The Purpose of the Moment

In The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy, authors Berg and Seeber remind us that academia used to be a place where faculty had time to think and reflect.  Academic research was once done for the sake of expanding our general understanding of the world and ourselves, and not necessarily reduced to a commodity as it is today.  This is referred to as “research capitalism”, originally put forth by Coleman and Kamboureli, where academic researchers are in the business of new knowledge, a market driven by the funding agencies.  Academic focus is no longer on scholarship, they argue.  Instead, the priority is “faculty compliance with institutional imperatives,” which is increasingly involved with raising grant money.

This erosion of reflective inquiry to the tide of academic goals and imperatives parallels a much larger loss from our lives.   Our modern selves subscribe to the virtue of busyness, where we seem to equate busy or productive with important.  You may be familiar with the Covey Time Management Grid, where we have urgent/not urgent and important/not important forming a grid that helps us to gain clarity on how we should prioritize our tasks and To Do lists.  Simply noticing when we are prioritizing urgent/not important or not urgent/not important is the first step toward effective time management.

prioritygrid

Important/urgent grid

, where we seem to equate busy or productive with important.  You may be familiar with the Covey Time Management Grid, where we have urgent/not urgent and important/not important forming a grid that helps us to gain clarity on how we should prioritize our tasks and To Do lists.  Simply noticing when we are prioritizing urgent/not important or not urgent/not important is the first step toward effective time management.

Productivity is important.  We all have important tasks that should be completed.  However, I also agree with Berg and Seeber that we need to slow down.  Paradoxically, sometimes what is most urgent/important is what you should not be doing.  Sometimes, we should not work, not try to achieve, to fix, to create, to accomplish, to read, to write, to plan or to calculate.  A constant stream of busyness around tasks, whether important or unimportant, leaves out something very essential, ie just being.  By incessantly working on our To Do list and our urgent/important tasks, we’re missing out potentially on our best, most creative work, and our most beautiful, joyous moments.    We give away those moments, one at a time, for the next item on our To Do list.

As part of slowing down, Berg and Seeber talk about being more mindful teachers, having a reflective approach to scholarship and connecting with our colleagues.  I would expand the notion further to say that this type of reflective inquiry is important in all aspects of our lives.  Our inner world unconsciously drives so much of our perceptions and beliefs and is the source of our creativity.  When we are constantly in action-mode, we neither access our inner wisdom, creativity, and intuition, nor can we really examine our subconscious beliefs to understand how they drive our understanding of ourselves and our world.

In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman describes our unconscious self as System 1 and our conscious, rational self as System 2.   The problem, according to Kahneman, is that we tend to over-use System 1 intuition, confidently believing our subconscious guesses and shortcuts to be accurate representations of complex situations.   In essence, System 1 interprets our world using heuristics and biases, and System 2 tends to be lazy and simply rationalizes the beliefs of System 1, instead of taking the effort to think things through carefully.

It doesn’t have to be that way;  we need reflection to intentionally listen to System 1 in an objective way, yet recognize that its messages and beliefs are often flawed.  We can then use System 2 to re-evaluate System 1 information and find a wiser course.    Thus, reflective inquiry allows a dialogue between both System 1 and 2 so that we can make the most of our intuition and wisdom and to find our creativity. This reflective inquiry requires down time and is not on most people’s To Do lists, yet is arguably both urgent and important.

Maybe it’s worth putting reflective inquiry in the urgent/important category, and a regular entry on our calendars.  What does your System 2 think about that?

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