools around goals, to-do lists, and similar have taken over the markets promising a sense of control in this often unpredictable and constantly evolving world. The coveted grail? Peace of mind.
I am not saying that efficiency is bad or that the tools are useless, I am just reflecting on why we want to be efficient, and what do we need more time for.
What does it mean to be effective?
First, let’s clarify some concepts that we sometimes use exchangeable…
Efficiency is the state or quality of being able to accomplish something with the least waste of time and effort (*). Efficiency is a performance competency that not only measures how well someone does his job, but how quickly and/or cheaply he can do it.
Efficacy, on the other hand, is the capacity for producing a desired result or effect. The term self-efficacy thus refers to a person’s belief that they can accomplish what they set out to do.
Effectiveness is being adequate to accomplish a purpose; producing the intended or expected result. When you are measuring somebody’s effectiveness, you are looking at how well they do whatever it is they are supposed to do.
Efficacy and effectiveness are close enough in meaning that they are used interchangeably. However, the former conveys the extent to which someone accomplishes a task at all while the latter refers mostly to how well that task is accomplished.
(*) Definitions from the Online Webster Dictionary
Wait! Effectiveness does not depend on speed?
Being effective requires creative thinking, intuition, and grasp. These things need space to build up and flourish. Nothing shuts down inspiration and learning faster than forcing it. In music performance, for example, running through passages trying to fake-sounding “smart” and “capable” (virtuoso) is a recipe for disaster that brings muscle stress, frustration, and disappointment.
I admit that taking time sometimes feels completely indulgent, embarrassingly, and highly unproductive. It invites the old destructive patterns and perfectionism to scream “not good enough”. Yet, if I can remind myself that deliberated attention is simply giving me an opportunity of immersing myself in my work/art, I shall rip the benefits not only of a high productivity result but the inspiration and wonder that comes from allowing time for magic to happen.
The idea that time is running out (it does not matter for what) punches me in the stomach, it enters my dreams turning them into nightmares. The clock is a jailer that puts the fear of God in the bones! Forgetting what is important and sweating the small stuff to achieve goals, does it make me happy? Not at all!
Urgency has overrun meaningful. No wonder why the feeling of emptiness is spreading around not sparing even our kids!
Behind the need to be busy and rushing is a feeling of embarrassment. If I am not busy enough, it means my life is small, insignificant compared to what I think life worth living is. If I am not fast, I am incapable…
“Voice” – Expression – is also compromised
Communication suffers when it is rushed. When we do not listen actively, it is easier to make a mistake and do something we might regret.
I have experienced the horrifying feeling of losing control and being “about to crash” when performing my instrument. Time stops and I see a sequence of events in slow motion producing the most undesired outcome. My mind screams to stop but my hands do not obey. I might survive, yet the unease and fear that follows stay with me until the end.
It requires deliberated practice to train myself to recognize the triggers, hold back my horses and work steadily to produce the beautiful and brilliant musical phrase I want. It takes, even more effort to settle the emotions propelled by these “mistakes” and escape the doom of feeling inadequate and incapable. The work done for weeks, even months, goes down the drain as I am unable to let go of the dreary instant and focus on enjoying the rest.
What comes first, busyness or rushing-ness? In my experience, they blend into one another: the more I rush, the busier I am, and vice-versa. Both make it tough to have a sense of achievement or enjoyment.
What if instead of rushing we committed to being generous with ourselves, to take the time we need?
How might we differentiate between being busy for the sake of it or busy because we are tackling a complex task in depth?
“Take it slowly, because we are in a rush!”
The above is a rough translation of a saying from my birth country. It expresses the need to slowly work our way in and out of a challenge and allow the compound effect of our abilities- mental, emotional, and physical- to process the necessary steps to achieve anything.
Rushing through musical passages when I am in the process of learning them results in “indiscriminate action.” This is a coping mechanism undercovering laziness or fear. Passages cannot be reproduced at will (which is the measure of true learning) unless I have a grasp of them. No matter how many times I manage to play them well by luck… On stage, under the pressure of an audience and adrenaline, the truth shall be revealed!
You do not have to be a performer to understand. We all have our fair share of horror stories where a rushed/reactive response resulted in confusion, embarrassment, or outright war.
The Importance of slowing down
Slowing down: (a) gives our logical brains a chance to catch up with our emotions and our bodies the respite to apprehend the motions required to make “that something” happen. (b) Teach our bodies and minds how to respond rather than react. (c) Apprehend a reliable mechanism that will be set by default when similar circumstances present themselves (“the same technique”).
When we slow down and give ourselves time to think, we notice the difference between getting things done and getting the right things done well.
Unless we painstakingly trained ourselves to pivot and get back on track, it is hard to change the response when under pressure or about to crash. The same goes for the conversations we have with ourselves. Slowing down helps the inner critics to be kinder, much more reasonable, and inspired.
Faster, smarter, and easier comes from slowing down
Being able to reproduce what I can hear inside of me, the feeling, the sound, the quality, the expression, is paramount. The need to prove myself hinders my progress, it brings anxiety into the mix. Not being able to do something fast does not mean I am not talented! Every challenge has its time to be grasped. When I remember this, I do better and I am happier.
We all have a natural rhythm that allows us to flow and seize what we need to be sustainably “productive”. It has nothing to do with our smarts. My natural rhythm, for example, is slow. I am detailed oriented and a perfectionist. Although I can scan through anything quickly and get a general idea, this skill leaves me unsatisfied. I feel I cheated.
Nothing angers me more than putting up fires or dragging never-ending messes. I accept skipping steps if they are not necessary. I am good at pivoting and avert a crisis. However, having to rush to make up for things left undone due to lack of attention, irresponsibility, or laziness? It pisses me off and conjures the unmerciful inner judge in me.
Slowing down invites scaffolding
The learning process has levels of improvement and plateaus that need to be met. One level or tool ‘conquered” serves as a foundation for the other. As the process gains momentum, there is a sense we have become more capable and faster. Embracing this belief turns it into reality.
Denying our natural pace is a real threat to our survival and the enjoyment of life. Slowing down, as any other skill, can be developed and perfected through practice. By mastering the art of slowing down, you will learn to enjoy each moment instead of rushing through it to get to the next. The comfort of knowing your pace and rhythm will water your ideas and help them bloom effortlessly and beautifully.
More productive, relaxed, and happier? I’ll take it!