Tackling everything at lightning speed can actually stifle a designer’s most valuable asset: her creativity. Learn how going slower will help you achieve a clear mind and put you on the path to true productivity.
ILLUSTRATION BY JAMES YANG www.jamesyang.com
I suspect that at the start of your day, the first thing you do is reach for your phone. You might even do this before you get out of bed. From the moment your eyes open, the input begins. Email, Facebook, Twitter, texting, newsfeed—all pouring in like an electronic fire-hose aimed at your brain. From daybreak to sunset, it’s a nonstop, get-it-done overload. It started in the 1980s when FedEx changed everything by introducing overnight delivery. Soon thereafter, fax machines came along, followed by email and now smartphones. We’ve been spoiled. We’re used to immediate results and, in return, we’ve lost our patience. We don’t like waiting and when we have to, it causes anxiety and stress.
While technology brought convenience to our lives, it also brought a whole new set of expectations that soon became the status quo. Our world has become addicted to speed and impatience. Clients expect projects completed in ridiculous time frames and demand creative people to generate ideas instantaneously. Our over-connectivity has led to an avalanche of information that requires us to absorb far more than we ever did before. We’ve become a nation of anxious people who are always worried about what’s next—so much so that we forget to look at what’s in front of us.
And for creative people, it’s even harder not to get distracted. We have many interests and options to choose from. Slowing down to actually experience life in its depth becomes the biggest challenge we face. Besides, “slow” in our society often means “lazy,” “slacker” or plain “dumb”—and those are the last things we want to be known as. We keep cramming things into our lives, always searching for the combination that will provide us the most pleasure, and we distract ourselves from the tough questions (the slow questions) about what’s really important: our values, beliefs, big-picture plans, goals and how to achieve them. Not to mention how this pace stifles creativity.
The No. 1 question I hear from creative business leaders isn’t “Why are we running so fast?” It’s “How do we keep up and stay ahead in this fast-paced world?” The answer is simple. We think that moving fast will help us keep up. But this only works when we do it with precision and purpose. And in order to so do, we have to slow down.
At first glance, “slow down to go fast” doesn’t seem to make much sense. Our brains tell us that if we pause even for a moment, we’ll fall further behind. So we go at it with more grit than ever. In order to move quickly with precision and purpose, however, slowing down is precisely what we need to do. Instead of running at full speed in all directions, we need to pause, think, focus and then run in the right direction.
But most creatives (and, really, most people) don’t take the time to discern the “right” direction for themselves. We just start running. We say “yes” to too many things, fearing we’ll miss out on whatever surprise is waiting around the corner. We mistake being busy for being productive. We pretend to be masterful multitaskers, thinking we’ll get more done in less time if we do it all at once.
The truth is, multitasking is only slowing us down further—and not in a good way. Multitasking, as most people understand it, is a myth that makes overly scheduled and stressed-out people feel efficient. The lie is that you can actually do two or more tasks at the same time with full focus and attention, but in reality, what you’re doing is serial tasking. You’re shifting from one task to another to another in rapid succession.
You think you’re doing these tasks simultaneously. But you’re not. Are you actually savoring that microwave dinner while you’re reading email? Not really.
Doing everything at once is neither effective nor efficient. You’re expending more brain power switching from one thing to another, which only adds to feeling rushed and incomplete. It can’t be done. Choose a single task, and slow down. Start one project and stay present with it until you complete it, and watch how much faster you’ll get your to-do list done.
BE MINDFUL IN ORDER TO BE PRESENT
If your creativity seems to suffer and you’re having difficulty coming up with new ideas, then slow down. Don’t panic and step on the gas; ease up instead. Slowing down can be a tremendous source of creativity, which exists in the present moment. You can’t find it anywhere else. Taking our time ultimately helps us become more mindful. When we’re mindful, we’re able to create our best.
Here’s an example of how putting this into practice helped me. Seven years ago, I spent a year in cooking school learning to be a chef. It was a creative experiment.
I had no intention of starting a culinary career but rather wanted to awaken my creative spirit, which had become dormant and was missing from my life. I learned to chop and bake and broil, but the most important lesson I learned was about pacing myself. On our first day of class, we were immediately shown the location of the first-aid kit. “Each of you will most likely have a serious kitchen accident during the course of the year,” said the head chef, “unless you learn to slow down and be present.”
And the head chef was right. As the year progressed, nearly every student experienced serious knife cuts, burns, slips and falls. Moving too fast led to first aid time-outs or, worse, no chance of getting the day’s dish finished on time.
But safety concerns aside, in order for me to connect to my creativity in cooking school, I had to learn to be present and focused. I became more aware of how I handled myself. If I used my knife carefully, I’d avoid accidents. Not to mention, my dishes would turn out well, and I’d managed to get everything done ahead of the deadline, with enough time for dishwashing.
PRACTICE A SLOWER PACE
The way I initially showed up in the kitchen was a reflection of how I was showing up in the rest of my life. I was distracted and not present. Now, I’m able to see that same malaise everywhere. Nearly everyone I know is suffering in this age of distraction, never catching up and always feeling like they’re falling behind. It doesn’t have to be that way. We’ve come to accept distractions as a way of life. But life isn’t the problem; we are. We’re simply moving too fast.
Slowing down allows us to create in an intentional way and not react from fear, which is generally the root cause of our speed. Slowing down takes practice and mindfulness. It’s a way of being that requires focus, attention and work. To start this mindful pace, consider these tips for creating a slower life:
Disconnect. Set aside time to turn off your devices and email alerts. Schedule a break where you don’t take or make phone calls, when you’re just creating, connecting with a friend, reading a book or simply taking a walk. And if you’re brave, go an entire weekend disconnected. I promise, you’ll be OK.
Practice mindfulness. Learn to live in the present rather than thinking so much about the future or the past. When you eat, fully appreciate your food. If you’re with someone, be with them entirely. When you’re walking, appreciate your surroundings, no matter where you are.
Eliminate commitments. Say “no” more often to nonessential commitments. Every “yes” is taking up space in your life, so slow down and refl ect on every commitment and invitation you receive. Before you say “yes,” make sure it isn’t taking you away from your more important commitments.
Do less. Rename your to-do list as the much more gentle “All that I have to do today is …” list. Design a less stressful day that allows you to work in a natural, easy-going manner.
Single task. This is the opposite of multitasking. Focus on one thing at a time. When you feel the urge to switch to other tasks, pause, breathe and pull yourself back. Slowing down can be a liberating experience for you, your business, your creativity and even your personal life.
For example, Matt Steel, principal at Grain in St. Louis, put this advice into practice. After getting to a point of near-complete exhaustion and burnout, slowing down turned his life around. “The quality and variety of our design work has grown,” Steel says. “We spend more time with our families. We have lives. We close the shop at 2 p.m. on Fridays and still manage to get things done on time. Our business is growing at a sustainable pace. We’re far from perfect, but I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Take a close look at how you function throughout your day. Are you rushing around everywhere without ample time to do anything because you “don’t have enough hours in the day”? Become the master of your own time, and watch your life change. Your days will start feeling longer and more satisfying, as you’ll live a more intentional and present life. You’ll begin to enjoy every moment of every day because you’ll be present to witness them. And, surprise, you’ll even get more done and find your creativity flowing.
Peleg Top is a leadership development coach and a business mentor to creative entrepreneurs worldwide. He teaches business owners how to create a profi table company while living an artistic, well-balanced life. www.PelegTop.com
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