Slowing down our days and making the most out of them
One question often asked is how to slow down, how to counteract the busy-ness, and time passing by too quickly.
Within that question there can be a myriad of possible reasons behind it.
In business and personal situations, some of it is skill based. Learning ways to prioritise, delegate, become more assertive at saying no. Understanding the elements we can get distracted by and why, and noticing where we keep adding to our lists unnecessarily.
Some of it has a mindset element. Perfectionism has an impact, or a need (worry) that we need to be the one who ‘does’ so to be liked or to not be rejected (part of our societal or family upbringing). We may need to start rewriting rules around expectations of being the one that is doing, understand the psychological highs of to-do lists, or how we might be using busy-ness as an avoidance strategy.
Society also has a place, at the moment being busy is often seen as a status symbol. We share and compete at how busy we are. Rather than sharing how much we have enjoyed a slower pace of life, the life we are living, the people at work (although this is changing). We often feel too busy to truly be in a space with each other, fully listening, or being in the now, nevermind with ourselves.
I have covered many of the above elements at various times in articles, training sessions, and live videos, but in this blog I wanted to touch on creating space between things, as a way of slowing things down, and noticing life more.
What is creating space?
It is nothing more than that, it is creating space between things. Between work tasks, meetings, events at weekends, moments.
For most of us, we simply have too many things in our diary, in our minds, and our to-do lists. And we don’t allow any space between them. When we don’t allow space between activities and actions, it impacts on our lives. Here are some ways it does that:
1. We often don’t allow enough time between work related events, for example to process what has just happened. Which means we often don’t take everything on board, lose the momentum we might have had to implement or plan our ideas immediately afterwards, or we are already thinking of the next thing so don’t fully focus on the meeting we are in. We can underestimate how long we need between activities, or don’t allow space to catch up on the other parts of our day. This all adds to creating stress, loss of productivity, and feeling like we never get on top of things. We also carry our moods, and stress, thought or negative energy from our last meeting or interaction, from one situation into the next.
2. We often don’t pause during the day, we just keep going until we go to bed, and then start over again. We therefore don’t notice what has happened, have any chance to reflect or unwind. Even the good stuff gets overlooked. We might start to feel we are simply going through the motions, and then worry that too much time has passed without doing more of what we actually wanted.
3. In our social lives, we often try and fit a lot in, or don’t allow time between events to have a chance to reflect and bask in the pleasure of the activity, including during it, and afterwards. Even at those lovely celebrations. We are often already stressed when we get there because of what has come before because we felt rushed or there was too much to do. And when we leave, the feelings are often quickly forgotten and we are onto the next thing, even carrying out errands on the way home which negates the high we were feeling. Or it means we only gave it half our attention when we were there because we were thinking about comes next, perhaps even rushing to end it, to get those things done. Sometimes we feel regret when we notice we did this, and wished we had been more in the now.
4. More and more things become urgent because we find ourselves ‘fire fighting’ in our personal and work lives, as everything becomes last minute and urgent to do’s. Whilst most of us will act as things become pressing, it can become the norm, and even addictive (and sometimes go horribly wrong). We can also often prioritise tasks as urgent when they aren’t, because we are motivated to get them off our list, or they are our latest idea.
Top tips for creating space
- Whilst you might clump activities together, ie meetings, ensure you leave enough time between meetings to have a chance to decompress and reflect on what you have taken away from that meeting, and action any quick and easy actions whilst fresh in your mind. Likewise with social events, take time to enjoy and reflect on it on your way home, and later that day. Enjoy the positive energy and feeling from these types of days, or moments. We often rush to the next thing and back into a place of stress. Instead, we could usually do with more lightness, connection with others on a deeper level, and fun in our lives.
- Pause before you go into any new meeting, or personal activity, to shake off anything you may have brought with you from earlier in your day. Take a slightly longer route if needed to decompress, reflect, or take a moment before heading in.
- Where possible avoid putting too many big work projects, or social activities close together . This gives you more space to prepare, and reduce too many things becoming urgent (whether a work task, or personal ie buying an outfit or gift) all at once. We often have so many perceived or real urgents that it takes the pleasure away from activities and our days.
- Take moment in your day to pause. Look around the room, out of a window (or better yet go outside), notice a bush as you walk, look at your family or colleagues, and notice anything you are grateful for.
- Notice your habits as to what you keep adding to your to-do list, your motivations and mindset behind your various tasks, or busy-ness, and also which activities you often regret saying yes to. From this you can start to create some new patterns. This can include giving yourself 24 hours before saying yes to anything.
- Learn more techniques for prioritising or approaches to task management. I often share an adapted version of Stephen Covey’s time management quadrant as a simply and useful visual tool, or my own technique to use traffic lights (red doesn’t take you towards your goal, yellow might do but may not be genuinely urgent, or may not need to be done by you, green is important, adds value for the time it will take, and needs prioritisation). Those that use bullet-journalling, re write their regular to-do lists every day. On the basis that if they can’t be bothered to write it out, it probably isn’t worth doing. Other tools include setting out your top 3 most important tasks each day for your business or personal life for focus. Or as per David Allen’s method, getting everything out of our head onto a list, but any list item must have the next step, ie fix a light, might be go to B&Q and choose new light fitting, or google electricians. Without the decision of the next step, it can stay in our head as unfinished business, even when on a list.
- Clear times in your working day without meetings or interruptions, clear some of your evenings, days, and weekends. Put them into your diary in advance and protect them. If you decide you want to add something, for example you wake up on Sunday morning and feel like doing something, great you can choose to do that then, from a place of ‘this will be fun, I want to do this’. It is very easy to let those slots of time be filled, and suddenly you have no time to do what you want, or just take a break. Likewise at work, every CEO I have worked with has found the time protected to be invaluable (many work out of the office during those times to make it easier), and regretted when they had let them lapse, and then went back to reinforce that time for greater productivity.
Top tip for noticing and feeling we have lived more fully
Even as we slow down our days, and create space, we can still sometimes feel that time has passed quickly. Here are three suggestions from what I have used in the past to help counter this, on top of creating space and pausing during the day:
1. A memory jar – for each memory, you write it on a bit of paper and pop it into the jar. When you feel low, or at the end of the year, you can open the jar, and pull out one or two, or all of them. It is a lovely way to remember all the wonderful things you did, any special moments, gratitudes, or particular successes or wins.
2. A private or open instagram page (or similar) where you post a pic (or grid of pics) each day, that you can then visually remind yourself of what you have been up to, again with similar ideas as per the memory jar.
3. A summary journal. This is what I currently use. And the reason I call it a summary journal here, is because it’s aim is to enable me to quickly look at it, and notice the highlights. Each simple A5 page entry includes the following: Top right – the key things from the day I want to remember (a list of a few words). If it is a particularly memorable item, I highlight it. I On the left anything I am tracking towards my goals. And the rest of the page are short bullet points of three sections – Gratitudes from that day -anything I am specifically grateful for. Wins from the day (this can include simple things, something that was tough to me, or much bigger wins) And finally, an addition from part way through the year that covers final thoughts, learnings, or something that made me grumpy (but is being used to let go of rather than a moan section). Since there is lots of space on the page, and it is all bullet points, I can quickly see all the things I have done, achieved, learned, and enjoyed in my year (and do a monthly summary too).
Wrapping it all up
Find what works for you. It is a layering process, and we occasionally need a quick refresh and reminder, when we get busy again.
Often, simply by reminding yourself that you want to create more space in your life, you start to filter and react differently. With the gratitudes and reflections, you also start to feel more positive because your brain starts secreting hormones that make you feel happier too.
You may also find that new opportunities arise that you wouldn’t have noticed or created before, that fit in with your life and leadership goals, as you move forward. After all, if we have no space, create no space, how can anything else that we truly want, arrive for us.