Slowing down can sharpen the senses. Less activity can lead to greater clarity. Less is more.
Variations of this truth have been passed down through the ages by deep practitioners of everything from prayer and meditation to golf (“swing nice and slow and the ball will go”). However, since humanity is always bringing forth new humans to replace the older models, this timeless wisdom needs to be learned by each individual as they grow. Some never learn it.
Political leaders have long subscribed to the adage that you “should never let a good crisis go to waste”. I think it’s fair to say we’re in a crisis. So what are we to do?
Let me suggest during this time of pandemic that we reconsider the word “productivity” and what it means to us.
A survey by YouGov and Evernote suggests this is happening broadly.
48% of respondents reported adopting a slower pace during the pandemic. A slightly higher percentage of women (53%) reported adopting a slower pace than men (44%). Although this is baseless speculation on my part, I wonder if the disparity in the gender responses might be partially tied to women being more honest in their survey responses. Perhaps men are more likely to attach the word “productivity” with an inner sense of machismo and self-worth. Either way, about half of the survey respondents said that life has slowed down for them (another guess: many of the respondents who indicated their lives have not slowed down have school-age children in the house).
Thoreau said he went to the woods “to live deliberately” – something he might have found more difficult to accomplish today while scanning his Twitter feed in suburban Boston. Regardless of the era during which we briefly grace this planet, living deliberately means pausing, considering, choosing, and acting (or not acting, as the case may be). It will never go out of style.
I’ve always liked to think of the word “efficiency” as representing the climbing of a ladder with the least possible effort, and the word “effectiveness” representing first making sure the ladder is leaning against the right wall before ascending. The heart of productivity is closer to “effectiveness”, where effort is leavened with deliberation. Lots of people are realizing this, as evidenced by best selling books like Essentialism and Deep Work that eschew the hamster wheel of daily activity for more focus and deliberation.
The survey also indicates that people are redefining what “productivity” means to them, with 51% of respondents indicating they have expanded their personal view of productivity to include learning new skills (the most commonly reported new skill: “learning a new recipe”).
As for me, I’ve been enjoying grilling season. I just did lobster tails on the grill for the first time this week (easy!). Also, we enjoy salmon on the grill (pro-tip: marinate in whiskey, soy sauce, melted butter and brown sugar beforehand – you’ll thank me later.).
During this time of coronavirus, perhaps being “productive”, in the traditional sense of the word, is not what the world is asking from you right now.
Less activity…more reflection.
Less specialization…more balance.
Less hurry…more deliberation.
P.S. The title of this post is a nod to the novel Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Márquez