photo by me! High Falls Trail – DuPont Forest, NC

There’s a part in Steve Martin’s novella Shopgirl where a character (Ray Porter, which Steve Martin plays in the film adaptation) is navigating his kitchen, preparing a meal in the most efficient way possible. (I tried to find it to paste here—no such luck, sorry! Just know that it is very detailed.)

That part might have been incredibly boring to some, but it spoke to me—deeply—because that’s exactly what I do. I almost make a game out of it. For example, before I go to the grocery store, I rewrite the list my husband I work on throughout the week to put the items in order of my route through the store. I rarely have to backtrack.

For the past five years or so, a lot of my work has been focused on finding the most efficient ways to do things in order to do more with fewer resources. I like it. I think I have a knack for it.

But when my company announced a two-month step challenge, my obsession with efficiency, at least in my personal life, went out the door.

Instead of taking the most efficient route from my office to the kitchen for a snack, I took the long way: through the hallway to admire some art and family photos, into the living room to give my dogs kisses as they napped on the couch, through the dining area to smell the fresh flowers on the table, and finally to the kitchen to explore my snack options. Or when trash day came around, I’d bring the bins in one at a time instead of rolling one in each hand, like I usually do.

Every step counted, so why not find ways to sneak them in every chance I got?

I won the steps challenge, and when I reflected on it or was asked to share my secrets, I focused on things like routine and consistency, or making rules about when I allowed myself to sit on the couch to watch TV instead of taking a walk.

Even though the challenge is over, I’m still getting lots of steps in each day. But it wasn’t until just the other day—almost two months after the challenge ended—that I recognized an unexpected lesson: the importance of slowing down.

In other words: stop and smell the roses. Or, stop and admire your art or reminisce about when that photo was taken. Or, stop and kiss your dogs. Well, maybe not stop, but try and take the scenic route more often.

Now, I’m reading What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir by Haruki Murakami. Maybe a day after my a-ha moment about efficiency, I read this:

“I’ve shed a few pounds, too, and my face looks more toned. It’s a nice feeling to see your body going these changes, though they certainly don’t happen as quickly as when I was young. Changes that used to take a month and a half now take three. The amount I can exercise is going downhill, as is the efficiency of the whole process, but what’re you going to do? I just have to accept it, and make do with what I can get. One of the realities of life. Plus, I don’t think we should judge the value of our lives by how efficient they are.”

Again: “I don’t think we should judge the value of our lives by how efficient they are.

That stopped me in my tracks (so to speak).

I’m not saying I’m going to fight my natural inclination to make work easier on myself and my colleagues or to minimize my time in the grocery store through process improvements, but I am going to evaluate what doesn’t need to be done so efficiently and take those things nice and slowly.

Related: I wrote about my 103-day streak of getting 10,000 steps a day in Let’s Go Streaking!

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