I was “row monitor” in second grade; sitting in the last seat making sure the students in my row behaved. On this day, all was quiet; no one messed with the law when Scott was around. My enforcement duties complete, I was able to turn my attention to the current “quiet time,” period that daily session where we did whatever we wanted, just so it was without sound. Priority one was schoolwork; so I pulled out my assignment list; decorated with pencil-drawn army men and a poorly drawn reproduction of Mighty Mouse. Nothing was pending so I re-filed it, still seeking something to occupy my time.
When our assignments were up to speed, we were allowed to retrieve our coloring books and engage our more artistic personae. Eagerly, I flipped pages, seeking the perfect image on which I could express by imaginative abilities. Alas, I had used all 64 colors on every image; every page had been filled; nothing remained
Sadly, I folded my hands on my desk, looked up at the ticking clock and waited. I had nothing to do, probably the last time in my life that has ever happened.
Time is greased in adult life and we must be hyper-efficient. To that end, while in the shower, I shave with one hand and fill a mug with hot water with the other, allowing for me instant coffee when I step out of the stall. Trying to trim a few more seconds, my electric toothbrush is held in place by my tightened lips as it grinds against my teeth. This “no hands” approach permits me to fasten my tie with my one hand and use the other to fire up my computer so it can sync with my smart phone and send email auto-replies to those who contacted me overnight. A simple auto-log-on program loads my important files, updates my database, and prints my to do list while I use the restroom, allowing me to scrape together a few more ticks of the clock, which I use to brush my hair while doing my business and checking the newspaper.
Realizing the imbalance, I actually bought an app that shuts off my computer for five minutes every hour, reminding me to take a break. As embarrassing as it is to admit, when the screen starts dimming, I hysterically holler at the monitor, “No! Not now! Please… give me five more minutes!” Fingers become a blurred tornado of typing, attempting to cram in a few more keystrokes before being sentenced to real life. I respond to these forced breaks as if the Grim Reaper was at my door, not as a reminder that there’s more to me than how much is on my hard drive.
Today’s multi-task-too-much-to-do-and-no-time-to-do-it pace in which we boil has us off balance and unhappy. Like Alice in the looking glass, we run to stay still.
Seriously, will a conversation with a friend or a stroll down the street really produce a productivity catastrophe? Taking the longer view, in the end, will it matter how many reports we wrote or if our house was Martha Stewart clean?
In flashes of sanity, I realize — and I know you do too — that the most essential moments are slower-paced, and with those we most cherish. Yet, like the remainder of our lives, they too are whooshing by too quickly and without pause.
It’s time to take a breath; slow down a little. Turn boil to simmer and break out the coloring books.
To listen to the podcast and the background of this column, follow this link.