Slowing Down

TED Radio Hour had a brilliant story on slowing down this past week. I was running a 10K while listening to the show. It was a hilly, hot and humid race and I was miserable by mile 2. I couldn’t wait for time (and my pace) to speed up and reach the finish line. The irony of feeling like this, while learning about the benefits slowing down, was not lost on me. I took longer walking breaks, drank an extra cup of water at the hydration stops and actually admired the scenery as I slowly but surely made my way towards the finish line.

Later that afternoon, Kruttik turned on the radio in the car and the same episode was on. I re-heard it with him. He asked afterwards what it meant to me. Here’s what I took away:

  1. I’m a mix. Adam Grant is a precrastinator. Tim Urban is a procrastinator. I am more of the latter. When it comes to booking travel or shopping for a future event or planning a party, I plan, prepare and execute like there is no tomorrow. But when it comes to the hard stuff, like writing a blog post, or exercising or calling the bank, I will put things off until they bite me. Just this morning, I realized I have to pay a fine for not paying a fine. I got a traffic ticket two months back and instead of promptly paying it off, I procrastinated it until 3 days before the deadline. I did it smartly — I put a task on the calendar, to be taken care of on a Friday afternoon (deadline was Monday). Friday afternoon sped by, as did the weekend. Monday when I tried to pay it, I realized they’d added a penalty over the penalty and closed the system down. Now I have to pay $125 instead of $199 tomorrow, when they reopen the system.

I am kicking myself so hard right now for procrastinating. Unlike Tim, I haven’t embraced my tendency to procrastinate. In fact until I reflected upon it in the course of writing this blog post, I didn’t really consider myself a procrastinator. But I realize now that I am. And sometimes procrastination helps — like allowing an idea to simmer in my head for a few days before I write about it. Or allowing my brain to slow down as I go through the daily grind of work-cook-eat-clean-sleep. Or taking a break from the hyperactivity of an open office to enjoy a quiet afternoon at home.

Strengths and weaknesses are two sides of the same coin. Like light and shadow.

2. There is no definition of fast or slow. We are each traveling our own roads. Comparing our paths to other’s paths is useless. We are on different journeys with different starting and ending points. You are only going faster or slower relative to your own pace. So, set your own pace.

3. The written word not only slows down time, it also captures time. No wonder we mourn the lost art of letter writing. We’ve forgotten to put pen on paper, to think before we compose, to be ok with imperfection, to measure the lengths of our sentences and to choose our words carefully. A handwritten card today is as precious as a family photograph. It is like a slice of life that holds memories, smells and personality — a frozen moment in time. I make it a point these days to include a thoughtful hand-written note with any gift I give.

4. I may be a procrastinator, but I am not a slow mover. I multitask, I focus on the details and I juggle many moving parts of my life simultaneously. At this point, there is no delineation between work hours and life hours. It’s all happening, all the time. I will never be able to sit down and watch a 9 hour video of a train going down the tracks. It will be pure agony. Slowness for me will take a different form. Working from home for a day. Being ok with scrolling my FB feed on the couch instead of loading the dishwasher. Going away for a weekend sans baby to visit a friend.

The important thing is to slow down. How you do that is up to you.