We are not suggesting you do a radical overhaul of life by moving to a farm on the countryside, taking up pottery, giving up your smartphone, or quitting your job. You don't have shirk your responsibilities or cut down on work. All you need to do is change how you approach them. It is about becoming more mindful and aware of the present moment rather than rushing towards something in the future.
In this post, we'll explore five practical ways to live a meaningful and fulfilled life that doesn't keep your work in the backseat.
It doesn't matter if you're the top boss at a big company or a freelancer making a living with your design skills. If you feel burnt out or stressed, you will benefit from slowing down.
5 Practical Ways To Slow Down
1. Learn to Say 'No'
You can reclaim your time by learning the art of saying 'No.' It's the difference between a calendar packed with commitments and a day when you get focused work done.
Saying 'no' is highly uncomfortable, especially if you are a high achiever, a busy professional with multiple dependencies, or a young knowledge worker at the bottom of the workplace hierarchy trying to prove their worth. But if you want to get started and slowly build up to a habit, here’s how you could –
- Block out time when you don't want to be disturbed. It's a subtle way to say "No, I am busy" without explicitly saying it. It avoids unnecessary chats or confrontations.
- When an opportunity comes your way, do the math to see if you have the time to attend to it. If not, either re-prioritize to make space for it or let it go and continue with your plan.
- Delegate tasks to someone with more time and expertise to do them better.
- Make sure you ask for a reasonable deadline to complete a task so you can have your weekends and vacations to yourself.
"To slow time, seek novelty." ~ David Eagleman, neuroscientist at Stanford University.
Time seems to last longer when you travel to new places, take up a new hobby, or take a different route back home from work, doesn't it? That's because your brain writes down new memories and is attentive to the present moment rather than running on autopilot.
That's also why the pandemic of 2020 burnt out a lot of people – there was little or no change to their daily routine. The entire time period appears to be one giant blob of memory.
So take time to learn something new, or do your work differently – you can rearrange your desk or work from a different nook in your office rather than from your desk all the time. You can also create new experiences at work. For example, start your meetings by asking everyone one thing they are grateful for.
Practice Deep Work
There's an old adage— "The early bird gets the worm," which has kept us believing that we need to rush, be productive, and get ahead of others. But we are missing the second part of this adage that says, "...but the second mouse gets the cheese."
It means that when we slow down and focus on deep work instead of rushing, we make intentional choices, and the quality of work is better, eventually leading to work that brings fulfillment and not stress.
A simple technique to get deep work done, even if your day is crammed with meetings, is timeboxing. Timeboxing is when you set aside specific chunks of time to focus on a single task or activity. It determines what you will work on at certain times of the day.
You can practice this using Sunsama by simply dragging and dropping the task on the calendar at your chosen time. You can create labels (called "channels" in Sunsama) to identify similar tasks. And when you are blocking your time, you can schedule tasks under one label together.
We live in a culture that appreciates cheating time and space. One way we do that is by multitasking. If you can reply to an email while sporadically punctuating a conversation with a colleague standing over your shoulder with 'Uh-huh's, you are hailed as productive.
Shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone's productive time, according to research by the American Psychology Association. You end up taking more time and delivering poor-quality work when you multitask.
If you feel tempted to multitask or think about different tasks while actually doing only one, try the Pomodoro technique, where you focus on one task for 25 minutes, followed by a 5-minute break. You can read more about the Pomodoro technique here.
If you find yourself distracted during your focus time, write down the distraction on a piece of paper and return to the task you are supposed to focus on. To fundamentally remove the need to multitask, look at your workload to determine if you have the availability to do your tasks one-by-one without overlapping them.
In Sunsama, when you hit 'F' on any open task, it immediately takes you to focus mode. Then when you run the timer, you'll feel more committed to only working on that one task.
In the end, looking at the actual time you took to complete the task will help you improve your estimations of how long it takes to do certain things. It will help you plan more reasonable workdays in the future.
Turn Wednesday into a little Saturday
There's a Swedish Technique called "lillördag” where on Wednesday, you let yourself enjoy the time after work as if it were the weekend. It would help if you didn't have to wait for five days before catching your breath. This technique can be a big relief just when the week starts to feel a little taxing.
If your work and responsibilities make it difficult to practice "lillördag”, at least try to end your workday on time and reflect on the work you did. Take time to recharge your mind, and create new memories. This is another way of seeking novelty and slowing down.
The Daily Shutdown ritual in Sunsama helps put off any considerations of work until the next morning. You are prompted each day to pick what time you want to shut down.
To take full advantage of this, resist after-dinner email checks or any pre-planning about how you'll handle an upcoming challenge tomorrow. If you feel tempted, take a few deep breaths and really cherish the calmness you feel in that moment. This smidgen of calm is enough for you to automatically brush off any thoughts about work.
One Tiny Action Today To Slow Down (And Ultimately Accelerate)
Slowing down doesn't happen overnight, and it's intuitive in the first place. But it can be a skill you can build with a little bit of practice and help from tools like Sunsama. These tools help you be mindful and live & work intentionally.
You can start by dumping your to-do list into Sunsama and freeing up your mind. When the app prompts you to create a daily plan, simply add your tasks & drag your meetings into your to-do list. Prioritize tasks and allocate time for each one. Pick a time when you want to shut down for the day. When the time rolls around, Sunsama will remind you to reflect on what you did and step away from work.
Take your time to test out Sunsama without paying a dime with our 14-day free trial. We are not in a rush to charge you, so you don't need your credit card when you sign up.
Deciding to slow down and stop believing in the notion that a busy, fast-paced life is the only way to live takes a conscious effort. But your journey to a less stressful, more successful, and sustainable life only starts here. Slowing down will require a systematic approach, starting with a change in your habits, routine, and mindset.