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How to Slow Down

How to Slow Down
    Slow down, you're moving too fast...

    At this time of year you really need to slow down. With all of the hustle and bustle of a busy shopping season and the frenetic pace many take on to close all of their “open loops”, we lose sight of the fact that this is the time of year to take stock of where we were, where we are and where we want to be going forward.

    I was having coffee with a good friend and we talked about how this year we seem to be “busier” than we have in years’ past. It’s as if the amount of information and demands coming our way have increased so that everyone can close out the year with as much done as possible. I compare it to the time of year when the “taxman cometh” in that we’re trying to get as much bang for our earned dollar that we can before the calendar turns over to a new fiscal year.

    Basically, we’re trying to run on overdrive when all we have left is fumes in the tank.

    The end of the year doesn’t mean the end of life. We’re not approaching teh finish line – we’re approaching the end of a lap. We’ve got a lot more race to run, and we need to keep that in mind so that we don’t wind up wondering what it is we still have to do at a time of year when we should be taking time to just enjoy ourselves. It’s time to slow down…and here’s how you can do that:

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    Breathe.

    Even as I write this I can’t help but look at my to-do list out of the corner of my eye and notice how long it is. I can feel myself getting anxious, knowing I still have gifts to wrap, cards to send and work to do. So right now I’m going to take a pause and just breathe deeply, focusing only on my breath and being in that moment alone.

    I closed my eyes while taking several breaths. It felt good. Even after coming out of that moment or two, I feel focused on the task at hand. My to-do list is not even part of the equation now. I am standing with a better posture, am thinking more clearly and my heart rate has slowed. I feel calmer as a result of just taking two minutes to close my eyes and breathe deeply and with resolve.

    You may have to do this more times than usual when the pace heats up to a level that it tends to do during the holidays season. In fact, you will have to – at least if you want to be able to get things done efficiently and effectively. By taking time to do this you will be making time to do everything else.

    Even when you feel as if everything else is spinning out of control, your own breath is something that is always under your control, never spinning. So…just breathe.

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    Go out for a good meal.

    I’m not talking about fast food here, either. You need to go out either by yourself or with those close to you and have a good sit-down meal. Treat yourself to it. It’s a great way to slow things down – to enjoy the process of a meal as intended. You’re giving yourself the time to eat, drink and be merry…or in your own thoughts.

    Having a meal where you only need to order and not cook also gives you the time to, as mentioned, be with your own thoughts. I’ve come up with some great ideas – or solution to problems – while waiting for a meal or eating one in a restaurant. It’s those moments that have a harder time coming to you when you’re busy with the making of something. You’re feeding your mind, body and soul when you give yourself the gift of a good meal. Take it a step further and skip the making portion of it altogether – just once during the next week or so.

    It’s time well tasted.

    Run somewhere, anywhere. Preferably outdoors.

    It’s amazing what a good run will do for you. You’d think that by moving faster that your mind would try to keep up, but that’s not the case when you go for a run. Your mind tends to wander, and it slows down in the process. The rush against your face of the cool air adds a freshness that can’t be found when doing anything else that you have control over. There’s a freedom to running around, a feeling that you can go anywhere and not be hindered by roads or trails. Your mind gets that freedom as well.

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    Sometimes I bring a recorder to capture my thoughts, but often I don’t when I run. I just let the flow happen. Sure, that’s counter-intuitive to the tenets of productivity (or at least, GTD to a point), but I’m not running to make more work. I’m running to create a space between myself and my work. I’m running to take a break – a much-needed one at that.

    I’m running so I can stay in the race over the long haul, not so that I wash out of it.

    Step back from social networks.

    I’m not doing nearly as much on social networks right now. And I’m okay with that. I am doing less reporting on my life and spending more time living it.

    I’m not divorcing social networks – at least not yet. I just think that by spending more time working on me and my own life and work and less time keeping up with everything else that social networks offer that I’ll be better serving both myself and those very platforms later on. I’ll be able to offer a clearer version of myself and what’s going on – should I choose to even do that. I’m not worrying about status updates and tweets. I’m not even worrying about my presences on any of those social networks.

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    What allows me to slow down is the fact that I’m focusing on being present.

    Feelin’ groovy.

    Before I do any of the things I’ve mentioned above, this set of lyrics come to mind:

    “Slow down, you movin’ too fast;
    You gotta make the morning last;
    Just kickin’ down the cobblestones;
    Lookin’ for fun and feelin’ groovy…” – The 59th Street Bridge Song, Simon & Garfunkel

    I do that and I start to feel, well…groovy. And that’s a pretty darn good feeling.

    (Photo credit: Trying to Stop Time via Shutterstock)

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    Mike Vardy

    A productivity specialist who shows you how to define your day, funnel your focus, and make every moment matter.

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    Last Updated on April 19, 2021

    The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

    The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

    Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

    The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

    Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

    In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

    When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

    Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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    1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

    When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

    As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

    That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

    The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

    What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

    Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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    There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

    So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

    2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

    When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

    No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

    3. Move Your Body

    A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

    It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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    So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

    4. Connect With Another Person

    Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

    One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

    Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

    5. Use Your Imagination

    When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

    That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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    And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

    Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

    Final Thoughts

    Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

    Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

    More on the Importance of Taking a Break

    Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

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