Slow Down, Create Space, Think Better
Published: 20th March 2022
Things are moving so fast in our world, and many of us are having a really tough time keeping up.
You may be feeling like you never have enough time to get all your things done.
Or you may be feeling like you can’t come up with new creative ideas, because your mind is so full of dealing with all the stuff that’s coming at you every day, that there’s no room.
We no longer seem to have the time or the space we need.
And it’s causing havoc in our lives.
Hi and welcome, this is Creating Cadence – a podcast for life and work in motion.
I’m your host Mich Bondesio, a writer, coach, consultant, and the founder of Growth Sessions.
And this is episode 29 in Season 5 of the Creating Cadence podcast. This season we’re looking specifically at intentional productivity and the things which influence our ability to do good work in a more mindful way.
This episode is delayed again. This time not just because of work pressures, but also because I’m recovering from covid. Thankfully it’s not too bad, but apologies for my rather odd-sounding voice.
So, as you may have guessed from the name of this podcast, creating cadence is a key focus in my work and my writing, and as part of this concept, I often talk about the importance of creating space.
It’s important because we increasingly have less space in our lives, both mentally and physically.
Some of this deluge of things preventing us from getting things done comes out of choice, or requirement. And some of this stuff floods our attention without us having a proper say in the matter.
Scientists and researchers are discovering the impact and cost this is having on our brains. Studies have revealed that our collective ability to pay attention is shrinking. This is changing how our bodies and our minds work. And not necessarily in a good way.
I’ve already touched on creating space as part of early episodes of the podcast, but I’ve just been reading Johann Hari’s recent book called “Stolen Focus – Why You Can’t Pay Attention”. He shares some pertinent research and interesting thoughts that connect with what I’ve been talking about as part of my work over the last couple of years.
So today’s episode is about considering the things that prevent us from creating space and the impact this has on our time, attention, creativity and productivity. And I’ll share some thoughts on things we can do to make more room.
So, if you’re ready let’s dive in…
In the first chapter of Johan Hari’s book – Stolen Focus – he talks about how an increase in speed, filtering and information is fracturing our attention.
We consume so much content everyday (both willingly and unwillingly) that we can no longer go deep on any topic.
We don’t have the space to create the depth we need in our work and our relationships.
The result? Danish scientists are discovering that we’re experiencing a rapid decline of our attention resources.
Johann referred to this approach we have unknowingly adopted as “speed reading life”.
And what the research shows is that more speed equals less comprehension.
So we’re less able to understand and process complex information. Information we need to make sense of our world.
To be blunt, the more we rely on 280 character tweets and skimming blogs for our news, info and learning, the dumber we’re making ourselves.
Aside from the deluge of information, we’re continuously task switching, in part because we are losing the ability to focus on one thing at a time, but also because we’re attempting to fit too much into our days.
Task switching comes at great cost to our productivity and performance on a few different levels.
According to Roy Baumeister, an expert on willpower who Johann references in his book, many of us are only able to focus on a task for between 65 seconds and 3 minutes, before we either interrupt ourselves, or we get interrupted by someone or something else.
Jumping between different activities causes us to lose time, as it takes time to refocus once our focus is disturbed.
This applies whether someone pops by your desk to check in, or you’re drafting an email when another one comes in that looks like it needs an immediate response, or you unconsciously pick up your phone to self distract while you’re attempting to write a proposal or do something else that’s a bit challenging for your brain.
So those common refrains, “can I ask you a quick question” or “this will only take a minute” can actually steal 20 minutes of your time, as it can take that long to get back to focusing on what you were doing before hand. So there is a cost to switching tasks.
Errors can start creeping in when our minds have to recalibrate after a disruption, as our brains have to review what we were trying to do before we got distracted. We don’t always remember exactly what or how we were doing something, and so some info can get lost in the transition.
And the need for speed and stuffing our days full of things to do, means that we don’t have the space to focus deeply enough to enable creative thought.
Problem solving, which is what creative thought is all about, can only happen when our brains are given enough time and space to assess the stimuli that we are seeing and hearing and receiving, the information we are learning and the experiences we are having.
Our minds need focus room in order to see patterns, to make new connections and to link potential solutions. So we can come up with innovative ideas and ways to make things better in our own lives and the lives of others.
But, as mentioned earlier, our brains don’t have the space to dive deep on things. So not only is our comprehension in decline, but so are our problem solving abilities.
I’ve spoken at length about the dangers of social media in fragmenting our attention and focus. I know from personal experience, as it contributed to my burnout. But it’s also being proven through scientific research. And we all have experience of how time spent on social media hijacks our brain, affects our emotions and decision making, and robs our attention.
It’s a big culprit in the lack of time and space we have for the work we need to do (and I do go on a bit of a rant about this later). But it’s not the only cause of our attention fracturing.
As I mentioned earlier, we are also stuffing too much into our days. Because our world has speeded up, we are trying to speed up too. But as Johann refers to it “our cognitive bandwidth is smaller than our world”. And we can’t keep up, because our bodies aren’t evolved to be as fast as the digitally-influenced world around us.
Personally, I know how my brain and body reacts when I’m trying to do too many things. I start to feel really anxious, and this in turn exacerbates my task switching, because I become less able to operate calmly in a focused manner.
So, how can we attempt to manage our attention better?
If you’ve been following me for a while, you will know that I’m a big advocate (from personal experience, and based on proven research) that small steps and repeated practices are the best way to build strength and strong foundations in these areas.
As always, it’s about intentionality.
Earlier this year, I shared in my newsletter how I wanted to write a book, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to find the time. I tallied up all my time spent on channels such as Discord and all my Social Media platforms and realised that I was spending at least 10 to 12 hours a week on stuff that wasn’t moving my life or work forward.
It was great for procrastination and for occasionally providing a bit of inspiration, but it was lost time that I had nothing to show for.
That’s fine when you are making space for a bit of relaxing. But when it’s time you want to use for other things, then like me, you probably need to take some action.
Since then, I have intentionally cut down my social media use drastically. Not just from a personal perspective, but also in my business. And I don’t miss it and I feel better for it.
The reason I’m not using it so much in my business, is because I recently took a short course on Digital Marketing for Skeptics by someone in my network called Kelly Berry.
Kelly quoted some alarming statistics about how little exposure most of us are actually getting from all of the effort we may be putting into social media to promote our business, raise our profile and establish our authority.
Kelly helpfully suggests other ways that we can leverage digital marketing in a way that works better, but she confirmed something that I’d been feeling for a very long time. That using social media for the most part doesn’t sit well with me, and I don’t want to have to use it to connect with people.
What I’m about to say will probably sounds contentious to those of you who are in love with Instagram or reliant on posting Twitter threads of helpful info to get your likes (which by the way, don’t necessarily translate into buys).
It’s all a bit of a manipulative con. and the only people who are benefitting are those big organisations that have purposefully designed their products to keep us distracted and on their platforms. So that advertisers can share their things, which we don’t really pay attention to anyway.
We are the product, sharing our data, and that’s not who or what I want to be, or who I want to connect with.
Buying into the cool aid just makes us puppets on a string, doing what these platforms say we have to do in order to “beat the algorithm” which also happens to dictate what we see, so it’s all a false reality really, a contrived construct.
Currently we’re being told to dance around and make short silly videos so that we can be seen, and our content can appeal to a population who – let’s face it – their brain power and attention is becoming so shot, they can’t digest anything more complicated.
So, pandering to these so called requirements is also just contributing to the challenges that we’re having with our attention. By complying, we’re exacerbating the attention problem. And my response to this is FTS. Which roughly translates to Fuck That Shit!
Pardon my British but we need to take our power back people.
Now you may find that social media works wonderfully for your business, but personally, I’m finding I’m having more success building more meaningful connections with people via private communities and through my podcast and newsletter, and talking with people on their podcasts and writing articles on my special areas of interest for other people’s like-minded communities.
These are activities that are more aligned with how I think and work and do. And they allow me to be intentional in how I’m interacting online and with what I’m creating and putting out into the world. And how I’m connecting with the people I want to connect with.
In his book, Johann quotes one of his interviewees Guy Claxton as saying “Slowness nurtures attention and speed shatters it.”
These methods I’ve just spoken about are slower ways of sharing my value and nurturing both my attention and the attention of my audience.
Which takes me back to what I was talking about at the start. We need to slow things down.
So we know we’re weakening and losing important cognitive skills. These are skills that we will need to solve those big problems in the world. Challenges that sit in the real physical world, not the digital world.
I’m talking about things like war, unrest, economic instability, climate crisis, lack of healthcare, food insecurity and more.
You might be thinking, yeah yeah, that’s someone else’s problem, but even if you aren’t currently stuck in a bombed out city in Ukraine, or desperately hoping to make enough money to feed your kids, even if these issues don’t touch you personally right now, they will affect you and your families in years to come.
We need to be forward thinking and building our mental and physical capacities and resilience for what is going to be a bit of a challenging future.
And to build our capabilities, we need to slow things down, so that we have the time and the space to allow for creative thinking and problem solving. And so that we have the time and space to develop our capabilities on a deeper level.
All of this will help us to get to where we want to go, but to do that we need to understand where we are.
So think about how you spend every hour of your day.
How much of what you do gives you quality time with people who are important to you? How much is spent spinning your wheels putting out fires? How much is spent in flow producing something that is important to you? Or in quiet contemplation of something you want to achieve?
Where can you make more space? What can you lose to help gain more? How can you slow down?
Researchers have found that when our lives speed up, so does how we move within our lives. We literally walk and talk faster. This isn’t comfortable for our bodies, it can actually raise our stress levels because our sympathetic nervous system gets activated by this constant sense of urgency that now pervades everything we think we need to do.
So, how can you get into the habit of practising moving at a speed that is more compatible with your body?
A good way to do this is by heading outdoors for a leisurely walk. It’s why they say that walking is good for creative thinking.
The rhythms of your brainwaves connect with the pace of your footfall and that synchronicity allows the brain the time, space and cadence it needs to problem solve, which is our brains favourite things to do … connecting the dots and seeing patterns.
Engaging in mindful practices that teach our brains to slow down is another helpful strategy. These are practices such as yoga, meditation and conscious breathing. There is a reason these activities keep cropping up as recommendations. They help the body and the brain to stay attuned and aligned.
How can you slow down your body, your life and your work day? How can you create more space, so that you can create more cadence? How can you build rather than deplete your attention and the attention of those around you?
Slowing down and creating space, also means simplifying.
How can you start small, and build the practice? That might look like spending 1 hour less a day on social media. Booking one less meeting in your calendar in a day, so you have some free time to think. Taking on one less client project in a month, so you aren’t in reactive mode all the time. Or only adding 1-3 things to your ToDo list for today because the reality is that we are only capable of getting 1-3 big things done in a day, and having a list of 15 things that you just can’t get to, will just makes you feel stressed and perform worse on the tasks you are trying to do.
So, what’s within your control that you can change?
Make the time and space so you can think about it.
Then make reasoned decisions and action plans that are simple enough to get started.
And then follow through by acting on them.
This isn’t going to change your attention issues over night. And this isn’t going to take away some of the causes of our attention deficits. But we have to start somewhere, and that’s with what is within our control.
To pay more attention, we need to start with less. Start small and with intention.
If you have thoughts about this episode or a question relating to the topics I cover on this podcast, then I’d love to hear from you. You can write to: hello at creatingcadence.co
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