In The Power of Slow (2009),* Christine Louise Holbaum writes about our harried world and the inefficiency of over-efficiency. She suggests that a modern sense of urgency about time may have begun with Ben Franklin, who coined the phrase that “time is money” and assumed that making money is the measure of success. Over time, “busy” became the most overused of words in our vocabulary, and we began to think that if we are really, really busy, we are really, really productive (and on the road to becoming rich!).
She thinks “busy” is a four-letter word (in the negative sense) and that “slow” is a good four-letter word. Doing things more slowly and with greater mindfulness is much more productive in her view than, for example, “multi-tasking” – which is a contradiction in terms anyway. Human brains can only process one thing at a time: to multi-task is to flit from task to task, from moment to moment, often in every-decreasing increments. The result is distraction rather than productivity, which leads to living in a mental state of urgency that is bad for us – bad for our health, bad for our moods, and bad for doing things well as opposed to doing them quickly.
I’m persuaded by her argument that we live in a culture of harried distraction. I don’t think that managing time is about getting more done so much as about getting the right things done in the right order. Most of us need to plan our days in order to make sure we are prioritizing the right things on a daily basis. And most people (though probably not those who are way more creative than I am!) crave the security of having crafted a daily plan that means we will get a certain number of crucial things done and make progress towards our larger goals in any given day.
However, jam-packing our schedule – leaving no time for either rest and recuperation or the focused thinking that is necessary for planning wisely for the number of hours we have available in a given day – leads to unbearable stress. At times we need to remind ourselves that our grandmothers were right: “Haste makes waste.” And that Holbaum is probably right: the brain is a muscle that requires flexibility, and distraction has the undesirable neurological effect of making brains less flexible, i.e. less productive in the end (32).
It’s first thing in the morning here at my desk. I’m about to make a reasonable to-do list for the day and to set about completing it in the most relaxed (maybe even flexible) way possible. Let’s see how that works for me.
(*The Power of Slow: 101 Ways to Save Time in Our 24/7 World, New York: St. Martin’s Pfress, 2009)
Marilyn J. Rose
Marilyn Rose recently completed a 7-year term as Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies and was the founding Director of the Brock Humanities Research Institute. A specialist in 20th Century Canadian literature, she has a particular interest in Canadian poetry and short fiction. She also works in the areas of Popular Culture and Canadian Studies and is a core faculty member of the MA program in Popular Culture and the Joint Interdisciplinary Program in Canadian-American Studies.