• Health, Advice

Can slowing down make you more productive?

One day, I was playing around with the settings on my phone and I discovered that it tracked how much time I spent on Facebook—my favorite form of social media. I was shocked when I saw, in hours, my digital imprint on the outlet. I then juxtaposed those numbers with my project log and compared them both to the amount of time I spent actually doing things with friends and family members. It didn’t look good.

Still curious, I started jotting down how much time I spent on the phone, watching TV, and running non-essential errands. Red flags emerged. Whereas I thought my 60-hour weeks were signs of my being a dedicated entrepreneur and being uber productive, this reality check proved otherwise.

Time for a Timeout

Being engrossed in a world measured by virtual steps and technological imprints had become so normal that I felt like a character in Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.

Over the course of three weeks, I intentionally made the decision to take an adult ‘time out.’ No FB (I even deleted the app), no TV (I removed it from my bedroom), only limited technology to honor client projects and other obligations. Whereas a time out may be seen as a form of punishment for young children, it actually proved to be quite rewarding. Paradoxically, by stepping away from the grind—as some people call it—I ended up being more productive.

We are Doing Too Much

My sister is an elementary school teacher and she has two expressions that I love. She’ll say “they [my students] are doing too much” or “they are on a 10.” Neither of these sentiments are exactly compliments. Let’s just say she uses these expressions when her students are not on task and she needs to redirect them.

On the first day of my timeout, I thought a lot about how our culture just may be doing too much. We are in a historical moment where being too busy is seen as something good. The more you work, the better. The more you hustle, the better. The less you sleep, the better. The more you rely upon technology to function, the better.

With more time on my hands and less distractions, I actually started feeling like I was being too lazy or that my work ethic wasn’t what it should be. I remember sitting and watching the snow fall one day. I literally felt anxious because I thought that I should be doing something. I had to recondition myself to understand that watching the snow fall, taking in its beauty, and just being still were actually doing something.

Rethinking Success

The person who is “so busy” and doesn’t have time may realize that the time is there, it’s just how we decide to use it. The key is being intentional and thoughtful. I cannot tell you how many times I wanted to cheat.

Seriously, look around us. On Instagram, I follow some diverse and interesting figures like P Diddy (I think he’s going by that now) and Gary Vee. I am not going to lie, there have been times in the past when I feel like a complete failure because I could not function on 4 hours of sleep or I was incapable of recharging like the Energizer Bunny.

My point is that we’ve gotten to the point where we equate success, productivity, and even work ethic with being busy, but that’s not necessarily true. You can be extremely busy and highly unproductive, as I discovered. My work week was not actually 60 hours—it never was—it just felt that way because I was always on the go.

By rethinking what I needed to do versus what I was doing, I actually accomplished more because I wasn’t ripping and running for the sake of staying busy. Instead, I poured myself into things that were meaningful and valuable. I began to redefine my metrics for success and productivity by linking productivity to measurable end goals, including spending time meditating, in prayer, and journaling.

Being still, contemplative, and mindful led to more energy. Often, busyness is displaced energy. Sitting down, turning off a computer, tablet, or smart phone may seem counterproductive when your livelihood depends upon them, but having them on without a purpose is actually more problematic because we start to depend upon them to function. Worse yet, we think we might miss out on something important if we step back from the world. The reality, I found, is that we may be missing out on even more by not stepping back.

Stop to Smell the Roses

The energy and effort that we spend staying connected to technology can actually be re-purposed to spending time engaging with and creating real, not virtual, memories and emotional bonds with other people. I had no idea how many invites I had turned down, the infrequency in which I met with friends in real life, and the extent to which I was distancing myself from people who I truly loved and cared about.

For me, the end of my break was earlier this week and I don’t think I can fully go back to the person who I was before. I do miss my Facebook community and I have started checking in and posting again. I lost a few friends during my hiatus and that’s ok. I missed out on a few new TV series and that’s ok as well.

I am more inclined now to reach out to friends to have lunch or do something sociable. I have also grown to enjoy sitting quietly and just listening. I don’t see slowing down as being ineffective; I see it as a way to recharge, reboot and reposition myself to focus on the things that I value.

If you can, try unplugging. If three weeks is unrealistic, try it for a week or just a day. I’d love to learn what you discover.

Tyra Seldon Tyra Seldon is a former English Professor turned writer, editor and small business owner. Her writing addresses the intersections of race, gender, culture and education.