This week I have been thinking about the slow life -and how so many people will be 'getting back into the swing of things" as school goes back in Australia, and life takes up after the summer break. Soon if you ask someone how they are, they will reply "Busy!".
I have also seen a lot of books and courses on offer for people who want to live more simply and just slow down. We seem to be aware, as a society, that things have got out of control and we want to slow down,but often don't know how.
I thought I would offer my own, life tested and really free slow living tips, because I use them and they help. You are welcome.
1. Do one thing at a time.
I used to pride myself on being able to multi task: minding the children whilst cooking a meal whilst washing some clothes whilst listening to the radio whilst.....Now we constantly check our phones -I still see lots of people trying to drive whilst doing this, which is plainly dangerous. One of my young relatives puts the phone in the boot (trunk) so that she is not tempted.
On the train, whilst everyone is checking their phones, I try to just look out the window on my way to work. I watch for birds, or changes to the trees on route. I watch the sky. I daydream.
Do one thing at a time. It is easier on the brain, it enables each task to happen quickly and carefully. Studies have shown we can't give our full attention to two things at once. It helps to put a timer on, if you get distracted and can't concentrate on the task at hand: set an alarm for 15 minutes, say and see how much you can do before it goes off.
2. Say no more often
I like to be helpful and useful, so I used to say yes to more than I could actually achieve. Over-promising is a sure way to either disappoint someone or find yourself up at 2am trying to get something done. It also sets you up for burnout.
Being honest about what is actually achievable, resisting unreasonable demands, setting lower expectations on output and time frames, is a way to a slower, more peaceful life. People will adjust -they will perhaps ask someone else, but that is entirely fine.
3. Take the slow way
I worked with someone who was always rushing from one appointment to the next. Always nearly late, she was also chronically overdue with deadlines. Her PA used to field angry calls from people waiting for a response. When she drove somewhere she was always in a rush.
I have met others who worked at similar levels of responsibility who surprised me by the fact that they intentionally chose the slow way -they took public transport to appointments, or they walked if it wasn't too far. They talked about the importance of a real break between one meeting and the next.
I have a car and I have a shopping trolley. The car is fast and convenient, but the shops are within walking distance and I do enjoy the walk. I should take the slow way more than I do for these small shopping trips: I had that habit and I let it drop.
4. Start from scratch
I have no issue with time poor people using whatever means they can to get things done for example, if a parent needs to give the family pre-prepared meals, that is fine, because no-one needs to have some kind of impossible standards being imposed on them when they are already struggling. Is everyone fed? Enough.
I have to say, though, that starting from scratch on a slow meal is a wonderful thing. I roasted a chicken last week, on the first day, and we ate some of it. We then made stock with the carcass. The next day I made a Greek chicken pie with filo pastry from Rick Stein's book. It really took two days to get there, but every stage was good, and the sense of satisfaction was worth it.
Cooking is one of those things that I find relaxing, because I have to concentrate. I love learning new techniques and trying new recipes.
In the same way, it is possible to 'make a quilt in a weekend" - and there are many internet sites which can show you how. I have done these myself, and enjoyed them. I do find that a quilt with more pieces and more complexity will take a lot longer, but I will find the result is worth it. Overcoming obstacles, planning ahead, picking up a task I put down -all are adult skills which stands us in good stead.
5. Take a break
Last night I was going from my office to a meeting. I was thirsty and had bought myself a drink. I arrived at the location of the meeting a little early and decided to sit in the park opposite and have my drink and just enjoy some peaceful moments.
When I worked with people who smoked, I noticed that every few hours they would take themselves outside for ten minutes. I worked through each of their smoking breaks.
I now recognise that it helps if I give myself permission to take a walk around the block to clear my head - I work better when I get back.
The same thing can happen at home - do some work, then take a cup of something to the garden and give yourself time to stop for a minute.
6. Delay the response
Emails and texts feel urgent -and the unspoken expectation is that they need an immediate response. If you leave a few hours or even a day or two between receiving the message and the response, you can often respond calmly and with more thought.
Breathing slowly during a tense conversation, counting to 20 before replying, even saying "I would like to think about what you have said, so let me get back to you on this" can give you time to process the interaction.
7. Stop swiping and scrolling
Social media feeds are unending -and can make us feel like we need to respond to everything -and know everything. Most people can spend lots of time lost on the internet, and come away feeling like the time has been wasted and they are slightly anxious and unsettled at the state of the world. Put down the phone and walk away. Turn off the computer.
When you do so, reconnect with the world by doing a sense check:
- what can I feel right now
- what can I hear
- what can I smell
- what can I see
- is there anything to taste.
These questions put us back in the present moment.
8. Schedule the work, not just the appointments
If something needs to be done, you need to give it a dedicated time. One trick I have found extremely useful is to block out periods of time in my diary in which I make an appointment with myself to get certain things done. At work, these blocks of time warn my colleagues that I am not available to be interrupted, and that any meeting scheduled for that time will either mean I cannot attend, or that the scheduled work does not get done. I work part-time and I really need to use my time well.
This works at home too. If the dining room is going to be painted, it needs to have its own block of time. Wishing is not the same as scheduling. If it is in the diary it is more likely to get done. Unless of course you have a rebellious personality where anything scheduled will cause you to no longer want to do it!
9. Do the hard things now
Procrastination never feels good. In the back of our minds the things we haven't done linger and nag at us. Do something hard, and the pain is gone and instead a wonderful feeling of achievement and freedom emerge.
Sometimes I think the reason we say we are busy is because we have all these things on our minds which are not done yet. They make it hard to really relax.
Set aside some time each week to do the hard things: get the medical test you have been putting off, go to the dentist, say you are sorry, pay the bills.
10. Just stop
Every now and again pull up the drawbridge, put the sharks in the moat, take the phone off the hook, let the mobile phone battery die. Laze around in your pyjamas all morning, then only get dressed enough to lie on a couch and read a book. Listen to music on your headphones whilst lying on the carpet. Take a nap. Call in sick. Go out for lunch to a place with a view and stay there all afternoon. Throw some things in a bag and drive down the road for the weekend. Resign from something which is killing your spirit. Walk away.
How do you slow down? Have you any tips to share? I would love to hear from you.