The Power of Slow

Embracing time so you have more of it

No Wonder We're So Tired: The Rise of Shadow Work

It's no wonder we're so exhausted given all the shadow work we do!

The New York Times recently reported on an interesting concept called 'shadow work', the unpaid duties we fulfill every day. Going beyond the obvious (such as child care and household chores), the article's author, Craig Lambert pointed to the real reason we're all so exhausted. We complete more menial tasks today than ever before. Let's just call it "ubertasking". We simply do too much.

Shadow work refers not only to the sending and delivering of emails that once took the form of communication delivered by the postal system, but it also includes the mundane things such as online banking and the self-check out function at most any grocery store that other people such as bank clerks and cashiers and used to handle for us. As my dad, who has been retired for over twenty years and lives in Flordia, likes to say, "Running my life is like running an enterprise." So much paperwork and duties to do every day!

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At the risk of sounding nostaglic (and, tangently, pathetic), I would like to reminisce for just one moment. Back in the day when my small town had an IGA (small grocery store) we had a bag boy who was usually no older than 16 and who would roll your groceries out to the car for you. No more.You're lucky if you get out of the store before tucking away all your loyalty and debit cards while pushing your overloaded cart to the parking lot. All the while you hope it won't topple over or, worse, run away from you and slam into a neighboring car. You may also be handling a toddler in the cart and your cell phone that is ringing incessantly, something you can't resist to answer even though you know the call could most likely wait.

Taking the grocery store analogy a step further, we have moved from "Paper or plastic" to bring-your-own bag. Now there's something lovely and slow about bringing your own container to carry your groceries. It's an incredibly sustainable way of ensuring plastic bags stay out of the ocean and landfills. It's a smart and solid solution to making this world a better place. And it's another thing to remember on your list of to-do's.

Let's look at a few other examples, such as the gas station. As Craig suggests, gas stations used to be called service stations because you had, well, service. The guy in the red jumpsuit and clipboard would ask what kind of gas you wanted, pumped it, then managed the payment. Now you can swipe, pump and drive without talking to a soul.

It feels lifeless. And robotic. And 1984-ish. Only it's nearly 2012.

If we opt to stand in the check out line (in Germany, you have no choice but to do that, besides at IKEA, which has its own brand of do-it-yourself flair), we are often tempted to check our smartphones while waiting to see what in the world we missed in the 18 minutes we food-shopped. I do it. I know some of you do it too.

By day's end, it's no wonder we're so exhausted. All that DIYing can put a strain on one's sensibilities. We all need each other and helping others is a great way to connect and feel part of something greater than ourselves. So the next time you're tempted to push the 15 items or less limit to check out faster, seek human connection instead. Smile. And the cashier might just smile back. The machine won't. Guaranteed.

 

Christine Louise Hohlbaum is the author of The Power of Slow: 101 Ways to Save Time in Our 24/7 World.

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