Slow Down, Please

One of my biggest flaws as a person is that I’m always trying to move fast. Being a productivity junkie will do that to you: I’m always trying to do things as efficiently as possible so I can move onto the next thing. The logic is, of course, that the faster I do things, the more I’ll be able to do, and the more I do, the happier I’ll be. Getting a lot of things done just feels good. Of course, by perpetually focusing on getting the thing I’m doing done so I can move onto the next thing, I’m never really focused on or enjoying the thing I’m doing in the present – for example, writing this post. I’m worried about reading Infinite Jest later (which is an awesome, awesome book, by the way), and after that, working out, and after that, meditating, and after that, cleaning up my RSS feeds, my twitter feed, and realigning my life on the Internet so I can do what I need to do in order to make this blog grow more and enjoy myself along the way (I’ve been getting burnt out a little bit). I can guarantee you that when I finish this post and start reading Infinite Jest, I’ll be worried about finishing my reading on time so I can go work out. And while I’m working out, I’ll be pushing myself to go faster so I’ll have more time to meditate. And so on, until I’m a big ball of rushed anxiety. This is why, in order to enjoy the task you’re working on, all you have to do is slow down and enjoy the process. You’ll be amazed at how fast time flies when you slow down and your’e actually enjoying yourself.

I’m Always Looking at the Second Slice of Pizza. Really.

This reminds me of an anecdote from the novel The Fortress of Solitude (note: it was okay. Worth reading? Eh, maybe, just because Lethem’s writing is so great at parts). It describes the situation very, very well: ”There’s a story I like to tell,” said Brodeur. “When I was a boy I used to love pizza, and whenever my father took me to the pizzeria I’d order two slices. And I’d sit and he’d watch me wolfing down the first slice with my eyes on the second. I wasn’t even tasting that first slice. And one day my father said to me, ‘Son, you need to learn that while you’re eating the first slice of pizza, eat the first slice. Because right now you’re eating the second slice before you’ve finished the first.’ And a year ago I realized that I needed that lesson again. I took a look at my life and realized I had my eye on the second slice of pizza.” By doing things the way I do them, I’m looking at the second slice while I’m eating the first. I’m not even tasting the first slice since I’m so focused on getting to the next level and doing the next thing that needs to be done. By not tasting the slice, I’m not enjoying the things I’m doing enough – I’m not letting myself enjoy them because I see them as burdens that eat up my time, and nothing more. This is why efficiency is overrated. Enjoyment should come first. And, plus, if you’re doing something important – something like work where you normally really want to get it done quickly – you owe it to yourself to slow down and enjoy the ride.

Hitting the Bullseye

Signal vs. Noise had another awesome post on this very thing the other day. Kay P wrote: Then my trainer asked me what I would do if I had three darts, had already thrown two, and I only had one shot left at hitting the bullseye. I told him I’d slow down. I’d take a deep breath, measure the distance, mock a few practice throws back and forth, settle in, focus, and throw. I wouldn’t rush up there and just toss the thing. And it clicked for me. When you really want to do something right, which is usually what you should be striving for, you tend to slow down. If you want to hit the bullseye, it only makes sense for you to slow down, and focus. This also means that any and all distractions have to get thrown out the window if you’re going to do a good job at anything. Could you aim at the bullseye with your dart, get focused, then take a phone call? No. In fact, if you were intent on hitting the bullseye and someone called you as you were aiming and getting yourself ready to hit the bullseye, you’d probably ignore the call. You’d be so honed in on your target that the unimportant distraction – the phone call – wouldn’t even have an effect on you. You’d tune it out. Then why do we let ourselves get so distracted in our work? Why do we constantly look forward to the next thing that we have to do, instead of slowing down, focusing, and ignoring all the irrelevant stuff that’s threatening the very quality of our work and life? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because we like the idea of “taking breaks”. Maybe it’s because we don’t know how much those breaks are hurting not only our productivity, but the quality of our work. (Ironically, someone just came and interrupted me as I was writing this part, and I lost my entire train of thought, even though I was only distracted for a little while. See – distractions kill.) Slow down, hit the bullseye, and taste the first slice of pizza. Your taste buds, your boss, and your conscience will thank you later.

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