Slow Down to Improve Productivity & Find a Better Life Balance

Slow Down to Improve Productivity &  Find a Better Life Balance

“I am SO busy!”  How often do you say those words?  How often do you hear them?  Likely on the regular.  It has become a badge of honour to tell people just how busy you are and being ‘not busy’ is looked upon as lazy. Not surprisingly our addiction to busyness is not only bad for our quality of life, its equally bad for productivity.

In her article for Salon, author Sara Robinson findings of researcher of Tom Walker “That output does not rise or fall in direct proportion to the number of hours worked is a lesson that seemingly has to be relearned each generation.”  In fact, busyness is a crutch, says columnist Tim Kreider.  Overly busy people are not busy because “of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and read what they might have to face in its absence.” 

Furthermore, say researchers Chip & Dan Heath “one of the biggest decision-making mistakes (people) tackle is our tendency not to waffle but to decide too quickly”.   In their book Decisive: How to make better choices in life and work, the brother’s Heath explain, people who had considered even one additional alternative did six times better than those who had considered only a single option.

I suspect that both overstimulation and a disconnection to our aim on life has led to inability to slow down and find life balance.  An adrenal system overload if you will.  As I have mentioned before, my family and I move between a hectic life in Toronto, Canada and the relatively lulled pace of life in Costa Rica.  One of the starkest differences we’ve found both within ourselves and among others who live in the two places is the ability to slow down- to be reflective and consciously make space, to be deliberate. The contrasts are shocking.  The first few weeks people come to our jungle community, many literally do not know what to do with themselves.  Kids, adults wired in to their devices, climbing the walls unless they are distracted and busy every moment of the day.  Yes a part of it is the contrasting paces of life but a lot of it is habit too.

In his work on the Blue Zones, author Dan Buettner found that an important commonality among the world’s longest lived people is a process for slowing down to find life balance. Says Buettner, “even people in the Blue Zones experience stress. Stress leads to chronic inflammation, associated with every major age-related disease. What the world’s longest-lived people have that we don’t are routines to shed that stress. Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors, Adventists pray, Ikarians take a nap and Sardinians do happy hour.”

While not all of these practices are practically transferrable to Western Society, the brain science behind how and why it is important to slow down is fundamentally human.  In this 2011 New Yorker profile of David Eagleman, a neuroscientist who studies time perception, calls time a rubbery thing that changes based on mental engagement. The more detailed the memory, the longer the moment seems to last. "This explains why we think that time speeds up when we grow older,” Eagleman says "why childhood summers seem to go on forever, while old age slips by while we’re dozing. The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass.”

What this means is that when we are totally immersed or focusing on something, we actually slow down our perception of time.  Explains, Eagleman “it isn’t just a single area of the brain that controls our time perception—it’s done by a whole bunch of brain areas, unlike our common five senses, which can each be pinpointed to a single, specific area.”  With time, we don’t so much sense it as perceive it.

From our own Blue Zone experience and from the findings of both Eagleman and Buettner slowing down can be honed through a focus on one's aim in life, and healthy habits.  Stretching time to manage stress, anxiety and emotion is really a choice.  Here are our road tested ways to practice slowing down and stretching time.

  1. Rise with sun and sleep shortly after sunset.  Quality sleep is critical.  Studies show that productivity is much higher during the daylight hours
  2. Quiet Surroundings.  Buettner’s research shows that humans can adapt to subfreezing temps or ugly surroundings, however, humans don’t adapt to noise
  3. Keep learning.  There is nothing like a new language to slow the mental process down.
  4. Visit new places.  Being the new kid on the block is incredibly humbling and yet liberating at the same time.  It also uses almost every part of the brain adapting to new surroundings.
  5. Walk most places.  Not only is it physically good for you, it gets you outside where the brain is far likelier to engross in the surroundings
  6. Focus. Spend 5min each day connecting in to your purpose or intention. Make decisions that support life balance and your aim in life

Useful Reading


Slow Down to Improve Mental Wellness

The Science of Time Perception

The Busy Trap

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