Living life in the slow lane means that instead of trying to slam out a 30 minute dinner in 20, you actually have time for your preschooler to help with the cooking. Living the slow life means that instead of tailing the car in front of you hoping the next passing lane will be free of cars, you have time to pull over and let a faster car go by. Living life in the slow lane means there is time in the evenings to pause, reflect and fellowship with your family. Living life in the slow lane means time for the things you love. It means getting out of the rat race and learning to really live.
If you are reading this, you have probably been living in the fast lane, rushing to catch up to yourself and your busy schedule. You probably have more to do than you can manage. You're probably tired and you're probably in a hurry. You probably don't like it that way, but you're thinking there is no way it can be different. Your life requires this pace just to keep up. I know. I've been there. There is freedom to live a life that has time for the things that really matter. It won't happen by accident, though. It takes work and determination, but the reward is a life that makes you want to get up in the morning instead of dreading what the day holds.
Here are 10 Tips for Life in the Slow Lane (Tips 1-5):
This is still an ongoing process for me. Over the next 2 days, I will be telling you some of the things I am doing to make the paradigm shift from the fast lane to the slow lane.
1. First Things First -- That's God, folks. He comes first -- before me, before my family, before my work, before everything. I don't know about you, but if I don't put first things first, my whole day (and life) get completely out of whack. Nothing goes right. Even the things that should be easy become difficult. But when I put Him first everything turns around. I don't mean that the dishes are magically done, I no longer have to work on difficult church issues and the kids suddenly school themselves. But somehow those things run more smoothly. I have better ideas and I work more efficiently. Why? Because I have more grace on me to do the work set before me. It takes faith to slow down and put the Lord first when everything is screaming at you to hurry on to the next job. Faith pleases God and He honors it by helping us do what needs done. I have learned the hard way -- Don't neglect to put first things first!
2. Get Some Sleep -- My husband is a natural born night owl. For years, I stayed up late working until he stopped studying and went to bed (usually in the wee hours of the morning). After he went to bed, I would "finish up" on a few things before I went to bed. By the time I finished it would be 3 or 4 in the morning. That's fine if you can sleep until noon (Actually, it still isn't fine. Many studies have shown that the most reparative sleep is before midnight, so you still wouldn't be getting the best sleep.) I have children. My children get up. In those years, my kids were young and got up between 5:30 and 6am. That's only 3 hours or less sleep every night. I didn't sleep -- I napped. For about 15 years, I napped at night. Then my body broke down. I spent the next several years picking up the pieces and putting my health back together.
Whatever work you think must get done, I'm telling you, it doesn't. It can wait. Your body needs sleep. Your family needs you rested. Your job needs you rested. You are more patient when you are rested. You think more clearly and creatively when you are rested. You are healthier when you are rested. Some studies show that you even weigh less when you are rested. You're body tends to crave more carbs (sugars, breads, chips, sweets, etc) when you don't get enough sleep, and it doesn't process those carbs well, leading to weight gain. So when you get enough sleep, you are bright eyed, energetic, creative and lighter. Sounds good to me.
Actually, when we stay up late to get things done, we simply get that particular job done, but we pay for it later in productivity. If we are honest with ourselves, we have a much more difficult time staying motivated when we are tired. We aren't as efficient. We sort of slug through the day in a bit of a fog. Compare your work output on a day that you feel energetic and rested to your output on a day when you feel exhausted. Do you will see what I mean? In fact, it usually takes two or more full days to regain your energy levels from one night without adequate sleep. So, is that one night of productivity really all that productive in the long run? From one who has lived a lifestyle of all work and no sleep, I am telling you that it is counter-productive. It doesn't work in the long run and the price is really high.
3. Get Up Early -- Now that you are going to bed at night, how will you get things done? Get up early. Getting up early sets the pace for the rest of the day. When you get up late, you end up rushing around for the rest of the day trying to catch up. The whole day has a more frenzied pace. But when you get up early and start your day well, your whole day runs more smoothly. It starts productively and that tends to build as the day goes. When I get up early, before the rest of the house is awake, I have a calm, quiet, peaceful start to my day. By the time my family wakes up, I have already spent time in the Bible and prayer, exercised, checked emails and other accounts, done some blog work, had a quiet cup of tea and made a wholesome cooked breakfast. Often I have my hair and make-up done. That's all before 8:30 when our school begins. When the may-hem of family activity starts, I am ready. Now I can help keep their morning on track instead of desperately trying to get my own on track. I have set the tone for the rest of the day. This is much more productive than the years I spent working until I dropped into bed only to have the kids drag me out a couple hours later to deal with an issue or feed them a thrown together breakfast.
4. Don't Overcrowd -- Much of our hurry stems from trying to cram too many things into too little time. We overcrowd our schedules and then we rush through our day just trying to get it all done. As one person said it, "Almost everyone today complains that there is not enough time. What we actually mean is a little different: 'not enough time to do everything we want.'" We are constantly trying to cram more and more into our day. What we give up is our peace and our rest. We barely have time to taste our food or get to know our family and co-workers. We live under the constant pressure of feeling behind and hurrying to catch up.
Why do we do it? And perhaps more importantly, how do we stop? How do we get off the hamster wheel and slow down enough to really live our lives? I can't answer this for you. I can only tell you why I did it for so many years and what I am doing to learn a better way. For me, part of the "why" was an out of balance sense of responsibility and part of it was nothing but ugly pride. There was something very satisfying about having a day-timer with more on it than anyone I knew. It made me feel as though I was successful -- because anyone that busy must be really important, right? It wasn't until my body broke down and I couldn't keep up the pace that I really began to take an honest look at my life.
Once I could see that my lifestyle wasn't working, I knew I had to change it, but how? This is where honesty is so important. I had to ask myself some very hard questions. One of them was about how I used my time. What are we really doing with our time? Often, we feel so pressured and hurried by our lives that we end up trying to escape by turning on the TV or sitting down with the internet. Our time is syphoned off into something that only steals time, but doesn't actually put much into us. We gave up family time, hobby time, time for exercise, time for God, all for a fruitless escape. Our lives are out of balance, and it started with trying to fit too much into too little time.
Sometimes we are shoving more and more into our day without leaving any wiggle room for something to go wrong. The reality is, things rarely go as planned. So when the traffic is slow, or Junior can't find his left shoe, we end up late. Instead having a wonderful conversation with Junior on the way to soccer practice, we spend the time griping at him for making us late. All that stress and drama could have been saved if we had just given ourselves 10 extra minutes.
I learned this principle when I started teaching Prayer School at our church. It is really hard to lead a group of people into the presence of God in prayer when you spent the last 30 minutes scolding kids into the car and driving like a mad woman to get to class. You walk in flustered and without peace. I learned very quickly that it was worth laying out everyone's clothes, planning for issues and leaving 15 minutes earlier. It isn't just that I get there, but the condition in which I arrive that matters.
Each of us has been given the same 24 hours each day. Yet some people live hurried, pressure-filled lives and others live full, rich lives of peace and calmness. What is the difference? It isn't the lack of time. It is how we use the time.
5. Re-evaluate Priorities -- Sometimes we aren't wasting time, but we are trying to do the jobs of three people at once. God did not create us to live this way. Sometimes we are trying to do what He asked us to do, what we feel like other people expect us to do AND what we want to do. No wonder we're tired. We need to re-evaluate our priorities.
If you are deeply entrenched in over-working, this won't be a change you can make in a day. If you are like me, you will look at your to-do list and it will look like everything on the list MUST be done. It will look like you have to live this way just to get it all done. That can be difficult. When I first began to re-evaluate the way I was living, I couldn't see a single thing I could drop. I had already dropped all recreation, all hobbies, all down-time, and nearly all sleep. I almost never watch TV, and every job on my list was necessary. I felt stuck.
I spent a lot of time seeking the Lord about it. I knew He was dealing with me to simplify my life, but I didn't know what could be dropped. It took me a long time to realize that a big part of my problem wasn't my list. It was me. I needed to change. I didn't know how to say "no." I couldn't ask for help when I needed it. I didn't know how to delegate. It was noble that I was so willing to suffer for the vision and needs of other people, but frankly, it was also stupid. Those people went home and slept while I broke my health down for them. Often, I even knew someone else should be doing the job, but I couldn't bear not to please people. People seemed so disappointed in me if I said no. There were even some times that people equated my love for the Lord with how much work I was doing for them. I had to admit that I was trying to win love by my service. The sad thing is, it didn't even work. Often, the people I worked so hard to please didn't even respect me. Why? Because I didn't respect myself enough to take care of myself, and they knew it. I acted like a work horse, and they treated me like one.
I also had to admit that no one was going to step in and take care of me. I was going to have to do it. I was going to have to find out from the Lord what my schedule should include, and then I was going to have to go talk to some people. In gentleness and meekness, I was going to have to tell them "no". It was going to be hard, but I had to do it.
First, I needed to discover what I was really supposed to be doing. As I prayed, spoke with my husband and thought over my priorities, I began to realize that as long as my list was, it didn't include some very vital things I needed to be doing. Things like sleep, exercise, good nutrition, and activities that refreshed me, were absent. Time with my kids was squeezed out while I ministered to someone else's kids. Even my time with the Lord was often squished into a tiny time slot. There was no open end in case He wanted to spend more time with me. It was more like, "Okay, God, I've got 20 minutes. Let's get going with this." Here's a little tip: You can't dictate when and how God should communicate light to your heart. We operate on His time schedule, not the other way around. Something obviously had to give. I started making changes.
Once I had a better idea of how God wanted me to spend my time, it was much easier to see the things I had added or allowed other people to add to my schedule. Once my priorities were straight, it was easier to see the things that were hindering me from accomplishing those priorities.
I had to learn to delegate the jobs that someone else could do and put more emphasis on the jobs only I could do. One of them was mothering. Someone else can get the groceries, make the children's church crafts, and organize the church storage but no one else can be the mother of my children.
I had to learn to let go. I had to learn that some jobs weren't going to be done as well as I could have done them. Some jobs weren't going to be done in the time frame I would have done them. Some jobs weren't going to be done at all. I had to learn to relax and let that go. Amazingly, I found that everything worked out anyway. I found that the jobs that didn't get done didn't need to be done nearly as much as I thought. The jobs that weren't done as well still worked. What astounded me was how many jobs were being done better than I could have done. Other people had more time and energy to take those things to the next level. I found out I wasn't as necessary as I thought. It sounds brutal, but it was a liberating experience.
I have a long way to go, and I am still learning. If I don't watch myself, I start slipping right back into those old patterns of thinking. But I've had a taste of freedom now and that motivates me to keep learning. I hope you are enjoying learning with me. Next time I will tell you tips 6-10.