Slow down

Fred Mitchell: Beware of the barrenness of a busy life.

Last week, classes has started and God, I just adjusted quickly to synchronous learning. I barely remembered how I used to wake up 4 am in the morning to go to class and go home at around 7 pm (for 5 days a week) before pandemic. (How did I even kept up with that for my whole freshman year??)

Now, I am living my best life. I wake up, not being hurried or anything. I spend the day at my own pace. We have classes in less hours now. The lectures do not even pass the 2-hour mark. I have time for my hobbies (and that’s amazing!) Though ofcourse, there are days when the workload is heavier than usual but that’s okay (I mean I’m an architecture student, that is expected).

Though what I did not expect was how I adjusted so quickly. I am so grateful to have time for myself or better yet, I am grateful that I make time to slow down. When I know, I spent so much time on academics, I rest and watch my favorite k-variety shows or read. 

Last week (and for the following weeks), I make ‘slowing down’ my priority. And Rick Ezell best explained it why. In Defining Moments May 5, 2020 issue, he wrote,

Slow down. It has been said, “Don’t just sit there, do something.” Well, often we need to do the opposite: “Don’t just do something, sit there.” Regularly we need to be still. Stop what we are doing long enough to reflect on what is most important right. If we stay busy continuously, we lose sight of the significant in life. The important is tossed on the altar of a busy and hurried life. That sacrifice is much too great and utterly useless.

In those ‘unproductive’ times, that is where I get clarity- that I am more than my academics and productivity. I am a human being with hobbies and a soul. Also, slowing down is where I get energy by asking myself, “Is this important? Is this something I want to do right now?”

Slowing down is where I can breathe. To be human in this world conducive to anxiety and busyness.

Albert Camus, in Notebooks 1951-1959, wrote, “Do not be afraid or spending quality time by yourself. Find meaning or don’t find meaning but ‘steal’ some time and give it freely and exclusively to your own self. Opt for privacy and solitude. That doesn’t make you antisocial or cause you to reject the rest of the world. But you need to breathe. And you need to be.

Keep a notebook wherever you go

Aristotle Onassis (according to Britannica, “Greek shipping magnate who developed a fleet of supertankers and freighters larger than the navies of many countries”) suggested:

Always carry a notebook. Write everything down. When you have an idea, write it down. When you meet someone new, write down everything you know about them. That way you will know how much time they are worth. When you hear something interesting, write it down. Writing it down will make you act upon it. If you don’t write it down you will forget it. THAT is a million dollar lesson they don’t teach you in business school!

And this is why I carry a notebook either physical or intangible. If I left my notebook, I make sure I have a gadget with me wherein I can write ideas or things down as I go. It doesn’t really matter if the idea is good or not, I just write it down because I never know when will I need it.

Most of the time, I use Google Keep to write down ideas. And whenever I write something new, I will look back at other things I wrote and hopefully, making sense with them. Sometimes, I feel that some ideas are not yet ready to be “realized”. Hence, I just keep them there. For example, for blog post ideas, I will keep them written and stored, and once I read a lot, I will go back and find that I can write it now.

My another blog: Empathy In Design, was just a simple thought that flashed in my mind. I wrote it then, after a week, I realized that there aren’t websites or blog dedicated solely for human-centered design and I even researched more products/architecture that empathizes with people during that week. Thus, after that, I started making preparations for it and launched it last July.

Leo Wildrich called this the inner-outer technique, in an article posted in the Buffer:

I will do all the research, jot down notes into my word editor and not worry at all about the actual blogpost. That is the first outer task. Then I have a few inner task follow. I will respond to emails, might have a brief chat with the team and do other tasks. Then, towards the end of my day, I get back to the second half of the outer task. I would sit down and then actually write the article, edit pieces and put into publishable form.

The amazing thing that happens is that even I don’t work on the blogpost during my inner tasks, my subconscious brain does. It will do all the work, and then gradually present the solutions to me when I get back to working on it later on.

But, first, how do we get ideas?

So, in my case, I get ideas during a time wherein I let my mind wander and when I let my mind wander, it is when I’m doing something “unproductive” (aka leisure).

Drew Hansen wrote in the Forbes, tips on notetaking ideas:

“2. Write down your thoughts immediately. You think you’ll remember, but you won’t, and you’ll forfeit all the thoughts that flood you after you’ve freed your mind from remembering the initial spark. Don’t judge them at this stage, either. There’s a reason they occurred to you this way.

3. Expound on your thoughts later. Don’t let your flashes of brilliance wither from neglect. Find a quiet time to explore your initial thoughts in more detail.”

Do not reject the idea at first glance just because its new to you. Just write it down. Carry a notebook and just write them all down. After a few days, come back to it and you’ll start seeing connections.

Drew Hansen: “Start small. Write down what you’re thinking and build on it. Follow it wherever it’s supposed to go, and one day your small thought could change the world.”

Make Time To Do Something Unproductive | In other words, take a break from school/work

Neil Gaiman (author of Coraline) advises to anyone who wants to be become a writer to “get bored.

[Ideas] come from day dreaming from drifting, that moment when you’re just sitting there… The trouble with these days is that its really hard to get bored. I have 2.4 million people on Twitter who will entertain me at any moment… it’s really hard to get bored. I’m much better at putting my phone away, going for boring walks, actually trying to find the space to get bored in. That’s what I’ve started saying to people who say ‘I want to be a writer’ I say, ‘great. get bored.’ “

And although Neil Gaiman advises this to anyone who wanted to be a writer, research suggests that doing something unproductive (in other words, taking a break or something “boring”) is important for your physical and mental well-being. When we work more than what we can and we needed, we ended up exhausting ourselves. This is the reason why even though we have worked for long hours or get ahead, we ended up being more stressed even we accomplished a few things.

We try to ‘catch up’ and ‘get ahead’, but that only piles on more stress and less control. The stress of pop-up problems, like an infertility diagnosis, can make you feel like you don’t have time to just play and relax,” wrote Georgia Witkin, Ph.D. in Psychology Today, “when your sense of control goes down, your emergency response system increases your adrenaline, your body’s natural stimulant. Now, you’ll find yourself still having to deal with the stresses and the side effects of adrenaline. Adrenaline, which sometimes manifests as panic attacks, is putting your brain and body on alert so you’ll be ready for the next crisis.”

Also, while your body and brain is on alert for the next crisis, it uses up other hormones like serotonin, which means your using up resources that you needed to be calm and joyful.

On the other hand, she wrote relaxing and playing, “…prevent the high adrenaline output and increase those mood-elevating hormones. Not only is relaxation nice, the clinical benefits are shown to increase overall health!”

At the end of her article, she shared that practicing mindfulness for only 20 minutes each day can improve your day and reduce your stress levels. Breathing exercises are a good way to go!

My own way of relaxing is to listen to music every morning. I play songs that motivate me and dance to it. At the same time, I watch the sun rise from our bedroom window. These moments are the best because as I watch the sun rise and get a feel of it every morning, it reminds me that I’m human- that I’m not in some race of sort, that I can slow down and walk at my own pace, and that I’m not a machine.

Why we need to relax

Jonah Lehrer explains it in his book Imagine: How Creativity Works:

“Why is a relaxed state of mind so important for creative insights? When our minds are at ease— when those alpha waves are rippling through the brain— we’re more likely to direct the spotlight of attention inward, toward that stream of remote associations emanating from the right hemisphere. In contrast, when we are diligently focused, our attention tends to be directed outward, toward the details of the problems we’re trying to solve. While this pattern of attention is necessary when solving problems analytically, it actually prevents us from detecting the connections that lead to insights. “That’s why so many insights happen during warm showers,” Bhattacharya says. “For many people, it’s the most relaxing part of the day.” “

“Relaxing or taking a break makes me feel guilty”

I experienced this many times last year. And since classes has started a few days ago, I’ve seen more and more posts like this one. Our constant working and belief that life is all about hustling made us feel and think that way. It’s the toxic hustle culture that made us believe we should be working all the time, forgoing time for family, friends, and even, me time.

In her book, Do Nothing, journalist and public radio show host Celeste Headlee confessed, “It was the hard-work culture that made me believe I was lazy if I stopped working for even short periods of time.”

Once, she learned that working for long hours doesn’t equal productivity, she started applying it into her life as well as to her employees. “I wrote a handbook for my producers that including the following advice: Don’t work a long day, go home, and turtle on your couch with a frozen dinner. Solid research shows forcing yourself to get out and go to the bar with friends, have dinner, see a movie, meet people and socialize, reduces your stress and makes you more efficient. Have a hobby.” Also, research shows that employees who completely disengage themselves from work during leisure (or non-work hours) live healthier lives emotionally and physically. They are less overwhelmed and they sleep better.

In my case, I start the day slow. Like I mentioned previously, I start my day mostly listening to music and watching the sun rise. It is to remind myself that it’s okay to slow down and I am not late for anything. I am just on time. Second thing I do is I keep a logbook.

Keeping a logbook

A logbook is where I keep everything that I did for the day, which includes making my bed, doing the laundry, what have I wrote about, what articles I read, etc. Every time the sun comes down, I will look at my logbook and I will feel relieved that I have accomplish things for the day and then, I’ll proceed to relaxing (aka total disengagement from org responsibilities and school), I watch my favorite show, write here in my blog, read a novel, etc.

Having an awareness of how you spend your days is helpful in terms of knowing that you are in control of your life and that you do not lack time.

Having no clear understanding of how you spend your time can leave you feeling more overwhelmed than necessary, which can cause you to make decisions that lead to more stress and anxiety, which feeds the sense that you’re pressed for time, and you end up feeling more overwhelmed than necessary.” wrote Celestee Headlee in her book, Do Nothing.

She mentioned about “time perception” which is an understanding of how we spend our time. People who have little time perception spend more time scrolling on social media sites and they feel more overwhelmed. Contrastingly, people with high time perception feel more in control because they have an exact idea of how they spend their time. They knew how much time they spend working, hence, they can make time for family, friends, leisure, and contemplation.

Celestee Headlee noted, “You may believe you can relax if you put in a few more hours and get ahead of your workload, but actually you’re more likely to reduce your stress level by taking a break.

Logbook is extremely helpful when I am relaxing at night because it shows me that I deserve to rest after hustling for hours and I can focus on other matters other than school and orgs. It leaves me feeling accomplished and that I did the best that I can for today.

Stop comparing

Lastly, avoid or stop comparing to how you spend your time to others. Hustling for more than what’s necessary is like a badge to other people which is overall unhealthy. Remember, this is your life and that is their life. The point is not to be as busy as your friends or be more busy, but its saying, “I am living my best life at this moment! I am grateful and I am in control.”

How I spend my time is more or less different from yours and that’s great! All we just need to remember is to be human. Be present. Focus on what you are doing right now instead of worrying about the work that you have to do tomorrow.

Celestee Headlee: Stop trying to prove something to others. Reclaim your time and reclaim your humanity.

Additional reading:
Work Is Play
Do More of What Brings You Joy
Why Do We Need To Play Even As Adults
“You cannot be really first-rate at your work if your work is all you are.”