(Pssst: Scroll down for an adorable picture of my horse and puppy!) I had an epiphany while hauling a horse to a clinic the other day: I realized it’s not helpful to tell people to slow down to be better writers. Why not?
Because I can’t expect people to slow down just one single part of their lives without looking at the bigger picture of a whole life lived in a hurry.
I can’t expect people to slow down just one single part of their lives without looking at the bigger picture of a whole life lived in a hurry.
We’re doing everything too fast
Speed is one reason for poor writing at work—a huge reason. People are quickly churning out not only emails and chat messages, but presentations, documents, web copy and marketing too. All that speed means more mistakes, confusion, miscommunication or brand damage—depending on the content and its purpose.
All that speed means more mistakes, confusion, miscommunication or brand damage.
Which brings us back to my epiphany. I was hauling a horse, as I said, and I was driving behind a slow-moving semi-truck on purpose because I don’t want to drive in a hurry while hauling precious cargo. I was intentionally driving slowly.
And that’s when I had the epiphany about slowing down one’s whole life, not just when writing at work. That’s when I realized it’s not helpful to tell people to slow down when writing. I need to encourage people to slow down in general.
I’ve lived life in a hurry and it sucked
I have learned the hard way that slowing down has to be intentional. I’ve been the self-employed single mom with a Blackberry glued to her hand juggling multiple tasks and scheduling days in 15-minute increments. I lived in a hurry for years. I was a stressed-out bitch. It sucked, for me and for those around me, especially my kids.
I lived in a hurry for years. I was a stressed-out bitch. It sucked, for me and for those around me, especially my kids.
You’d think having our 22-acre farm project might have changed all that, right? But I still hurry and juggle, only in different ways. My days are still scheduled to the fullest as I balance work, the farm, the horses and—for the last six months—a puppy, in addition to my marriage and the other important relationships in my life.
But now I’ve learned to slow down
In the last couple of years, I have learned to drop out of the cult of busyness. I didn’t do so to improve my workplace writing. I learned to slow down to decrease my stress level and increase my kindness-to-others level. But the slowing down has enabled me to do a better job at everything that does get my attention. And I am enjoying life much more as a relaxed person!
Slowing down did not happen overnight. I had to make conscientious choices to learn to slow down. Notice I said “learn” there? Because busy-ness is a habit. You have to unlearn the busy way of living and learn to take it slow.
To be honest, I’m still learning and maybe always will be.
7 ways to learn to slow down
Because this was a journey I had to go on and I want to pass along what worked for me in the hopes that you will also choose to slow down your life, below are seven things that helped me learn to slow down.
One, go for a stroll. Go outside not to exercise by walking fast or running, but to slowly stroll. Look around you. Notice details. Sometimes look down and sometimes look up. Pay attention to the little things, the sights and sounds and smells. Having a puppy taught me to stroll while she’s off doing her sniffing. Plus being outside makes you happier and healthier.
Two, take something off your plate to free up some time so you can slow down. We do take on a lot! Yet I’ve spoken to many people who say they don’t miss all the activities that crowded their calendars before the pandemic, and I’m one of them. What are you doing out of habit, not enjoyment? Whatever it is, drop out of it.
Three, drive the speed limit—the actual speed limit. If you’re used to zipping down the highway, this will be difficult for you. But learning to do so will help you be intentionally calm and slow about other activities too. This was a huge one for me.
Four, cook from scratch. It will take you longer to prepare a meal, but that’s the point. You can’t rush it. You have to slow down. Again, it’s about learning to go at a slower pace. (I already cooked from scratch, but I changed my mindset to enjoy the process rather than see it as a chore—sometimes.)
Five, quit social media. In 2020, the average user spent 2 hours 24 minutes a day on social media. Just think how much time you’d free up by getting back over 2 hours per day! If you think you’re too busy and always in a hurry because you have so much to do, quit Facebook and Twitter and see how much time you get back—time that would enable you to slow down. (I quit Facebook and that not only gave me back time: It literally improved the quality of my life not being part of that cesspool any longer!)
Six, practice carefree timelessness. Author Matthew Kelly introduced me to this phrase. In his book The Rhythm of Life, he says, “All of life’s important relationships thrive under the condition of carefree timelessness. Learn to waste time with the people you love.” But practicing carefree timelessness forces you to slow down—and therefore teaches you to slow down as well. (Full disclosure: This has been the hardest for me.)
Seven, read books. It’s too easy to pick up your phone and mindlessly scroll, or get on Netflix and mindlessly binge. Yes, sometimes being a mental vegetable can be restorative, but we are looking for ways to learn to intentionally slow down. Reading books will help. I listen to a lot of audiobooks because I can do so while tackling my many tasks. But it’s the real book in my hand at the end of the day that helps quiet me and slow me down.
Everything gets worse with speed
“Everything gets worse with speed,” riding instructors say. That means if you haven’t mastered something with your horse at the slowest gait, the walk, you’ll be even worse at it at the next faster gait, the trot. And it will really fall apart if you pick up the canter. That’s why you have to slow down when you’re struggling, to master the skill at the slower gait first.
This applies to workplace writing too: Everything gets worse with speed. And the only way to change that is to slow down. And perhaps the only way to slow down when writing at work is to slow down life in general…which has plenty of other benefits too.
As someone who has learned to slow down, I can honestly say, life is far better in the slow lane.