Slowing Down


I made a new year’s resolution for the first time in years: Slow down.

I am rarely without a to-do list, and feel ill at ease unless everything on that list is done or in the process of getting done. “Relaxing” in the evenings is acceptable, as long as it’s done after Piopio is put to bed, toys are picked up, dishes are done, lunches are packed, laundry is folded and put away, email inboxes (work and personal) are tackled (responded to/flagged/filed), and any leftover tasks from the workday are completed.

Typically, this process takes me right up to bedtime — or least, my winding down, getting-ready-for-bed time, when I’m supposed to shut off screens and do something relaxing like stretch or read.

Usually, I just collapse into bed.

I can’t really relax if I know there is something else that needs to get done — something productive I could be doing with my time.

I suffer from what psychologists call “pre-crastination.” As Adam Grant wrote in The New York Times a few years ago:

Pre-crastination is the urge to start a task immediately and finish it as soon as possible. If you’re a serious pre-crastinator, progress is like oxygen and postponement is agony. When a flurry of emails land in your inbox and you don’t answer them instantly, you feel as if your life is spinning out of control. When you have a speech to give next month, each day you don’t work on it brings a creeping sense of emptiness, like a dementor is sucking the joy from the air around you (look it up — now!).

Sounds about right.

If I have the time to work on this presentation for next month now, I should just do it — because what if things get busy and I don’t have time to meet that deadline? If I don’t reply to these three emails, what if I wake up tomorrow morning with 13 emails (Spoiler alert: There’s always more emails, whether or not you reply)? If I don’t do the meal prep right now while I have time, what if I get tied up with work later and we have to order takeout?

You see where this is going.

The obvious problem is that there’s always more to do — more work, more laundry, more meals. Such is the nature of life. It’s impossible to really get “ahead” because there’s more waiting further down the line.

In some cases, it might make sense: You’re heading on vacation next week and want to leave everything as orderly as possible so you don’t come home to a sink full of dirty dishes or arrive to the office with a project due by 9:00 a.m. But even then, it’s impossible to do seven days’ worth of work in advance.

I usually roll my eyes at the term “self care” and the associated movement, but I think its rise in popularity is probably due in large part to other pre-crastinators like me, who pride themselves on being productive AF but only get haircuts once every 10 months and end up feeling a little but burned out by the sheer volume of details that make up day-to-day life.

So I made a good, old-fashioned new year’s resolution — after years of future letters to myself and dot journal habit-tracking — to slow down. Slow. Down.

I’ve actually been writing “Slow Down” in various designs/ink colors at the top of my dot journal weekly spreads. I need that visual reminder. I have to consciously force myself to procrastinate.

That’s not to say that I’ve stopped meeting work deadlines, responding to emails, or cooking meals for my family. I’ve just been giving myself permission — or, in a twisted reverse-psychological trick, assigning myself the “task” — to relax.

And by this, I mean doing something other than what I’d consider “productive,” like tidy up or do a status check of my to-do list, or that I’m “supposed to” do, like exercise or squeeze in some writing (even personal writing for fun, like this blog).

It has to be something totally mindless (scroll through Instagram, watch Netflix) or something that’s done on a whim, like bake some brownies from the box or paint my nails. Sometimes I do yoga or put on a facial sheet mask with cucumbers on my eyes. Sometimes I play backgammon on my iPad. Sometimes I make a cup of tea and talk to Kail.

And other times, I tell myself “just one more thing …” until it’s 10 minutes past my bedtime and I realize that I didn’t slow down. I tell myself there is too much to do and not enough hours in the day.

There’s never enough hours in the day.

A colleague, another working parent, passed along some helpful “work-life balance” advice she received: Let go of the guilt (both parent and work) and live with the understanding that there will never be an equilibrium between parenting and working. Let go of the need to equalize the time commitment each day, week, minute, month.

Slow down. Slow. Down.

What do you do to relax?

Published by La Vie Overseas

I'm Natasha -- writer, runner and wife to a Foreign Service Officer with USAID. Current location: Frankfurt, Germany.

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