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Life tips: Time to slow down

Book open Reading time: 4 mins

It was not yet a profound realisation but a useful one. One afternoon standing on a tube platform I noticed that there were no signs displaying the arrival time of the next train, only its destination. My frustration at this should have been mild: it was a beautiful summer Sunday and I was in no particular rush. But for all the sunshine, I felt distinctly perturbed and unable to concentrate on the emails on my phone - how long would I have, did it make sense to start reading a long one, would a newspaper article be better, and so my thoughts went on until I stopped trying and found myself wondering at the curiousness of my relationship with time if not knowing the exactness of a few minutes should make me so impatient.

Image result for tired after race

Until that day, I had always thought time should deliver as much as possible, believing that my most productive (and, I flatter myself, inspirational) self emerged only when I had too much to do. One of those goody-two-shoes-do-it-all at school, I was forever rushing through homework in the car on the way to piano lessons, and practising tap dances at the back of the tennis courts waiting for my turn to come up a serve; I ate my lunch at art club and my after-school snack at netball training. The last time I could remember not feeling busy was in my first school summer holiday, at about the age of five, trailing round the back garden for hours on end, and even then I am sure believed I was busy fairy-hunting or picking rose petals for my new perfume production. In the days before smartphones, you would never find me without a book or a newspaper; I worked out to audio books for fear of not getting through enough reading material in the traditional way; I prided myself on not needing much sleep thus allowing me to get more done - going to the theatre and still catching up with a friend on the phone late evening; I always walked quickly, even ran places when not needing to worry about wearing high heels or arriving looking too dishevelled.

But since my train platform epiphany, I have tried to become more conscious of time. I began by reading about our relatively modern conception of time - which dates back to the disciplined time-restrictions of factory production during the industrial revolution, and has subsequently become sharpened, first by the ubiquity of the wristwatch, then the communications and transport revolution of the twentieth century and finally by the digital tsunami of this century. We can fly to Australia, answer a hundred emails from around the world, book ourselves into a speed dating session, have an intensive 20 minute spinning work out, and keep up with the latest news and follow Nigella Lawson on Twitter, all in the space of 24 hours. In the developed world, it seems most people live in fast-forward:  a distracting dance floor garble rather than an exquisite Ave Maria. And it wears us down, this mad-capped abuse of time. We are more burned out, stressed out, tired out than ever before, though our labours are rarely physical.

So what to do about it, beyond living the unrealistic dream of giving up your eight-to-seven-thirty-if you're-lucky, starting yoga, dabbling in meditation and vowing never to eat in front of a computer screen again. Luckily, it turns out plenty of people are objecting to the 'cult of busyness' (a phrase coined by the contemporary philosopher, Roman Krznaric). Indeed, that we should think about slowing down our lives is not a new idea. Bertrand Russell wrote about it in his 1932 essay 'In Praise of Idleness', suggesting that, "There was formerly a capacity for light-heartedness and play which has been to some extent inhibited by the cult of efficiency." And, "The pleasures of urban populations have become mainly passive: seeing cinemas, watching football matches, listening to the radio, and so on. This results from the fact that their active energies are fully taken up with work ..." This cause of general fatigue has been taken up by modern thinkers, most notably the writer, Carl Honoré, a prominent figure in the international Slow Movement, whose bestseller 'In Praise of Slow' advocates a slower, more conscious way of life - seeking quality rather than quantity. Such ideas are gaining credence in political circles too: just think of David Cameron's happiness agenda in the 2010 election campaign, and that he has taken on Martin Seligman, author of 'Flourish: A New Understanding of Happiness and Wellbeing and How to Achieve Them' as an advisor.

 But what do about it right now, if you're feeling too busy to stop and read these books, as you probably are? My most fundamental change and biggest test of busyness willpower has been to stop myself checking emails whilst walking down the street, or browsing Facebook whilst waiting in queues. Instead, I 'allow' myself a bit of daydreaming, hoping that these moments will become less about Russell's passive consumption and more about mental rest.  I have also tried to identify my most productive and concentrated times of the day, and when possible used these to run through difficult tasks without the distractions of meetings and emails. Another thing - again, not always feasible, but a pleasure when it is fitted in - I make time to prepare a least one main meal a day and eat it without emails or the TV.  And laugh as you might at the cliché, I am really rather enjoying yoga ... The result? All combined, I feel fresher, more focused and less in danger of forgetting who I am.