Slowing Down to Speed Up

Our technology-laden lives can generate accelerating schedules, keeping us in dizzying whirlwinds of activity that may lead nowhere.

Slowing Down to Speed Up

OK, so here we go.

I’m starting with speed on this idea, putting down some foundational logs, roughly around the site of the camp fire, before shooting off to do some tasks. But first to put something down in black and white, or I fear I never will.

Today I’ve been self-propelled at one thousand miles an hour. Run off my feet every waking moment, right up until this one. My aim was to slow down and do as little as humanly possible. I sketched out a todo list that I deliberately made sparse, or at least it seemed sparse when I wrote it, then proceeded to race through every second of the day, beating myself up because I wasn’t making my way through the list I made to be quick, quickly enough.

I am convinced this is an endemic problem of the times, and it is deeply rooted in the proliferation of technology. Oddly enough, technology seems to have had the opposite effect to what we thought it might at the outset. Instead of reducing our work load and simplifying the things we need to do, it seems to be creating self-perpetuating, ever-accelerating barrages of action and notifications of activity, obliging us to commit to impossibly full schedules, where every potential hobby is pursued, every niche skill and interest explored, every movie that pops up on our radar watched and remembered — and preferably, reviewed online — , every amazing recipe cooked and perfected, every self-help technique investigated, and generally all the things we hear about in this universe of information, done.

Which can be pretty exciting. But done wrong it can be mind-melting, and in this fashion we can create for ourselves schedules wildly divorced from reality, attempting to fit 72 hours of tasks into every 24 hours, with no piss breaks allowed. In manic bursts we can even keep up with these schedules, briefly, when conditions are perfect and our energy levels are unusually high — which can encourage us to believe this is what it should be like ALL THE TIME, and there is something wrong the 90% of the time we can’t perform like super humans.

I have become convinced of, though have yet to put into practise, the solution: “slowing down to speed up.” Lowering a gear or two, cognitively, and working with calm confidence through tasks at a speed that allows the brain to absorb it. I know this works because I find myself there sometimes. At a calmer speed it’s as if time slows down, but the brain continues at its normal speed. It’s a form of cognitive time dilation. We work fast within a perspective of doing things at a slow and controlled pace. Productivity comes from maintaining a sustainable output level, relaxed and motivated, over long periods. No burn out, no exhaustion. No beating yourself up, no straining at the seams because “you are already so far behind.” Simple, sustainable forwards momentum taking you through the day, keeping the brain, as Fast Eddie from The Hustler says, “fast and loose.” Input down, output up. And those times where we get unusual energy bursts? Go with it, speeding downhill at 200 mph. But don't force them.

It was on the way back from a rushed trip to the micro market I realised what a stark contrast there is between previous generations and the latest, digital ones. I passed a man in his sixties smoking a cigarette, slowly puffing clouds into the air as he sauntered down the street with complete awareness of time and place. Saturday afternoon. Off the clock. Nothing hounding him. A lake of free time in the middle of the weekend, to do nothing with, or do with as he pleased. But not to rush. He seemed completely at ease with the moment, and to be living in the moment as a result. On the other hand, rushing through my day trying to do a thousand things when in truth I was already exhausted after the week had put me in something like a daze. A whirlwind of minutiae had left everything in motion blur. I could barely remember what I did an hour before. Fuck, I could barely remember what task I was in the middle of. I had overloaded myself and it wasn’t paying off.

There is something to all this that makes sense on a basic level, and explains the human need to go through some things at a relaxed pace. To find downtime. This needs more thought. For now, I’m going to chew on the concept of “slowing down to speed up,” and find one or two places in my daily life where it can be applied.

Now I must shoot off, to do some tasks!

James Lanternman writes movie reviews, short fiction, essays, and moonlit thoughts. Reach him at [email protected], or follow on Twitter.