Being busy seems to be part of our way of being these days. I constantly hear people saying they “don’t have enough hours in the day”, they’re “pressed for time” or are “running out of time”. As a society, we are described as “time poor” and are in the midst of a “culture of busyness”. It has become a badge of honour to be “too busy” to fit everything into our lives and in fact if you aren’t busy, this is often seen as a weakness or a problem, particularly in the workplace.
The modern work culture pushes us to work faster and longer hours, while technology encourages us to do everything faster and faster.But the consequences of this busy lifestyle are not good. When we are in jobs with too much to do and so much expected of us, we feel exhausted and overwhelmed. Instead of fully engaging with a task, we end up simply going through the motions of doing task to tick it off our never ending ‘to-do’ list. In many instances, the quality of the work being done is affected, mistakes are being made and our hearts just aren’t in the work as we are not fully present in what we are doing.
The solution? We need to slow down. We need to shake off the underlying fear-driven philosophy in our work culture of ‘in order to keep up, I need to do more’. In fact, instead of doing more, we need to do less. And we need to do it well. Life is what’s happening right here, right now – and only by slowing down can you live it to the full. If you are always rushing, you only skim the surface of things.
In his must-read book In Praise of Slow Carl Honoré analyses the “cult of speed” which has become the new world standard. He advocates the ‘slow movement’, something in which we all ought to do; which fundamentally is to slow down and do less.
We are working wrong by being too busy
Workplaces are more-often-than-not, set up with productivity in mind. The faster we are at producing and making things happen, the more profitable the business overall. In general, businesses are designed so the human beings that work there we can be switched on and operate at highest levels of productivity, similar to machines. But we are not machines, we live our lives as pulsating human beings. We breath in, we exhale. We sleep, we are awake. We consume energy, we expend it. The same goes with our work. We operate in pulses. Pulses of high intensity, then rest, then high intensity again, then rest again. We then
operate at differing levels of intensity depending on varying internal and external factors. We have lunch breaks, we leave at the end of the day to go home and rest and recharge. We have weekends. Machines, on the other hand can be switched on at high intensity for many hours. We are designed to be most effective in shorter bursts of energy output.
Psychologist Anders Ericcson researched and documented this theory in his studies of deliberate practice in 1993 which was based on his study of 40 violinists in Germany over a decade. After splitting them into three groups, all with different approaches to practice, Ericcson focused on what factors differentiated the best musicians from the rest. His findings suggest that those who dedicated themselves to deliberate practice achieved high levels of performance. Deliberate practice requires high intensity concentration and focus without distractions. It requires you to be single-minded in your mission to accomplish a task. In order to best do this, you need to slow down your mind and be fully immersed in the task and you need to structure your day to have down-time and fit in all the other things you need to do in order to be a well-rounded human being.
If we know it’s good for us, why are we not slowing down?
We know about mindfulness. We know about being present. We know that we need to do less. So why are we not embracing this, in our own lives as well as in the workplace culture? The answer is fear. There is a taboo against slowness. Even just thinking about slowing down makes us feel afraid or guilty. We have become afraid of being alone with our thoughts. Being busy can become a way of avoiding deeper problems. Instead of facing up to what is going wrong in our lives, we distract ourselves with speed and busyness.
Slowing down and focussing on doing less allows us to reflect on the big questions, not just in our personal lives, but in the workplace. How can we do things better to improve our culture? How can I communicate better? How can we as a business communicate better? What can we be better than our competitors at what we do? Leaders need to free up their own work schedules to take the time to think big. And to think about how they can make life less busy for those hey work with.
Is the Slow Movement being embraced in the workplace?
We are getting there but we have a long way to go. Being busy is so ingrained in our culture it is difficult to shake, on an individual and organisational level. But I have seen a lot of forward-thinking organisations looking for ways to help their staff slow down. For example, many companies have started giving staff more control and flexibility over their schedules allowing them to work at their own pace, accelerating and decelerating when it suits them. Some companies have started a 4-day working week, others have incorporated mindfulness practices like yoga, meditation, regular massage into their staffs’ workdays. So yes, businesses are embracing the wisdom of slowing down and the benefits this has but we have a long way to go if we want to fully embrace the slow movement and drop the idea that doing more is better than doing less.
I would love to show you how doing less can benefit your business significantly. Could your leadership team benefit from one of my tailored workshops? Please get in touch today. I’d love to help!