Working fast and slow

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Maria Popova blogged about a book called Reading Like a Writer – by the aptly named Francine Prose – that looks at the importance of reading for writers.

This quote made me stop and think hard:

With so much reading ahead of you, the temptation might be to speed up. But in fact it’s essential to slow down and read every word. Because one important thing that can be learned by reading slowly is the seemingly obvious but oddly underappreciated fact that language is the medium we use in much the same way a composer uses notes, the way a painter uses paint. . . . it’s surprising how easily we lose sight of the fact that words are the raw material out of which literature is crafted.

You could say that about so much of work. THe temptation to speed up is a side of effect of equating “getting things done” with quantity, with rattling through a ever-expanding task-list and not spending enough time thinking about what we are doing.

Reading and reflection – and blogging, for me – are slower modes. They aren’t execution, though. People engaged in reading and reflection look more leisurely than industrious. It feels hard to give time to these slow activities – we want to feel the heartening rush of momentum and be seen to be in the process of moving forward.

It feels like progress. Even if it is slightly mindless, lacking in insights and depth that would have been added by spending time working slowly.

These thoughts reminded me of some of the things I’m reading about in the excellent Your Brain at Work, which I’m currently reading as a kind of applied companion piece to last year’s neuroscience bestseller Thinking Fast and Slow.

Because we are able to be mindful, aware of how our mind is functioning at a given moment, we can choose the mode of thinking that is most appropriate to the kind of work that we are doing.

The most important choices we make about the way we work are about when to be open and when to be closed. When to be fast and when to be slow. When to be connected and when to switch off.

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