Monday, April 18, 2011

Diary of a Trailblazer: the Value of Slowing Down

Y'know what I love about the '50s*?  Back then, people thought technology would do all our work for us so we could sit back and relax.  The future was supposed to be a paradise of leisure and fun!

Unfortunately, somewhere along the way the message got lost...and now it is the future and technology is almost entirely marketed as a way of doing more, not less.  Now you can listen to music, have a conversation via text message, surf the 'net, do laundry and fix dinner at the same time!  Isn't that fantastic?

Well...yes and no.  In theory, all this multitasking helps people to be more productive.  But it also increases people's expectations of what should get done in a day, which means we all have constant performance pressure on us, either from our employers or our families or ourselves.  And for some people - like me, for instance - the sense of continuous pressure sucks the enjoyment out of tasks that would otherwise be satisfying.

I've known for a long time that too much multitasking stresses me out, but when I had a day job I kinda didn't have a choice; my job required balancing various duties simultaneously and my home-time was in such short supply that I wanted to cram as much into it as possible.  Now that I'm able to arrange my life however I want to, though, I'm trying to slow down and "live in the moment" more.  It's surprisingly difficult.

I'm a fierce perfectionist and my own worst critic; as I mentioned in a previous post, I have a bad habit of measuring how good a particular day was by how many tangible things I accomplished rather than what I did, how I felt, etc.  So basically I could spend an entire day visiting critically ill kids in the hospital and cheering them up with small talk and puppet shows...and end up feeling like the day was a waste because I didn't buy anything, make anything, or clean the apartment. 

Curiously, though Accomplishing Tangible Things does make me feel pretty good, doing something calm and meditative - whether or not it "accomplishes" anything - makes me feel fantastic.  Walking aimlessly while thinking of nothing in particular except how good it feels to be outside?  Great!  Working on a painting without worrying about how long it might take to finish?  Fucking awesome.  Even putting on a DVD and giving it my full attention (instead of trying to catch up on emails and cook some scrambled eggs at the same time) is astonishingly restful.

Society tells us that we need to get the most out of life by doing the most stuff we possibly can, every single second.  In my experience, this is blatantly untrue; if anything, multitasking seems to compress time into a frantic, confusing hamster-wheel haze.  I need to get into the habit of unitasking - focusing wholeheartedly on each task I perform until they're all strung along the timeline of my day like beads on a necklace.  That is the way to maximize one's time.  That is the way to feel serene and satisfied at the end of every day.

I encourage all of you to set aside at least an hour a day to slow down - to do one thing and one thing only, without guilt and without obsessing on what else you should be doing.  Let me know how it feels!

*From what I can tell via old ads and stuff.  I wasn't actually alive back then.

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