Slow your roll Featured

9:49am EDT July 22, 2002

Everybody is moving too fast these days. We send documents via fax because it’s quicker than FedEx. We’re hooked on e-mail because it allows instantaneous responses 24 hours a day.

We don’t leave the office — or home — without a cell phone anymore because we can’t imagine driving even a few miles without being able to check voice mail and return calls on the road. Why?

Isn’t technology supposed to make our lives simpler? Instead, it’s forcing many of us to adopt a lifestyle that’s both unrealistic in its demand for speed and unhealthy in its stress-inducing nature. How did this happen? My theory: Few of us know what to do with idle time anymore. We’re so used to doing multiple things at once and utilizing every moment to its absolute fullest that we know no other way. How very sad.

We’re a generation that measures success by what we accomplish each day — not by what we experience. Think about that. How many of you keep “to do” lists not just on your desk at work, but on the refrigerator or kitchen table at home? I’m guilty as charged.

And how do you measure a “good” day at the office or a “good” weekend at home? By the number of items you’ve crossed off your list, of course. I’ll admit I’ve had days where so little on my list was getting accomplished that I actually added some items I’d already done just so I could cross them off. It’s amazing — even a bit frightening — the sense of satisfaction and relief a little checkmark can give me.

I’m the type that keeps a business magazine or paperwork in the car at all times in case I get stuck in traffic or arrive at an appointment early. I can’t stand “wasting” my time waiting. Every moment has to be “productive” and there’s always so much to do. Heaven forbid I take a couple moments to relax and enjoy the world around me.

My mother used to be like this. She was a high school teacher. Not only did she bring home papers to grade each night, she also organized the school’s computer club, advised the National Honor Society, tutored students and spent her summers editing textbooks. She never went to bed before 11:30 p.m. and she was up by 5 in the morning.

In her “free” time, she belonged to three camping clubs, sang in the church choir, helped upkeep the church farm, hosted church groups at our house, cooked, cleaned and attended every gymnastics meet and band concert my sister and I participated in during our youth. If it wasn’t on her calendar, it simply didn’t get done. How could it? Her dance card was full.

She was one amazing, but overworked woman. The stress she put upon herself to do all this was evident, but it took a near tragedy to slow her down. She got breast cancer. The surgery and chemotherapy that followed pushed her to take early retirement — and to stop scheduling every waking moment of her life.

Today my mother is cancer-free and happily exploring the country by motorhome with my father. It’s obvious she cherishes life now more than ever — and not just because she once feared losing her own. She simply couldn’t slow down enough to realize what she was missing.

I see myself headed down the same path — trying to squeeze too many things into too little time and never pausing to catch my breath. I know many of you are traveling down that path with me. Let’s not go there.

Let’s stop judging our lives by the number of checkmarks we put on our list each day. Let’s stop thinking of unscheduled experiences like mentoring a fellow employee or saving a customer relationship as time wasted. Let’s start listening to sports radio instead of voice mail in the car.

We all need a break now and then. Let’s not wait until some awful experience forces us to take one.

Nancy Byron (nbyron@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN Columbus.