The answer is yes. A self-described reformed speedaholic, Mr. Honoré says that writing this book — which enabled him to learn about, and partake in, a variety of life’s pleasures and pastimes — changed his life. In fact, he now counts himself among those people who in “their many and diverse acts of deceleration are cultivating the seeds of a global movement to slow down and live better.”
The author’s rendition of the history of timekeeping in Western culture is colorful and fun to read. He reminds us of the sixth-century Benedictine monks who created primitive clocks by ringing bells at intervals to move themselves from one task to the next. “From early on,” writes Mr. Honoré, “telling time went hand in hand with telling people what to do.” The Industrial Revolution, of course, kicked off the need for speed. “It’s no accident,” he writes, that the phrase “to make a fast buck” emerged in the early 19th century. In 1901, presidential physician John Girdner coined the term “Newyorkitis” to describe an illness whose symptoms included “edginess, quick movements, and impulsiveness.” Recently, another American physician, Larry Dossey, has diagnosed “time sickness” — today’s pervasive fear that “time is getting away, that there isn’t enough of it, and that you must pedal faster and faster to keep up.”
Although Americans are the first to be criticized for obsessive work habits, Mr. Honoré shows how time sickness has infected Europe (respondents to a recent survey in Britain said they would prefer working fewer hours to winning the lottery), and Asia, too. The Japanese have a word for the “work till you drop” culture, karoshi, which means “death by overwork.” In 2001, the Japanese government reported a record 143 victims of karoshi.
Mr. Honoré is at his best when telling stories about the people he met while writing the book, and relating his firsthand experiences with slowing down — from attending a mandatory driver-education class in the U.K. after being caught speeding to indulging in a workshop with his wife on tantric sex just because they had the time. His descriptions of Slow Food, a worldwide movement to encourage more family time and fine dining, are all worth savoring. And, in highlighting how people think more clearly and creatively, and respond under pressure better, when they take time to relax, Mr. Honoré shows how meditation is going mainstream. He describes Bill Ford, the CEO and chairman of Ford Motor Company, as a “committed meditator,” and writes about a Chicago-based management consultant who tells him how getting into transcendental meditation has made him an “unflappable corporate warrior.”
What Women Want
The 2004 survey by the Center for Work–Life Policy at Columbia University of 2,443 American women between the ages of 28 and 55 revealed that more than a third had stopped working for some period of time. Twenty-five percent had chosen flexible or reduced-hour options. Almost 60 percent described their careers as “nonlinear.” Twenty-four percent had left their jobs for childcare- and eldercare-related reasons.
Mary Lou Quinlan’s Time Off for Good Behavior is about these women, for them, and for the corporations who employ them. Ms. Quinlan tells the stories of more than 40 women who, like her, are accomplished Type A personalities. Most are currently or were previously high-ranking executives, living and working in East Coast and West Coast cities for the most time-demanding U.S. corporations.
Ms. Quinlan, founder and CEO of the New York–based marketing company Just Ask a Woman, got to the happy place she is in life today by coming back from the brink of burnout. In 1994, at age 39, she was asked to be president of N.W. Ayer, the oldest advertising agency in the United States, and became CEO a year later. But while all was well on the work front, her personal life was falling apart.