Speed and greed are today’s obsessions. To do more and do it faster isn’t something, it’s everything. People are richer than ever in material goods—at least in the Western world—but it still isn’t enough. They run faster, yet find they’re still desperately poor in available time. This state of material riches and time poverty doesn’t seem to make them happy either. Mostly, it makes people feel stressed and breathless: they’re always running flat-out to juggle the demands on them and never have time to spend on anything except work.
Do you have enough? Do you have time for everything you want to do?
I’m prepared to bet that, for nearly everyone, the instant answer is a loud “No!”
Wait a moment, though. Is that answer correct? Before you jump to the conclusion that you don’t have the time you need, ask yourself some questions:
- How are you spending the time you have?
- Where is it going?
- Do you have too little time—or too many unprioritized expectations?
Our ancestors had exactly the same amount of time as we do. Days, hours and minutes haven’t become shorter. There are still 12 months in a year. What’s changed is mostly our expectations about what we should accomplish in the time available to us. As we cram more and more into our lives, doing everything faster seems the only way to square the circle.
Time management isn’t the answer. That’s about increasing your productivity, so you can do even more. Do you really want to go faster? I don’t think you need ways to do more in less time. You need ways to do less in the time you have; to cut out low priority activities, so you have enough time to enjoy the rest to the full; to slow down enough to think about your life and focus on what truly matters.
Mankind faces many challenges in our crazy, violent world. The greatest isn’t dealing with threatened global warming, or international terrorism, or even our thoughtless depletion of natural resources. All of these are symptoms of people’s constant obsession with having what they want, regardless of its effect, and having it now. Speed and greed are the enemies of thought, care and consideration for others. Hasty decisions are usually bad ones. Rushing from getting to spending is no way to live.
Even schoolchildren in America are encouraged to do everything: join in, be a leader, play soccer, Little League, music, Scouts, swimming, ballet…on and on seemingly without end. When do they have time to be children? In the manic desire of their parents to make sure Freddie or Emily doesn’t miss a single opportunity lie the seeds of a lifelong obsession with getting, grabbing and moving on.
STOP. Right now. What can you give up? Yes, that’s right. Give up, drop, stop doing. Ignore the commercial quick-fixes: the medications to lower anxiety, help you sleep, cope with stress, mask depression and frustration. They’re only going to dull the pain. Listen to how it really is.
To push more and more into the same amount of time, you must either go faster or cut corners or both. You cannot increase the time available. Soon, all that rushing and skimping will produce stress, anxiety, more problems to add the ones you have already. You’ll have done many things and enjoyed few. You may not even recall half of them. You’ll need to work harder and earn more just to feed your constant demand for consumption as a way of life. You’re headed for burnout.
There is a clear, simple alternative. Slow down, expect less, accept fewer demands, do them properly and give yourself time to enjoy life. Your aim should be to wake up every morning knowing you’re living the life you want to live; and living in a purposeful and satisfying way. Take the time you have and use it well. Instead of being like a hamster in a wheel, running and running and going nowhere, try settling simply for what matters most to you and ignoring the rest. My guess is you’ll find you achieve far more that matters. You’ll certainly get more enjoyment from whatever you have.
Adrian Savage is an Englishman and a retired business executive who lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his serious thoughts most days at Slow Leadership, the site for anyone who wants to bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership; and his crazier ones at The Coyote Within.