I’ve just spent a week away from home on business – long days, short nights, little shut-eye and maximum productivity. All good, except phone calls to my kids have degenerated to “Hi dad, bye dad”. So I plan to take an afternoon off to spend with them. I mention that to another business traveler on the plane home and he scoffs: “Where do you find the time to take an afternoon off?” Suddenly embarrassed Itry to recover my dignity (or is it ego?) with a mumbled answer about working through the night, putting in extra hours blah blah. Then in a pregnant pause it dawns on me: I’m an addict, caught up in the “long hour culture” that pervades a world in incessant Rush Hour.
Why is it that I scour my children’s bookshelf for the thinnest book or the shortest bedtime story, trying to play the good father amidst a horde of blogs and e-mails that need attending? I’m not the only one:
“Kids love it when their parents read to them at bedtime. But let’s face it, in today’s society, time is of the essence. There’s only so much you can do in a day, and there isn’t a lot of time left to spend with your children and a good book. Never fear. We here at Book-A-Minute Bedtime have come up with a solution. We’ve taken all the greatbedtime stories kids love and extracted the important stuff, cutting out all the filler. You’ll be able to read entire books to your children in just one minute! They’ll get the idea, and you won’t miss your favorite sitcom reruns”.
The “One minute bedtime story” may not make the best sellers list, but the “One Minute Manager” did. The world’s in a speed wobble. There aren’t enough hours in the day. We try crash diets and crash courses in everything from exercise to existentialism, we learn to speed read, only buy microwaveable food and waiting in queues is becoming unacceptable and unbearable – that is until Blackberry came up with a blitzkrieg solution: a device that taps you on the shoulder every time someone sends you mail… is it not enough that we’re instantly contactable 24/7 on our mobile phones, now we’re expected to respond instantly to mail as well? Klaus Schwab, President of the World Economic Forum said: “We are moving from a world in which the big eat the small to one in which the fast eat the slow”. Sad, but true.
You’ve heard the rhetoric before I’m sure. Back in the 80s already the phrase “Time Sickness” was coined to describe the notion that time is getting away from us and there simply isn’t enough of it. We’re working permanently out of breath and the question is “why”?
Economists have mistakenly equated standard of living with quality of life. They’re light years apart. Standard of living measures the degree of prosperity based on income levels, quality of housing, medical care, educational opportunities and other objective variables. Quality of life on the other hand, refers to an individual’s satisfaction with life and general sense of well-being. It is often measured as physical, spiritual, psychological and social well-being. So not only are they on opposite ends of the spectrum, but it’s become glaringly obvious that quality of life has deteriorated in proportion to an increase in the standard of living. What’s the point of having disposable income if there’s no time to spend it? For how many years have you been saying that this busy period will soon be over? The rat race has gotten out of hand and spiraled out of control. Be careful: Speed kills.
Speed in its own right is not evil. It’s been a great catalyst for change over time – who would want to spend 6 weeks sailing to the Americas when you can fly there in a half a day? It’s the obsession with speed that has done the damage (in the same way that money is not the root of all evil – but the love of money!)
Long hours at labour make us unproductive, unhappy, error prone and ill. Yet it’s not the hours that you put in, but what you put into those hourswe hear HR say… yet the well meaning statement only serves to mount the pressure to do even more in less time. Burnout used to be a disease of the forty plus individual, now it’s a thirty-something phenomenon that’s scratching at the twenties. In Japan they refer to karoshi which means “death by overwork”. Carl Honore in his book “Slow” tells the story of one of the most famous victims of karoshi – Kamei Shuji, a high flying broker who routinely put in 90 hours a week during the Japanese market boom in the 80’s. He was trumpeted and touted as the gold standard to which all employees should aspire. In 1989 when Japans bubble burst he put in even longer hours to pick up the slack. Then in 1990 he died suddenly of a heart attack. He was twenty six.
Overwork is an undiagnosed health hazard, preventing us from finding time to exercise or eat properly. Fast food thrives in a fast world and its no surprise that the fastest nations are also the fattest… one in every three Americans isclinically obese. Long hours at work inevitably mean little sleep which damages immune systems, mars motor co-ordination and impairs judgment. Drowsiness causes more motor vehicle accidents that alcohol does, and history records that we have fatigue to thank for the Chernobyl and Challenger disasters.
Whoever said that busy-ness walks on happy feet was smoking his socks. A hurried life is a harried one. We live superficially, failing to make real connections with others. Friends stop calling, you lose touch with the world around you, and you become a bore. Multi tasking is lauded as an effective and efficient time saver, yet it often means doing two things half heartedly. It appears that killing two birds with one stone is killing the hunter, not the hunted.
The point? Slow down. Yes, you’ve heard the message before (or was it a sermon?) but there’s too much on your plate to take notice right now, and besides, slowing down is for those who don’t have what it takes, right? Truth is, if you don’t slow down you won’t have what it takes. But there’s more to it than just a health warning …
In a world where innovation has become a mantra, how can you come up with anything new when not only are you working in a state of dulled exhaustion all the time, but when you have not a spare moment to stop, step back and look at things another way? Innovation cannot and will not happen if we live life at our current pace.
Going slow is not about working at a snail’s pace – it’s about living better (or wiser) in a fast-paced, modern world. In a word the key is Balance. But not balance in its former definition to work now and enjoy the fruits of my labour later (because later never is). It’s balance that knows when to spark, and when to slack off. Bright Young Things understand what it means to be fast when it makes sense to be fast, and turn down the heat when slowness is called for. Being balanced is being able to control the rhythms of your own life, about striking a balance between fast and slow – and that’s what BYT’s are asking for in their workplace. They’re fighting for their right to determine their own tempo of living. If they’re at their best between 2am and 5am, and a dead end after lunch – work around that, try to embrace it – and most importantly learn from them. If you can accommodate their very real whims and ways of working they may just stick around long enough to teach you how to slow down without gearing down.
I pity the father whose son ask his mother: Why does my dad come home later than all the other kids fathers? “Because he can’t finish all his work in the normal time,” says Mom. We’d do well to heed this little boys response to that…
“Can’t they put him in a slower class?”
Concepts and excerpts from “In Praise of Slow”Carl Honor�
Michael is a medical doctor by training and passion, a media expert and business consultant. He has a passion for holistic personal and organisational wellness. He is a sought after MC, presenter and transformational speaker, and has in recent years been shifting his emphasis to assisting people and organisations understand the basis for truly significant living. “From success to signficance” is a phrase you will hear often from him.

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