The title of this post may sound like I have started getting serious about meditation and am about to reveal some intriguing beginner’s insights. Sorry, but not even close. I have spent the first week of the New Year doing nothing because I contracted the cold of all colds, which has put me well and truly out of commission. Considering that in eastern Canada (and most of northeastern North America) this week’s weather has also contracted the cold of all colds, it wasn’t a bad time at all to stay inside and do nothing. It means, of course, that I have already lost one of the 52 weeks I had in which to carry out my 2018 resolutions/goals. Yikes! But it did allow me a week to lie on the sofa and aimlessly scan articles of interest on the Internet, a few of which held my limited attention. Consider these titles and see if any of them intrigue you as much as they did me:
- Most of us are too busy to be better: the lazy man’s guide to self-improvement (from the Guardian, by Tim Dowling)
- Want to be happy? Think like an old person (from the New York Times, by John Leland)
- The compelling case for working a lot less (from BBC.com, by Amanda Ruggeri)
They may seem to be quite different topics, and in some ways they are. They certainly offer very different perspectives. But they all share a common thread: During our working years we are too busy being busy to be as productive (or as content) as we might be, both in our work lives and in our lives overall. That translates into being very busy and yet not being fulfilled. And perhaps all we need to do to change that is to work less! Either work less or wait until we’re very old and finally realize that there is much to appreciate and that we don’t have to try to have it all, all at once. That we don’t have to worry about what others think. That it doesn’t have to be a win-lose world. That being perpetually busy isn’t by definition a virtue. But it would be awfully nice to figure this out for ourselves before we become very old, wouldn’t it?
I’m sure that technology plays a role in this these days, keeping us working 24/7 despite ourselves, always alert for that next work email or text. But it turns out that long ago people had figured out that cutting back on hours worked actually produced improved results. Way back in 1926, Henry Ford reduced the hours his employees worked from 9 or 10 hours to 8 hours, leading the way to our 8-hour/day standard. His competitors were no more impressed with this move than they had been when he raised employees’ wages back in 1914, except that, just as with the increased wages, Ford Motor Company saw productivity increase significantly with the reduced hours of work. Studies show that after a certain amount of time we don’t just become physically and mentally tired, we lose some of our creative ability and even our cognitive edge. As my body has told me repeatedly for over 70 years, we need our rest and we need our sleep! We need to time to recuperate. Why have managers forgotten this lesson? Why haven’t we all been taught this?!
The entertaining article on being too busy to spend time on becoming a better person points out the popularity of books like The 5-Minute Healer, The 10-Minute Millionaire, and 15 Minutes to Happiness. The author figures that 15 minutes is pretty well the longest stretch of time that most of us will dedicate to personal growth at one sitting, although 10 minutes would be even better. Along with self-help books and yoga classes, he’s looked at many podcasts, but of course most podcasts are longer than 15 minutes. I’m not sure that I wanted to read this, speaking as a retired university professor, but he learned from his kids that they listened to sped-up recordings of their lectures so as to save time! I have a hard enough time picking up what younger people are saying when they speak as quickly as they seem to be able to, but our author tried different speeds and eventually trained himself to be able to actually listen to and process a podcast at 1.8 times the recorded speed. And now he’s frustrated by people (like me) who speak at a normal (slow) speed! I’m trying to figure out how this speeding up of obtaining information works with being creative and productive. Is the information really absorbed? Retained? Will we start to evolve to be able to handle this pace continually and yet still have our activities all be useful, fun, and rewarding? Will we still need time to think, to reflect? Will my grandchildren be able to process material effectively and efficiently at twice the speed I can?
I guess I’ll never know the answers to these questions. But, having just spent a week doing nothing, I can imagine another week of doing nothing where I have a bit more energy and spend the time thinking, reflecting, being creative in my own way, and thoroughly enjoying the process. I hope future generations don’t forget how to do that before they become very old! I recommend any or all of the articles mentioned above for your enjoyment, at any speed you like. 🙂
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