Rushing Through Life
How slowing down can help us find more time.
Posted November 9, 2015
Time. Despite all the planning, scheduling and multitasking, for so many of us there never seems to be enough of it. Planning a daily agenda during our morning commute to work, paying online bills while walking a dog, and checking news and responding to e-mails during the kids’ soccer practice is the new normal in our society. We run non-stop around the clock, dividing our attention among millions of things, constantly checking our watches and scrambling for more time. Every day feels a lot like one long rush hour.
Just look at how fast people drive these days! So many drivers go 40-45 mph in a 30 mph zone without batting an eyelash, one could wonder whether the speed limit signs are more of a suggestion than a state law. In the search for more time in a day we rush everywhere, oftentimes out of habit, pushing on the gas pedal a bit too hard even when there is no problem or emergency that requires our immediate attention. Daily traffic is one of the things that exasperates people the most these days. Moving slowly is tantamount to wasting time for a lot of busy people, and so many drivers tend to quickly lose their cool — blow their horns and shout curses at the person in front of them — when stuck in a stream of heavy traffic. All that irritation and anger do not make cars move any faster or help us reach our next destination any sooner; they do, however, add more stress to our already stressful lives.
Do we ever stop to even ask ourselves why we are rushing from one place to another and checking things off the “to do” lists? Our future-focused mentality and an acute need to get there quickly and do as much as we can once we’re there are not just one-time experiences, they have become deeply embedded into our culture. The culture that celebrates its overachievers and ambitious high flyers, the culture that devoutly follows a “time is money” credo, the culture in which growth, development and progress are expected to happen in the blink of an eye.
Technology, once expected to give us more time, seems to steal from us too. It has created the many distractions and time traps that waste so much of our time. The proliferation of the internet and the World Wide Web has placed a wealth of information right at the tips of our fingers, opened up countless opportunities and created millions of choices for us to evaluate and consider on a daily basis. Who can really ever finish reading all the posts on their Facebook feed or check all of their Instagram updates?
It’s not all bad though. The ability to multitask is an essential skill that is very much in demand in today’s busy world. But research shows that chronic multitasking does not always lead to the most effective use of time, and in fact sometimes it creates more mistakes. The emotional impact is great, too – the impatience and short temper we may have assumed may cause us extra stress and place our physical and mental well-being in jeopardy: Chronic stress has long since been linked to attention loss, elevated blood pressure and increased risk of heart attack.
If you want to slow down and take some of your life back in the midst of the rush all around you, consider trying one (or more) of these five approaches:
- Drive the speed limit (Crazy, right? But effective). If you are afraid that you might be late, leave a bit earlier in order to give yourself enough time to get where you are going at a slower, more relaxed pace. Don’t rush out of habit, don’t go over the speed limit just because everyone else does. Try driving in a slower lane and stopping on every single yellow light, and don’t just slow down — stop at the STOP sign; those two seconds won’t help you reach your destination much faster, yet they will keep you safe on the road.
- Catch yourself rushing and slow down on purpose. Not everything needs your immediate attention, not everything must be finished in record time. Take a deep breath and try to appreciate the moment that you are in right now. Look around and find something to remember about it. Life is made out of the moments like that, so don’t miss them. Sometimes things will go unfinished, and that’s okay too; devote enough time to your priorities, so that you don’t have to rush through them, and the rest will happen in its own time.
- Adopt a new mantra of “I can do one thing at a time – let me focus on what that will be.” Oftentimes we feel rushed because we take on more than is realistically in our power to manage. Even our minds can get cluttered from trying to think of and plan for multiple projects at the same time. Learn where your limits lie, and don’t try to bite off more than you can chew. Put aside multitasking for a while and STOP. Then try to just work on finishing whatever is in front of you, one thing at a time.
- Prioritize your tasks. Since not everything that you need to do is equally urgent or important, a “priority list” is a much more efficient way to go about your day than the avreage “to do” list. Don’t overload it. Pick three to five tasks that you would like to accomplish every day and give yourself a little extra time to complete them. Don’t let yourself get distracted or sidetracked by things that are not on your priority list; you know that they are less relevant and, therefore, can wait.
- Limit screen time. Before watching a program or going to your favorite website or social media network, decide on how much time you can give yourself for that activity, and once your time is up exit, sign out, log off, etc. Have a curfew for web browsing and avoid the temptation to respond to emails as soon as they come: Immediately answering every email will cause people to assume that you are available 24/7 and that they can bother you even during your time off. Resolve not to use electronics whenever you are bored or trying to relax, and instead opt for a face-to-face conversation with a friend or family member, go out, read a book, listen to some music or take on that project that you were planning to undertake ages ago. Whatever you elect to do, remain present throughout that task or activity in order to get the most value from it.