Learning to pause in a frantic world

Do this sound familiar? Alarm goes off, eyes open, and there it is — that creeping sense of shouldering a mountain of unfinished plans and unmet demands that didn’t disappear while you were sleeping. After silencing its alarm, you look at your smartphone for any txt messages or email that might have arrived during your respite. You check Facebook, or Google+, or LinkedIN, or all of them. Feedly too, of course, loaded with dozens of feeds you follow. You’re only looking at Feedly “Today” (a sampling of posts from across your feeds) but it’s still large, and many of the posts have the power to pull your attention off into a rabbit hole.

You wrench yourself free from this after (insert number of minutes), and move on with tackling the day including some small part of that stuff you’re shouldering. But more stuff is added to it so it doesn’t really shrink, and of course, that smartphone keeps demanding your attention. So, periodically, you go back through that little scanning ritual, replete with potential mental detours, over and over.

Is it any wonder we’re all obsessed with doing things as fast as possible? That ridiculous scenario above insures it.

There are many people talking about different angles from which to attack the problem of frantic living. Carl Honore is an author and speaker on the Slow Movement which challenges this reactive mentality (which is really what it is) that faster is always better. As Carl blogs,

Living “Slow” just means doing everything at the right speed—quickly, slowly, or at whatever pace delivers the best results.

Note, the “best results.” Sometimes that means moving quickly, such as when a pressing deadline is unavoidable, or when you’re crossing the street and an approaching bus isn’t slowing down. But more often than not, we just assume speed over everything and don’t pause to reflect on some essential things. Carl continues,

That means taking the time to: admit and learn from mistakes; work out the root causes of the problem; sweat the small stuff; think long and connect the dots to build holistic solutions; seek ideas from everywhere; work with others and share the credit; build up expertise while remaining skeptical of experts; think alone and together; tap emotions; enlist an inspiring leader; consult and even recruit those closest to the problem; turn the search for a fix into a game; have fun, follow hunches, adapt, use trial and error, and embrace uncertainty.

I have to pause to take in that paragraph above. There’s a lot in there. It reminds me of Stephen Covey’s great quote, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In those choices lie our growth and our happiness.” Ultimately, those choices impact how well we do whatever we’re doing. We can’t utilize the power of that space if we blow past it and don’t use it, if we don’t pause. I must blow past it dozens of times a day.

There isn’t much pausing going on in our lives, in our organizations, in our governments. But we need it more than ever, and there are encouraging signs. I’ve referred to WorldBlu in this blog, an organization dedicated to encouraging freedom and democracy at work. Dialogue and transparency are critical principles in realizing such work environments. You don’t get there without regular, reflective pauses. And such environments encourage the reflective pause, because there’s an awareness of the business race not simply or even primarily being against competitors, but against mediocrity. As a metaphor, a 1/4-mile drag race does not come to mind. A road race with its complex series of turns and straightaways, does.

Agile software development is another encouraging trend, as is social business, both championed by IBM and others. But it seems to me, the transformative power in all of them come back to the pause and to that space Covey described, between stimulus and response. And it comes back to resisting the frantic for the reflective, as Carl Honore iterates.

The time has come to resist the siren call of half-baked solutions and short-term palliatives and start fixing things properly. The time has come to learn the art of the Slow Fix.

Maybe the Slow Fix will also help us wake up in the morning shouldering a little less, or having stronger shoulders and approaches to managing it all. And that resulting sense of freedom and dominion may well include telling the smartphone when we need it, instead of the other way around.

Here are some additional resource links on this topic, and a short interview I had with Carl at WorldBlu LIVE 2013.

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