Study Hacks Blog

A Pastor Embraces Slowness

October 11th, 2021 · 16 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.”

16 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.

    1. Pradeep says:

      Interesting. Couple of questions if you don’t mind. Don’t you have late evening calls? Being a HR professional, I am assuming you will have to talk to a lot of people during the day and people would ping you for multiple things. How do you manage this adhoc pings during your deep work phase?

  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.

    1. Matthew, I used to work in the classroom and am now a private college coach and academic tutor. I prided myself on being “available” to my students and offering round the clock support. This got to be too much, of course. I now explain my boundaries to each new students: what hours I will accept texts, emails, and how long I will respond. For the classroom, I asked students to do more of the work. High school students should be doing more of the prep and research. Instead of preparing a lecture/presentation on Edgar Allen Poe, for instance, have the kids to the ground work first, then you can elaborate. I also developed creative ways to curb the grading/paper reading time sucker without compromising my students’ learning. And avoid faculty email threads!

    2. Kate says:

      Same. Time management for high school teachers seems flat out impossible.

  6. Bobby says:

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

  7. Divyanshu Bora says:

    Hello, sir. It’s Divyanshu Bora here from Assam, India. Currently, I’m a student of 12th standard (Science), who’s highly inspired by the book of yours titled “Deep Work”. First of all, I’d like to thank you for inspiring a 17 year old boy like me by helping to understand the real meaning of “deep work” and letting him to quit one of the things that has been harming humanity for a long time i.e “social media.” Sir, I’d like you to know that is there anything any way to contact you sir? Just leaving my email address here. I’d really be honoured sir if you’ll reply to it.

  8. Milena Regos says:

    Thank you for this excellent example of how to take back your life from the constant pull to feel productive when it’s really not necessary. We can do less, but better and make a bigger impact with less effort.

  9. JPS says:

    I’ve been burnt out in my Public Health job where I don’t see clients but I manage data and funding—admin work that keeps the system moving so clients can be served. To prioritize my mental well being I’ve refused to attend some meetings, ignore a lot of busy work emails that govt PH folks love to send, and implemented monthly Ecotherapy team building retreats with my team where we go for a safe stroll in nature together. I’ve found I have to “fight back” against the onslaught of busy work to slow down and give my central nervous system a break. Look no one has noticed I don’t reply to some emails nor have I received any negative feedback about not attending some meetings. My team is more relaxed looking forward to our monthly Ecotherapy days and I don’t feel so burnt out and I’m embracing the Spiritual and health benefits of Slowing down.

  10. Sarah says:

    Hi Cal, I’m looking for slowness for my child in academia. I’m thinking of sending my child to a hybrid school for middle school where they are in person twice a week and the other days are spent doing independent study. What do you think about this? My only concern is whether socialization will be maintained with friends.

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