Ever feel like you’re living life at warp speed? If you do, you’re not alone. There are many of us who feel like we’re doing more than ever before but failing to enjoy the fruits of our labor. What’s the rush? We’re depriving ourselves of sleep to buy a few extra minutes, communicating in sound bites and bullet points, while riffling through volumes of information like never before.
(Take a breath.)
We exploit every millisecond in order to fit an additional activity into our day and then manage it all by multitasking like world-class jugglers. In the process, we have become a society with the attention span of a gnat.
Please remind me again…why are we doing this?
Oh yes, we want to be more productive, to get ahead, to stay connected. Or is it simply out of fear that the other guy will pass us by? Regardless of the motivation, the risk is that what we gain in speed and quantity, we lose with shallow thinking, superficial relationships, and living only “for the moment.”
So what are we missing? — Let’s start with meaningful relationships.
There’s No Short Answer to the True Meaning of Life
Meaningful Conversations. Today, we define a “meaningful” conversation as texting a business associate at a traffic light, IMing a colleague while we’re waiting for someone to pick up the phone, and tweeting another while we’re in line to place our food order. We call it multitasking. These rapid-fire “conversations” are limited to 420-character Facebook status updates and 140-character tweets. This gives new meaning to the term “short and sweet,” never mind our new definition of friends — clicks on Facebook.
How do these “conversations” impact our ability to form meaningful relationships? Resolve conflicts? Shape our children’s values? Answer: Not very well.
Quality Time. In the world in which we live, everything has to be done right away. Today, a take-out dinner or a quick stop at the drive-through window has replaced the home-cooked meal that we once enjoyed. Family meals around the kitchen table have been reduced to grabbing a bite with anyone who happens to be around. That’s the new definition of quality time.
Do you consider quality time with your family a priority? Are you achieving the life balance that you desire? Do you consciously determine how to invest your personal time? Do you make time to determine your personal priorities? Do you prioritize your to-do list or merely check off items? Do you feel you’re so busy running around that you’re losing perspective? You’d think we’d learn something from watching a hamster run around on its wheel.
What happened to the “quality” in quality time? Answer: It’s been relegated to the free time available before the microwave beeps.
Staying Informed. Information shapes our values, molds our relationships and guides our decision making. Yet, even though information touches every area of our lives, we opt for speed and simplicity over depth and understanding.
Unfortunately, because of our capitulation to time pressures, we place a premium on shortcuts, such as sensational headlines, captivating subheads, brief body copy, and executive summaries that spoon-feed us the bottom line. The principal medium of exchange in business has become the PowerPoint slide deck made up of a series of bullet points that masquerade for substance.
Rather than taking the time to think through issues in a discerning fashion, we often rush to judgment, make decisions emotionally, and view issues in polar extremes.
Where did we lose our way? Answer: When we traded in critical thinking for “winging it.”
Sound Decisions. Being under the gun of so many time pressures affects the entire decision-making process. It impacts our ability to identify quality sources, test assumptions, create a compelling line of reasoning, and generate practical solutions. Today’s rapid-response culture pushes us to favor simplistic answers to problems, rather than opting for holistic thinking and deep analysis.
Although every answer need not be overly complex, we lose something very precious when we train our brains to search for quick answers rather than the “best” solution. We forget how important it is to view a situation “in context,” considering how each component relates to the total. When we fail to do this, we risk optimizing one area at the expense of the whole.
What’s wrong with the quick way around? Answer: Nothing, as long as you’re willing to go around a few more times.
Thinking Beyond Today. Living by the stopwatch encourages short-term thinking; we don’t have the time or the energy to think about today, much less plan for tomorrow. This too has implications.
In business, people maximize individual sales transactions rather than taking time to build long-term customer relationships; people charge ahead with day-to-day activities rather than developing contingency plans as backup strategies; and employees are incentivized to hit quarterly performance targets to the exclusion of a strategy that supports long-term growth.
How can this be bad? Answer: When is the last time you checked the value of your stock portfolio or your 401k? Maybe it’s time to press “Pause” and just stop…and think.
It’s Time to Wake Up and Smell the Coffee
We lose something very special in our mad dash through life. Although we logically understand that living via a stopwatch doesn’t make sense, we fail to take the time to ask ourselves why we live this way.
Are we passing our values on to our children or letting someone else fill the void? Are we creating meaningful relationships or settling for lots of acquaintances? Are we tackling key priorities or checking off to-do items? Are we solving root causes of problems or employing band-aid solutions? Are we achieving our goals in life or running on a treadmill to nowhere?
The first thing we have to do is establish priorities. When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. When we try to take on too much, we end up doing everything equally poorly. Do you really think that everything on your plate requires equal emphasis? Do what matters most.
Downtime is also critical. Learn how to take a planned vacation every day. Try starting at 10 minutes and raising it to 30 by increasing your vacation time a minute each day. In the space of a month, you’ll emerge with a fresh new perspective. It’ll give you renewed confidence in your ability to succeed even though you’re not on call all of the time. It’ll help you reflect on your priorities, learn from past actions, connect some random dots, break out of a rut, ask “what if,” try something new, question the obvious, see the big picture, make a difference in someone’s life, or just RELAX. : -)
Life is short enough to begin with. You’re limited in what you can do to lengthen your life, but there are no limits to what you can do to deepen it. What’s the rush?
Where Did the Time Go?
24 Ways to Simplify Your Life
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Ed Han says
Frank, this is superb: an important subject made well and expressed particularly well.
I used to work a job that involved a 1.5 hr commute (each way) that required long hours: leaving by 7 was sometimes a luxury.
I’ve learned the lesson that this isn’t sustainable, and it sure as heck isn’t desirable.
As an adult who knew what life was like before the Internet, I can appreciate the true meaning and ramifications of living at warp speed, as I am guilty of it myself. My concern, however, is more for people who were raised in an Internet world, who may never know/understand how valuable it is to build relationships that aren’t based on emails and text messages. Thanks for taking a valuable step in communicating this important message, Frank.
I’ve always liked the idea of taking a brief daily vacation, even if it’s taking lunch by yourself and allowing yourself to reflect a bit or simply catch your breath.
Your comments about Quality Time, Thinking Beyond Today and prioritizing also provide fertile food for thought.
While cell phones are certainly important in today’s day and age, electonic services such as Facebook and Twitter are just distractions, and don’t add much quality when all is said and done.
Keep up the good work. Your periodic blogs are always helpful and provide good guidance.
Tanya allen says
What can I say that was a wonderful read. I constantly tell my children ” what’s the rush”. There comes a time when a person has to say enough is enough. Are there more of us out there? My children and I have game night pretty much every night. We turn off the electronic babysitters and just play board games and cards. I also refuse to allow fast food places to feed my children. We cook at my house and I don’t mean the microwave. Recipes, with pots and pans, the stove, the oven, and fresh ingredients, and herbs and spices. Granted I use vast amounts of paper towels, kitchen spray, a broom, and the vacuum cleaner. LOL!!!! But it is all fun and sure my kitchen has to be defloured on a regular basis and our dog gets more food scraps than he should but hey it all good, and I have the pictures and memories to last a lifetime. So here’s to everyone out there…..when we leave this place worldly good stay behind but how you lived, laughed, and loved goes
with you. So live well, laugh often, and love every chance you get!!!!!!!
Frank Sonnenberg says
Ed, Rossana, George, Tanya
Thanks so much for your comments. I really look forward to reading everyone’s reaction to my posts. After reading Rossana’s note I realized that it’s so easy to forget that although the Internet brings so much to society we lose something very special by its presence. Tanya compensates by having “quiet time” with her kids. She’s building memories with them that they’ll remember forever. And yes Ed, I too did the 90 minute commute each way. I’m glad that I have that’s behind be. I think I’m going to take George’s advice and take a 10 minute vacation later today.
Have a great day!
I love the closing line here Frank – very profound:
“You’re limited in what you can do to lengthen your life, but there are no limits to what you can do to deepen it. What’s the rush?”
This was an excellent read. Thanks again!
Dan Fonseca says
Rejecting norms never sit well with others. That is why its so hard to break from this crazy cycle. Growing up, if you didn’t juggle a host of after school activities you were looked at as being lazy or “uncool.” This crazy mentality seems to never stop. If you want change, you have to have the courage to reject society’s norms. When you think about it, this crazy pace is actually killing us! Isn’t that ironic? We are trying to get more out of our time but by doing so we are getting less of it? Interesting.
Thanks for a great post Frank.
Sarah @RaisingCEOKids says
Hi Frank –
You must have written this post for me! I am often guilty of pushing the envelope when it comes to cramming more into each second than is realistically possible.
One thing I have done to bring calm to my world is unplug on Sundays. The phones get turned off, the computers stay shut down and we come together as a family to refuel, rejoice, and reclaim togetherness.
Another thing I have done is get up DARK and EARLY so that I can have quiet time to increase my spirituality and gain clarity for the day.
Lastly, I am striving to say “No” to more and more requests on my time so that I can say “Yes!” to things that are in alignment with my core values and goals.
As I allow myself to do these things I now only bring joy and peace to my own life, but also to my entire family!
Frank Sonnenberg says
Marc, Dan, Sarah
Thanks so much for your comments. I love the fact that Sarah and Tanya have found creative ways to maintain balance in their lives. I’ve learned that setting priorities, maintaining focus, and yes Sarah saying “NO” to distractions can significantly improve our lives. As Dan said, it’s hard to break from this crazy cycle. We are trying to get more out of our time, but by doing so we are getting less of it”
Have a great day!
Patsy Stewart says
Thanks for another great post Frank! It’s hard to drop all of the technology and just be a good listener. I catch myself picking up my phone to check messages while eating dinner and my husband reacts!! We all need to enjoy time with family and friends. It’s precious and limited!!
Leyane Jerejian says
Thank goodness you put in (Take a Breath.)! The rest really needed to be digested.
I love when you say, “When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.” How very true.
I think this much needed change will start with the individual and work its way upward.
I throughly enjoy reading all your posts.
Frank Sonnenberg says
Patsy / Leyane
Thanks so much for your thoughts.
Leyane,one of my favorite lines is “manage the big stuff” It’s my way of saying that if you don’t let the small things go, you’ll never be able to focus on the things that really matter. Focus is a key element of success.
Patsy, I feel your pain. It’s very hard to break old habits. The funny thing is that downtime actually makes us more productive. And as you said so well, “our time is precious and limited.”
Have a great day!
Shawn Murphy says
I can tell that quality of time is definitely on your mind. Not just by the insightful and meaningful messages in this post, but also by the wonderful poster you created not too long ago.
Have we become so busy doing that we’ve mistaken it as effective, quality, meaningful?
Insightful post, Frank.
Jordan Kimmel says
I really enjoyed this post Frank. I know all too well that we do not know how much time we have on Earth. I realize it is up to me to remember this and to cherish the time with my wife and kids. Just the act of putting the laptop away at night- watching a ballgame with the boys, playing some pin pong, or just asking about their day- and listening (!)- will hopefully help them remember us as being involved together, not just living together.
I remember reading a comment, but not who said it. He said multi-tasking is like juggling. It’s done by clowns in a circus- and only successfully for a short period of time.
Frank Sonnenberg says
Shawn / Jordan
Thanks so much for your comments!
Jordan, you’re right on the mark. You can always make more money, but you can’t make more time. The memories that you’re creating with your kids are priceless.
Happy Father’s Day.
This is fantastic as always Frank and I really like the idea of starting with a 10 minute holiday each day. Fantastic idea and I’m going to put it into practice. I love your blogs and find them highly informative and inspirational. Fond regards, Lau
Frank Sonnenberg says
Lau, you always know what to say to make someone’s day. Thanks so much for your kind words 🙂
Have a great day!
Doug Mather says
You’ve hit the nail again!
As you know, one of my main interests is business collaboration, and I’m always disappointed by how much that term is used to describe software and online tools rather than the building of meaningful human relationships and interaction – just google it to see what I mean.
I’d go as far as to suggest that the short term, “stopwatch” living approach to business that you refer to was one of the most significant factors underlying the catastrophic economic meltdown. If you’re constantly driven to produce (increasingly) short term results then greater risk taking is a natural and (should have been) expected consequence, leading to…….
Finally, I’d go one or two stages further than your last section.
Don’t just smell the coffee – sit in the cafe for a while and really savour the taste; watch the people around you and maybe (getting really risky here for some people) even talk to some of them!
You have no idea what you might discover or learn. 🙂