The standard work week, as we know, is supposedly 40 hours. However, according to research conducted by Gallup we are actually working an average of 47 hours per week. That is almost another full day of work.
We’ve set up our lives to be very demanding, highly accelerated, high-pressured, hyperconnected, and even hypertensive. We are perpetually busy, always on the go, always in transit from point A to point B, relentlessly trying to get to our goals and destinations. Life has accelerated so much in the last few decades that slowing down is just not that appealing or possible anymore. Psychologist and author Dr. Stephanie Brown notes that we’re addicted to faster living and that we fear slowing down. Our accelerating speed of life is not only evident in the rampant rise of fast food restaurants around the world but also, as researchers are finding, even in the less discernible little things like our walking pace, our talking speed, and the music tempo we listen to.
We’re in this seemingly endless and hurried cycle of jumping from one moment to the next. We’re eternally fighting with time, always wanting to beat it, or else we get beat by drop-dead dates and deadlines. We have an obsession with our busyness and we often get our self-worth validated through our careers. When we get emails and texts, we can’t help but respond in 90 seconds or else we miss out or fall behind. We’re expected to respond to email in no more 60 minutes. The mantra of our professional lives is “to produce or perish.” FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out, is not only a thing for screenagers (teenagers constantly on their digital devices) but also a valid fear for adults in the accelerating world of work. Even when we go on vacation, we can’t seem to slow down, unplug, and stop reaching for our electronic devices to check in on work. We seem to have forgotten the original concept of vacation—a word that comes from the same root word for vacant and vacuum, as in unoccupied or emptiness. We’re so used to having a steady stream of activities that even when going on vacation, we want to fill it with even more activities.
Make Time for Downtime
If you’re a member of a church choir, you’ve probably used that small sticky tape to bookmark the pages of the songs lined up for the service. It’s a genius idea and many of us in my choir use it. Well, we have a fellow church choir singer, 3M scientist Arthur Fry, to thank for inventing that little innovative thing called Post-It Notes. We also have his company, 3M, to thank for valuing downtime and allowing its employees to use it because that is what enabled Arthur Fry to come up with this brainchild.
In our fast-paced lives with a never-ending to-do-list and where time is money, the idea of downtime sounds counterintuitive, counterproductive, and costly. But “wasting time,” as Pope Francis once put it, is not exactly time wasted. That period of powering down, disconnecting, and stepping away from your work is actually proving to be a fruitful strategy that some of the most successful companies have employed, enabling their employees to come up with creative and innovative products. Many companies are realizing through recent research that downtime is beneficial not only to their employees’ personal well-being but also to their companies’ bottom-line. Post-It Notes at 3M and Gmail and Google Earth at Google are just some examples of the innovations that resulted from companies incorporating the strategy of having downtime.
Research suggests that productivity actually increases and workers perform better when intermittent periods of downtime are integrated into the work schedule. Our brains function better when we feel refreshed and relaxed. That’s why some of our eureka moments come to us when we are in the shower. Ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes is said to have leapt out of the bath shouting “Eureka! Eureka!” which means “I’ve found it! I’ve found it!” upon realizing the solution to a Math problem. In fact, a recent study had concluded that 72% of people get their best ideas in the shower. It’s when we are in a relaxed state, in solitude, and oblivious to the ticking of time and the world outside that we are able to gain access to the deep recesses of the mind.
Our brains are constantly bombarded with information. Having downtime in our schedule gives us that much-needed opportunity to just slow down, consolidate all that data, reorganize our brain space, and reframe the situation. Downtime allows us to mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually rejuvenate and recharge. It is the time for us to just be still and pray. This gap in our schedule is our chance to empty out all our worries and fill ourselves with hope, peace, and compassion. As Pope Benedict wrote: “In this way, the person praying creates an empty space which can then be filled by the richness of God.”
In our post-industrial, post-modern, highly accelerated, and highly technological lives, we need to restructure our days to include more downtime—time away from digital screens, time to ourselves, for ourselves and for our own well-being, time with God. We get caught up jumping from moment to moment that we forget the in-between. Take those gaps and fill them with grace. Stop and smell the roses. Make time for spiritual eureka moments and be wowed by the joy of finding and recognizing God working in our lives.
Recharge the Mind and Spirit
In the last few decades, science, particularly with the aid of neuroscience and neuroimaging, has reinvigorated the art of meditation in Western society even though it has always been an essential Christian practice throughout the centuries, “I will meditate on your majestic, glorious splendor and your wonderful miracles” (Psalms 145:5). But somehow, busyness took over our lives and we got overly obsessed with progress and accelerated living.
One day at the airport while waiting for a flight, I noticed a group of individuals huddled around a post, all looking down. It looked as if they were huddled in prayer. Come to find out, they were strangers with no common connection other than the cell phone charging station to which they were all tethered.
In our travel through life, we need to find spiritual recharging stations. Recharge and renew with prayer and meditation. Meditation, which is closely related to the root word for medicine, is healing. It affects the physiological structures of the brain. Neuroscience found that the practice of meditation offsets age-related cortical thinning and helps improve attention and sensory processing. A growing body of research suggests that meditation leads to various positive outcomes for people with depression, anxiety, stress, and various other afflictions. Being mindful of God’s unconditional love and constant outpouring of grace is calming and healing. Saint John of the Cross wrote: “In the inner stillness where meditation leads, the spirit secretly anoints the soul and heals our deepest wounds.” Afflicted or not, we’re all in need of God’s healing. We need to get plugged in to the heart of Christ and draw from it a fresh charge of spiritual energy. Jesus said: “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).