There’s a lot to be said for developing a practice of writing five days a week. Publishing said writing five days a week brings another set of challenges. If one is writing as a practice, quality doesn’t matter. That’s not true if one is putting the finished product out into the world. So today, instead of failing to meet my publishing commitment, I looked to the past. What comes next is based on a UTSA newsletter written at the end of the semester in 2008.
“Slow down, Sarah. Slow down, Sarah. Slow down faster, Sarah.”
These words said in a tone of absolute calm were quietly uttered by my husband as our new driver daughter hurtled (at least it seemed that way from the back seat) downhill toward a red light at a busy Austin intersection. “Slow down faster, Sarah” instantly became a family classic to be repeated at various times over the years.
Of course, I love the paradox – the idea of going slower faster tickles my sense of the ridiculous and speaks to the many conundrums we face in our lives. It also speaks to the combination of energy and calm we often need to create in our work and cultivate in our lives.
Parker Palmer tells a great story about this idea. He tells of a heart surgeon working with a new resident who says during surgery, ‘now at this point you have exactly sixty seconds to reconnect this artery or the patient will die. So what you must do is go very slowly.’ No matter how many times I read or share this story, the idea of it still catches at me. I’m amazed by the idea of holding someone’s life in your hands with a deadline – but you can’t rush.
Most of our work isn’t so immediately life or death so it ought to be simple to slow down and take a little time. But it isn’t, is it? So often in our lives, we get caught up in the urgency of the moment, thinking this has to be done now, and so we rush through it and later find a mistake we made. We all know the frustration of someone else’s emergency becoming our problem, so those we rush through with a bad attitude.
And here it is, at the end of one of the wildest semesters any of us have ever experienced and instead of the emergency being localized to one campus or a regional area, it is all of us at the same time. There’s much to be done before the semester wraps up and I suspect few of us are expecting much of a break when the summer months arrive. While the future always holds unknowns, there are routines we have taken for granted. Those have been torn away and I doubt we’ve ever tried to plan through quite so many scenarios across every single part of campus. No wonder we feel like we need to rush from one task to another, from one project to another phone call.
But what might happen if we took a moment to slow down and instead of rushing from one task to another, we quit trying to be champion multi-taskers and pay attention to the one thing in front of us and do it slowly and very well? We might find we could very slowly get a lot more done, done well, and with less stress.
Deadlines aren’t in my control, but how I approach them is. Interruptions aren’t in my control, but how I handle them is. I could be exasperated by the unexpected call, but I could also see the call as a break that allows me to step away from a project and come back to it with fresh eyes. If I take a moment to slow down and choose my response, I’ll feel less harried and more in control. I will have chosen how to manage my energy which is an important skill to help you have energy for all you have to do over the entire day. In the middle of a hectic day, a moment to stop and chat, pet the dog, hug a child, to laugh, to be quiet, can help us manage all that is coming at us, be more productive, and feel better at the end of the day.
So as you face the major tasks before you here at the end of the semester with too little time and too little information, perhaps it will help to remember the words of my husband and the heart surgeon and slow down. Then as we hurtle toward the end of this semester and the unknowns of the next semester, we can calmly help each other slow down faster and enjoy the ride a bit more.