Quick, slow down!

EDWARD M. HALLOWELL'S new book is "CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked and About to Snap!"

GOT IT. Next point?

These days, people get the picture quickly -- or think they do. We do everything faster, not just because we’re busy but because speed is fun. Speed rivets attention. Speed blasts you out of boredom. Nothing is boring if it’s fast enough. But slow is agonizing.

So many of us zip through life so fast we’re beyond busy, we’re crazybusy. Yet there is no correlation between a fast life and a happy life. Nor is there a correlation between fast and smart -- or slow and stupid. “Please explain the problem to me slowly, as I do not understand things quickly,” Albert Einstein said.

Today’s world, with its energy, excitement and excess, its novelty, chaos and confusion, its dust storms of data, its creative spirit and irreverence, its speed and its incoherence, looks much like another world I know well: the world of attention deficit disorder, or ADD. People with untreated ADD rush around, feel impatient, get frustrated easily, lose focus in the middle of a task, bubble with energy but struggle to stay organized, forget where they’re going or what they’ve gone to get, fail to complete what they are doing, feel they could do a lot more if they could just get it together, procrastinate and feel busy beyond belief but dissatisfied with their performance. Sound like anyone you know?

As a psychiatrist, I’ve seen an upsurge since the mid-1990s in people who don’t have true ADD but do suffer from many of these symptoms. They complain of being distracted, disorganized and overbooked. They suffer memory loss from data overload and wonder if they have early Alzheimer’s. They multi-task and (surprise!) feel they do nothing well. I call it a severe case of modern life.


So why do we keep ourselves so busy? (Check all that apply):

a) We can be. Can you imagine how bored we must have been before cellphones and e-mail?

b) We want to be. What can match the excitement of checking your CrackBerry every 10 minutes, being needed, being wanted, now?

c) We must be. The wolf is at the door. Its name is China. The wolf behind it is named India. Third in line is the guy down the street.

d) We imagine that we must be. All the smart people say that life is really insecure these days so we better get busy getting ready for the bad times ahead.

e) We love channel surfing. Maybe somewhere, something better is going on.

f) We let too many leeches into our lives. Leeches are people and projects that waste your time and leave you feeling depleted and wondering why you ever got into this line of work, or this family, or this town. (Tip: Think of at least one activity, meeting or event you can cancel right now, and do so. You’ll be elated.)

g) We overcommit, or others overcommit us. Wouldn’t you like to be one of those tough people who can actually say no and stick to it?

h) We let our technology run us instead of running our technology.


i) We work hard but not smart. No one tries to work stupid, so why do we?

j) Being busy is a status symbol. Isn’t that strange?

k) We are afraid. Will we be left out, miss something or see our standard of living decline if we don’t do everything we’re “supposed to”?

l) We can avoid pain. Being crazybusy leaves no time to worry about the abyss, gratuitous human cruelty, death, world hunger, global warming, AIDS, the nuclear threat, terrorism and other Big Horrible Problems I Can’t Do Anything About.

m) We think if we go fast enough, we’ll be able to create time when we won’t have to be busy. A seductive idea, but delusional. The key is to slow down and thrive today. As that slowpoke Einstein said, “Creativity is the residue of time wasted.”

Well, you’re probably too crazybusy to read to the end of the alphabet, so I’ll fast-forward to:

z) All of the above. If you answered “z,” I agree.