How slowing down can be productive

Last year I wrote a series of posts on slowing down:

What I shared in these posts was the culmination of over two years of working on slowing down. There are still moments in my life when I feel I have too much going on, but they are rare and last for a much shorter time frame. Most importantly I no longer live my life in a state where I am always on the go, buzzing and thinking about the next thing I need to do.

For a number of years I lived my life in a constant state of rushing from here to there, adrenalin running, mind racing and ticking things of a very long to do list. A part of me loved the whole buzz of it and I achieved some things I am super proud of. But then a part of me became really tired from this and I realised that while I had been going along like this for some time, it was really unsustainable in the long term.

Since jumping off the treadmill of busy I have learnt a great deal about myself and the beauty of slowing down:

I have learnt to switch off

It has been a week between posts on the blog, something that once upon a time, I would have never let happen. Previously when I have taken time off, I have worked so hard to schedule posts and social media etc that when I took my break, it would take me the first few days to just recover!

Now, I do try where I can to schedule in advance so things continue on in my absence, but if it doesn’t happen, I accept that and just switch off. Working from home, your work is always in your face, so it has taken me a long time to be able to tell myself, that there is no work today and to completely put it out of my mind. The skills learnt in meditation have helped tremendously with this. Thoughts about work will come, most of the time I will recognise I am thinking about work, then simply return my focus back to what ever it is that I am doing. Sometimes, if I know the thoughts will bug me, I will write a short dot point in my notebook, so I can get it out of my head.

I have learnt to cherish small things

A highlight of my day is to eat my lunch outside in the sunshine. It turns a pretty simple part of my day and makes it special. Through practicing gratitude I have learnt to really cherish so many things that I experience and feel because I have slowed down. Cherishing these things is like a massive injection of positive reinforcement to keep me from allowing busy to over take my life again. I don’ want to be so busy that I can’t take time to enjoy the sunshine.

When you are always thinking about what is next it is hard to enjoy and appreciate what you are doing at that very moment. At first it took me time not to feel guilty about sitting for 20 minutes quietly eating my lunch. I would think, I could be doing some washing or responding to email etc. I had to train my mind to stay in the present and just focus on eating my lunch, the sunshine and the joy it brought me.

Now most days I don’t have to put effort into keeping my mind in the present, but on days when I have a lot on I can feel the temptation to start using my lunch break to think things through or think about my next steps after I finish lunch. I push myself to resist the temptation and know that this time out is the best use of my time.

I have learnt to sit with the discomfort of the undone

One of the reasons I used to get so little sleep was because I hated the feeling of things being undone. I would work to get things finished for work or home, telling myself I would feel better in the morning when it was finished. And while that may have been true initially, it really wasn’t worth the price of tiredness and lack of patience it brought me.

Up until last weekend, we had boxes of stuff sitting in our room for a couple of months that we moved out of one room to allow more space for the kids when we rearranged the bedroom set ups. It caused me great discomfort to end a task that I knew I wouldn’t have time to get back to for quite a while. We could have just put the boxes straight into the attic, but I wanted to declutter them properly first, so chose to sit with the discomfort of this task being uncompleted. It was hard, but after having decluttered them now and have reduced the volume of stuff we needed to put away by over half, I am very happy I did!

Having a single goal has been great for me to learn to embrace the undone. There will never be enough time for me to do all the things I want to do. But using my goal as a decision filter, I can choose to spend time on the activities that will help me achieve my goal. The result is that there are things that remain undone. Some will be temporary like the boxes of stuff in my room, others will be permanent and learning to live with this and not see it as a sense of failure has been crucial to slowing down.

I have learnt that less is more

I am often asked how does slowing down sit with my goal setting and achievement personality type. I understand why people ask this question as for many years I would read about slowing down and think it was for people who wanted to “do less”. I thought “doing less” was somehow taking the easier option and would lead to not achieving as much.

When I look back over the last couple of years if you were to look at my overall activity level, it would be less. I have slept more, I have spent more time pottering at home with the kids, I have spent time meditating, I have taken lunch breaks, I have taken more holidays from work.

So yes, there has been less frenetic activity, look a bit deeper and you will see that I have done less of things that didn’t really matter and more of things that matter greatly to me. I have finally learned something I had heard spoken many times – less really is more.

I have learnt that it is productive to slow down

Slowing down means you make a conscious choice on the activities you spend your time on. To be able to spend less time on work, I needed to spend my time on the activities that have the most impact on my business. I am working almost half the hours I was working back in 2014 and while there was an drop in revenue in the short term when I started working less, that has now turned and I am earning the same (probably more this year if all goes well!) working considerably less hours.

As Henry David Thoreau said “It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants.” Being busy can actually be unproductive. The busy treadmill can have you spending time on things that don’t really matter. I define productivity as using your time, energy and attention effectively to achieve your goal. Slowing down to know your goal and then directing your time, energy and attention to the right places will make you incredibly more productive.

Strategies to allow for slowing down

The recent Easter break illustrated to me just how far I had come with slowing down. We spent the time mostly at home, went to Mass, had family over and very much went with the flow. And I had such a lovely break. All of our holidays are not like this, but I knew that all of the family needed time and space to unwind, relax and do their own thing this Easter.

I noted in my weekly newsletter before Easter how we intentionally made very few plans, something I can still find a little challenging. I had to resist urges to book in a planned activities and I was so glad I did. We played epic games of Uno, the boys had soccer matches in the backyard, we ran together and found time to do things we wanted to do quietly on our own.

For those of you who like me are used to planning, taking things slow can be challenging, but it is so worth it. Here are some strategies I use to help me allow for long slow weekends:

  • Make a commitment to myself and the family – articulating the intention for the weekend is super useful. My husband in particular is fantastic and calling me out if I start behaving differently to my intent. It is also important for the kids to have an understanding of what is going on. Some long weekends we take the opportunity to do extra activities, so it is important that the kids have the right expectations.
  • Visualise the weekend and how rested I will feel at the end – it can help to start with the end in mind. A calm and leisurely paced weekend will have me feeling well rested and recharged by the end. When I start to get itchy feet and want to cram more things in, I can reflect back to the end visualisation and acknowledge how much better it will be to start the new week off rested rather than ragged!
  • Choose one thing “productive” to do – across the four days I will have time to complete an outstanding task at an calm pace. I will choose one thing that has been hanging over me and take my time to complete it. This gives me a sense of satisfaction at the end of the weekend as well.
  • Follow the lead of the kids – my kids are great at setting a pace that will keep us in harmony. I know at times when I speed things up, I have complaints, difficult behaviour and more fighting amongst the kids. I use them as a guide so I can mix things up and make sure we are all getting along well.
  • Practice gratitude – seriously practicing gratitude helps always, but acknowledging that I am able to have a four day weekend with my family without work pressures etc is important. This isn’t the case for everyone.

How is the pace of family life for you at the moment?