Study Hacks Blog

A Pastor Embraces Slowness

October 11th, 2021 · 8 comments

I recently received an interesting email from a Lutheran pastor named Amy. She had read some of my recent essays on slow productivity (e.g., 1 2 3), and heard me talk about this embryonic concept on my podcast, so she decided to send me her own story about slowing down.

“A few years ago, I realized I was on the verge of burnout with my job,” she began. To compensate for this alarming state of affairs, Amy took the following steps…

She quit social media.

She took off her phone any site or app that was “refreshable by design.”

She implemented my fixed-schedule productivity strategy by setting her work hours in advance, then later figuring out how to make her efforts fit within these constraints.

She began to take an actual Sabbath, inspired, in part, by Tiffany Shlain’s book, 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week.

She forwarded all work calls to voicemail and put in place a rule saying she must wait 24 hours before replying to any message that either made her upset or elated.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, she began scheduling less work for herself. Following an adage she first heard in seminary, she scheduled only two-thirds of her available work hours, leaving time free to handle pastoral emergencies, and enabling, more generally, margin surrounding her daily activities.

Amy feared this embrace of slow productivity would generate uproar from her parishioners and spawn relentless crises and problems. The reality turned out to be less dramatic:

“When I experimented by ceasing to do some things, and doing other things by putting in less effort, I heard nothing back. Nobody got really upset (at least not to my face). And when people have gotten upset about things, I’m better able to deal with it because I’m more rested, I have a life, it’s not as stressful as it used to be for me when my work mode was more reactive.”

Reflecting on her experiments with doing less, but doing what remains better, Amy reached a telling conclusion: “Time management is a core spiritual practice.”

8 thoughts on “A Pastor Embraces Slowness

  1. Prioritization, margins, focus lead to better results & avoid burn-out…

  2. Jared Wyllys says:

    There’s a book called “Ruthless Elimination of Hurry” by John Mark Comer that I think fits in nicely with this slow productivity concept that is emerging here.

    1. Joe Greene says:

      A must read. Comer is one of the most underrated thinkers of our era.

  3. Abhijat Singhal says:

    My world has undergone a change in last 12 months. I have moved from 10 am – 8:30 pm job characterized by morning (and continuous mails), attending every meeting and feeling irritated and burnt out at the day TO
    – working from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm
    – following planned calendar with deep work blocks interpersed with mails and shallow work
    – having at least 1 hr of deep work in morning before mails
    – neglecting most irrelevant meetings (social pressure did play a role in start, but now I have figured out how to handle it)
    – daily analysis and plan for next day, followed by digital shutdown at 4:30 pm

    Contrary to popular perception, my productivity has actually enhanced 10 times by this methodology and I am highly relaxed in evening. And my customer centricity (I am HR professional) has actually gone up with my business head recently complimenting me for my highly matured approach in past few months.

  4. I love the general theme and the results, but I have some concerns about the terminology. Is she (and your other examples) actually being slow, and doing less, or are they being more efficient and actually doing more as a result? Cutting out social media etc. sounds like good information hygiene that wasn’t relevant to her work in the first place. I’m assuming that after forwarding calls to voicemails she actually does answer the ones that require the ones that need a response. I’m not sure what to make of her re-scheduling. Is she doing fewer things, or is she less stressed because she has clearer boundaries between regular work and emergencies? I think there’s a difference between “doing less” and “being more efficient to do the same or more with less stress and in less time”.

  5. Matthew McDowell says:

    I’d be curious how to implement these types of suggestions into the life of a high school teacher. I find myself, as many do, even with proper planning, dragged in a million different directions. The end result is by time Thursday evening rolls around, I am asleep by 6pm. I love the profession but would love suggestions on how to better implement boundaries and such.

  6. Bobby says:

    I really appreciated reading this post, Cal. Thank you for writing it.

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