How to take a “Slow Day”
The benefits of an extended break- in a single day.
My idea for a Slow Day began with a pair of sunglasses.
I was lucky enough to have an extended sabbatical from work to relax and recharge, and a few weeks into it I noticed something interesting. I was naturally starting to take a few extra seconds to put my sunglasses back into my backpack the “correct” way. This is not the normal me.
My normal behavior would be to smash them wherever they would fit (or sort of fit) and get on with my life. I do this not because I’m slob, but because I’m always multitasking, like the rest of world. I might be putting my sunglasses away while simultaneously looking at email, having a phone conversation, racing to a gate at the airport, giving blood, etc.
But just then, I was doing none of those things. So I found my sunglasses case, neatly put my sunglasses in it, slipped it into its correct compartment and zipped it all shut.
I was reminded of Charles Emerson Winchester, The Third. If you are a fan of the TV show M*A*S*H, you will know Charles, the pompous Boston surgeon who played the foil to the heroes Hawkeye and BJ. One of his favorite phrases, said with a sniff and chin held high was “I do one thing at a time; I do it very well; and then I move on.”
My grandmother and I shared a love of M*A*S*H, and of the many phrases we would quote, this was among our favorites. She even admitted to saying it out-loud sometimes when she was all alone cleaning the kitchen. She took quiet pride in taking the time to start and finish something well.
I suddenly felt just the same way, as I packed away my sunglasses in their correct pocket. And so began my decision to be intentionally deliberate in the midst of my chaotic life. Doing one thing, doing it very well, and then moving on.
Which for me, wasn’t going to be easy.
The smashed-into-the-wrong-pocket look is a picture of my de facto life-state. And it has been as long as I can remember. I’m nearly always rushing to the next thing.
I once had a co-worker describe my desk at work as “looking like you’ve fled the building”.
But not this time. Right at that moment, I endeavored to spend my sabbatical putting away my glasses the proper way. And doing all the other things I normally can’t. I was going to “live deliberately” as Thoreau put it.
Immediately it didn’t work.
As it turns out, on that fateful sunglass day, I was at the airport, headed out of town for a month. Traveling to seven countries with family. Spending time in eight airports and dozens of hotels. Living out of a suitcase. While it was wonderful, it was also completely chaotic and required plenty of multi-tasking. The sunglasses got scrunched again. My suitcase looked like I fled.
Had I tried to slow down during that month, right now I’d still be in Heathrow Airport eating from a vending machine.
Clearly if I couldn’t live deliberately on vacation, all hope was lost for when I was back at work.
Which taught me my first rule of slowing down. I would have to plan for it. The reality of modern life simply doesn’t fully align with living a full Thoreau-ted life. We can’t just drop into it and live that way every day and expect it to work.
Which was a real epiphany for me, because I’ve read so much out there that seems to think this is possible. Or at very least, I find two conflicting themes when perusing the self-help section of the internet.
On the one hand, we are told to suck out the marrow of life. To not suffer from The Fear of Missing Out. To live out loud. To get more out of every day.
On the other hand, we are told to slow down. To breathe. To be mindful.
Which begs the question: how on earth I can suck out all that marrow and still have time to stop and smell the roses or put my sunglasses away properly? I can’t be alone in this.
If I spend my days and hours “doing one thing at a time, very well”, won’t I look up from my sunglasses case and find the Missing Out I Feared has happened?
I suspected, like everything else, the answer would lie in the middle. Clearly there is truth in both approaches. I wasn’t giving up this easily.
A Slow Day rather than A Slow Life
Rather than trying to live the Slow Life, I would just try to have just one Slow Day.
So I planned a Slow Day. Sort of like a Sick Day but not sick. Sort of like a Snow Day but doesn’t require flurries. A day that would have no appointments, no requirements, no deadlines. A day where no one counted on me for anything. A day where I didn’t have a list of things I would try to get to the end of. But importantly not a lazy day. Not a sit on the couch with a Ball Jar of Skittles day.
A day where everything was just: slow.
I chose my Slow Day as the day after I returned from that month-long trip. I cleared it with my family so expectations were set.
And the next morning, I began.
Not sloth slow, but…
Perhaps the most important thing I did was literally slow myself down. Not sloth slow, but I intentionally moved about at 80% of my normal speed. Walking to the kitchen became
Walking. To. The. Kitchen.
Each activity was done as the full focus of my attention. I washed the dishes completely and Thoreau-ly.
Second, my progress through the day was not working through a to-do list in my head or phone. I had plenty of things to do having just returned from a trip, but I breathed deeply and trusted I would remember to get it all done in due time. Or if I didn’t, also fine.
Dishes done, I slowly walked to the living room. I actually smiled as I saw my poor backpack which was in need of a deep clean. A month of sunglasses and God knows what else smashed into it. I started to clean it out. One mangled item at a time. I imagined the backpack happily participating as a gutted it, like that scene in the Wizard of Oz where they replace all the scarecrow’s hay, and he sings along, in the Merry Old Land of Oz.
(Tangent. Am I the only one disturbed by that part of the movie? I mean, the Cowardly Lion gets a mani/pedi and the Tin Man gets a high buff, but the Scarecrow happily gets a full body organ transplant? Wow, did he ever draw…the short…straw. Anyhoo…)
It was a luxurious half hour to put my backpack right. And another half hour on the suitcase. And arranging my closet.
I took a walk and didn’t talk on the phone or check my email. I used all 22 seconds of the allotted crosswalk sign seconds to cross the street.
I even got bored. An emotion I forgot I had. Mid-afternoon. Stuff unpacked. Dishes washed. Stroll strolled. Book slowly read. Suddenly I just sat there and looked around. Without a to do list, I had nothing to do.
Ultimately, my Slow Day was a success. I ended the day happy and relaxed, with a feeling of (some) accomplishment.
Something I didn’t expect: In the midst of all that extra time, my mind opened up and I found some interesting ideas and thoughts bubbling up that I normally wouldn’t have had.
You know how you often get great ideas in the shower? It was sort of like that, but all day.
I suspect over time, taking a Slow Day here and there will help my normally frantic days too. Perhaps with time I’ll even be able to do a Slow Hour in the middle of a crazy day to help break things up.
I found it had many of the benefits of a longer vacation, somehow condensed into a single day.
And so, I highly recommend it. To recap, a few pointers:
- Plan for a Slow Day. Find a day with no commitments and get buy-in from friends and family who might be impacted or think you have lost it.
- Literally move slower through the day.
- Don’t follow a To Do list. Just do what you think you need or want to do. Do one thing. Do it very well. Then move on. As much as gets done is what gets done.
“The ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest.” — Thomas More