Slow Sunday

Remember when we used to have a day of rest? In Christian countries, it was Sunday. Work stopped, stores closed, the sound and fury of the city subsided.

But that’s all a distant memory now. Sunday has become just like any other day of the week: we work, shop, surf the Net, sit fuming in traffic jams.

This is folly. Most cultures have some kind of Sabbath tradition for one simple reason: we all need a break.

It’s probably too late to turn back the clock to make Sunday an official day of rest. The genie is out of the bottle and the world is too complex and multicultural to accept an enforced Sabbath.

But we can still set aside a day to relax, reflect and spend time with the people that are important to us.

One way to do that is to take part in the Slow Sunday Campaign. It is the brainchild of Resurgence, a wonderful British magazine that espouses a Slow view of the world. One Sunday a month, its readers are invited “to take part in simple actions that symbolize a rejection of commercialism, a passion for the planet and a desire for change.”

One Sunday it was baking bread. Last time it was planting something.

I love this idea. We’re all so busy and frenetic that we almost need a campaign to remind us that it’s okay to ease off one day a week.

My own Sundays are already pretty slow. In the morning I play soccer with my son, his friends and few other dads. Then we usually cook, eat a leisurely lunch and maybe go for a walk.

Come to think of it, our Saturdays are kinda slow, too.

If the Resurgence campaign catches fire, the next step might be to start crusading for Slow Weekends…

Consultant time

I gave a talk this morning to a group of management consultants at the Accenture headquarters in London. Not an easy audience, you’d think, but they seemed very open to the idea that slowing down might be good for them, the company and the world in general. Afterwards, a woman from the audience told me about the incident that persuaded her it was time to put on the brakes. She spotted a good friend in the street but, deciding she was too busy even to stop and say hello, ducked into a shop to avoid catching his eye. He died suddenly a few days later and so the next time she saw him was at his funeral.

Cutting corners?

I’ve just heard from a psychiatrist in Poland. He has a plan to set up a network of small urban refuges where people can escape the hurly burly of city life and reconnect with their inner tortoise. There will be a quiet space to relax, recharge and reflect. There will also be consultants on hand to measure stress levels and give advice on how to live more slowly. These venues will be called Slow Corners. Someone in Norway is working on a similar idea. Certainly I can see a role for little oases of slowness in big cities. I was in London’s Oxford Circus filming a segment for the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) a couple of days ago. The idea was for me to stand still while the crowds swarmed around me. The place was an ant-hill – pedestrians racing hither and thither, barging past each other, cars and buses lunging through red lights. The closest thing I could find to an ubran refuge was Starbucks, and it wasn’t a refuge at all. It was jammed with customers jostling to get their caffeine fix. Two men almost came to blows over who was first in the queue. And all of this to a pounding soundtrack by the Arctic Monkeys. I was almost relieved to get back out into the mania of Oxford Circus.

We DON’T need that yesterday

The Slow philosophy seems to be making inroads in the corporate world of the Baltic states. Before my talk yesterday in Riga, Latvia, a manager from UPS, the delivery company, told me that businesses in the region no longer insist on shipping everything as fast as possible. In the 1990s, demand for late-night and weekend deliveries was brisk. But now most UPS deliveries occur during normal working hours. His conclusion: Baltic companies have realized that many shipments can wait till tomorrow, or even till Monday. Staff are also less willing to put up with work hassles outside the office. Amen to that.

My final Baltic talk is this afternoon here in Tartu, Estonia….

A cure for vacationitis?

The aversion to taking a vacation has gone so far that big companies are now looking for ways to force their staff to take a break. A recent report in the New York Times reveals that PricewaterhouseCoopers has taken to closing down its entire US operation twice a year to ensure that its employees down tools. Everything stops at the well-known accounting firm for 10 days over Christmas and five days around the Fourth of July. During the year, the company also sends electronic reminders to staff who are failing to take enough vacation time. Posters depicting idle days away from the desk now hang in its New York office. One high-ranking member of the firm says that “we wanted to create an environment where people could walk away and not worry about missing a meeting, a conference call or 300 e-mails.” Not surprisingly, productivity is up since the new push for vacation.

And if PricewaterhouseCoopers can do it, then….