I’m a recovering multitasker and work-aholic. I used to have a bad habit of rushing around, trying to squeeze just one more “to-do” into my day. By evening, I felt exhausted and spread thin. After jam-packed days, I often had a headache or felt physically ill. Then, at bedtime, instead of falling asleep, my mind raced with all the things I needed to accomplish the next day.
I decided that I needed to slow down when I realized that I wasn’t truly enjoying anything because I was always working and hurrying.
Here are a few ways that have helped me be intentional about slowing down.
Reevaluate your priorities
No one can do everything. Trying to do so will only make you feel pulled in a million different directions. Slowing down and being selective about your priorities will let you enjoy what you choose to do.
Take some time to evaluate your priorities:
- What relationships are important to you? Which ones do you want to invest in?
- What hobbies or activities bring you joy, and which have become just an obligation?
- What habits only drain you of energy?
Eliminate the things in your life that are no longer important to you in order to spend more time on what really does matter. When I did this prioritization, I could clearly see what I needed to eliminate. So I cut that out of my schedule — and felt relieved instead of disappointed. That’s when I knew that I had made a good decision.
For a person who has trouble slowing down, multitasking can be an addiction: checking emails while working on another project, sending text messages while cleaning the house, talking on the phone while driving.
Research shows, however, that multitasking actually makes a person less productive. When we multitask, we are really just switching between two or more tasks and aren’t completely focused on either. Multitasking also increases stress and makes you inattentive to the people around you.
When I find myself doing too much at once, I stop myself, pick one thing to work on, and focus on that until I’m finished.
Intentional quiet time
I’ve made a habit of taking intentional quiet time in the morning. In warm weather, I sit on the porch swing with my son, and in cold weather, I curl up on the couch with a blanket and a hot mug of tea. It may only be 5-10 minutes, but it leaves me feeling calm about the day, instead of anxious about everything that needs to be done.
Intentional quiet time could come in many forms: journaling, yoga, reading, meditation, prayer, or turning off the radio during your commute. Make sure you build this time into your schedule — otherwise, it will get crowded out by the demands of the day.
I used to check emails at breakfast, and work through my lunch period. I thought that if I could get something done during meals, there would be less to do later. The problem with that approach is that there is always something more that can be done. Taking a half hour to just eat helped me to feel recharged for the rest of the day.
Make meals a time for recharging physically, socially, and emotionally. Instead of working in between bites, turn off screens and leave work behind. If you sit at a table — instead of eating while driving or at your desk — you will be more inclined to focus on the meal and the company.
Turn off notifications
My phone used to make me feel busy all day. Every beep would send me multitasking. A digital well-being app on my phone told me that I spent hours looking at my screen — I was unlocking my phone 50 or more times per day.
For Lent a few years ago, I decided to tackle this obsession by turning off all notifications on my phone except for text messages. Without constant beeps, I was able to put the phone aside and concentrate on what was in front of me.
I’ve never turned the notifications back on.
The days go by at a much more manageable pace when I don’t feel obligated to check my phone several times per hour.
For someone who has trouble slowing down, being constantly available to work used to keep me working and checking emails until all hours of the night. Although there are some professions that require a person to be on-call, for the majority of people, being constantly available is a choice rather than a necessity.
One thing that helped me manage was picking a time to sign off. I set a time that I would close the computer, put work things away, and stop checking emails. By setting this boundary, I was able to relax and enjoy downtime instead of being tempted to keep working.
Day of rest
Recently, my husband decided to take the first commandment to “keep holy the Sabbath” more seriously by doing no work or errands on Sundays.
The first few weeks, I felt irritated. Sunday was another day to keep running and to catch up on chores around the house. But with my husband’s encouragement, I started setting aside a few hours on Sunday afternoon to relax.
Once I did, I found that my mood — not only for the day but for the entire week — improved. Although I typically don’t take the whole day off, by resting for an afternoon or evening, I feel refreshed to start working on Monday, instead of burnt out when facing another work week.
In his wisdom, God gave us a day of rest because we all need to take time off. Even if you can’t take the whole day off, set aside an hour or two for recreation and relaxation. If Sunday doesn’t work for you, choose another day.
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When you find yourself rushing and doing too many things at once, you can always reset with deep breathing. My favorite technique is 4-7-8 breathing developed by Dr. Andrew Weil:
- Breathe in through your nose for 4 counts.
- Hold your breath for 7 counts.
- Breathe out through your mouth for 8 counts.
- Repeat this breath cycle 4 times.
Controlling your breathing and holding your breath slows your heart rate and can help the muscles relax. By being physically relaxed, the mind will follow suit.
Slowing down isn’t a one-time thing. It takes intentionality on a daily basis to find balance. By building better habits, I am able to live life at a more manageable and sustainable pace. I have to remind myself that my worth is not determined by how much I get done in a day. Stopping to smell the roses is just as important as checking off something on my to-do list.