Slack: Definition -
not tight, taut, firm, or tense; loose: a slack rope.
negligent; careless; remiss: slack proofreading.
slow, sluggish, or indolent: He is slack in answering letters.
not active or busy; dull; not brisk: the slack season in an industry.
moving very slowly, as the tide, wind, or water.
Phonetics. weak; lax.
in a slack manner.
a slack condition or part.
the part of a rope, sail, or the like, that hangs loose, without strain upon it.
a decrease in activity, as in business or work:
a sudden slack in output.
a period of decreased activity.
And did you also know…
Geography. a cessation in a strong flow, as of a current at its turn.
a depression between hills, in a hillside, or in the land surface.
Prosody. (in sprung rhythm) the unaccented syllable or syllables.
British Dialect. a morass; marshy ground; a hollow or dell with soft, wet ground at the bottom.
For a very small word, which usually means being lazy - it has a lot of meanings. And I would argue that it actually works pretty hard.
When you hear the word Slack what do you think?
Some phrases that come to mind:
“That's a bit slack”
The job didn’t get done, “they were being slack”.
“I don’t have time to pick up your slack”.
“Come on, don’t be so slack”.
During COVID, in particular, the word Slack has been bandied around (and not just as an efficiency tool) … we all feel like we’re doing nothing, almost judging ourselves for being careless, negligent and even lazy. Nobody wants to be called Slack at work… referencing “that person” in the office, “don’t get stuck with them, cos you’ll carry the load”.
In an intimate relationship, being Slack is something we initially often laugh off, put up with, even think is cute… until we don’t…
In any relationship - friendship, professional, intimate - the reason we care about people being slack - other than the stress of having to make up for it… is that we interpret this as them not caring about us. Cos when the onus is on us to carry/fix/try in the relationship and we do it because we care...wait...does that mean the other person doesn’t care…? Should I care less…? Maybe they’re only lazy because they know I’ll be here - picking up the slack… So is it my fault?
We can torture ourselves round and round in circles with this, but sometimes slack is there just because, as humans, we need it. In every situation, we all need to cut ourselves (and others) a little slack.
There is a whole other side to Slack.. when we feel ourselves slowing our work pace, or note that our load is lightening, voluntarily or not, we struggle to see it for it’s positives. Ironically, we struggle with this idea of ‘cutting ourselves any slack’. What is (often) a valuable effort to ‘go easy on ourselves’ leads to guilt, frustration and embarrassment, and generally more pressure than we started with.
Recently, it feels that we’ve been forced to be more slack. In 2020 we faced the beginning of a global pandemic that led to various lockdowns and restrictions which impacted daily life for all of us. A common reaction was to throw ourselves into something else; exercise, or a new hobby. Despite the fact that for the first time in a long time we were given an opportunity to actually nurse ourselves in some quiet time, our egos said ‘no, thank you, I don’t want to be that way, give me something to DO’.
Why should we be so ashamed of giving ourselves some stillness and reflection? Why is it so much easier to push ourselves to the limits (or past them)? Even in our work culture, until very recently, calling into work sick was seen as an unspoken taboo… even when you were actually sick! There is almost more disgust in a teammate or colleague not coming into work than them dragging their infectious germs all over the new ‘hot-desking’ office, rife with opportunity to spread illness or disease.
Slack (the adjective), when found in the dictionary, provides definitions chock full of these words: negligent; careless; remiss; slow; sluggish; indolent; dull. However, it also gives us the context of a slack tide; something that moves very slowly or gently. Overall, these things are all synonymous; they describe the same thing. Yet given the choice, we choose the “bad meaning:, the negative one… why?
And while the definition of mossy damp ground in the valley between the hills may seem random, isn’t that what being slack is sometimes like? Stopping between the two big mountains you have to climb? Or lying down in the mud… people pay $$$$$ for a mud bath for a reason.
In a world of balance (and physics), the idea of something always running full steam ahead just doesn’t make sense (and isn’t energetically possible). This is true in our role as workers, but also as friends, parents, students, teachers, contributors of any kind. We exist in a society that expects us to give 110% effort 110% of the time (121%!!!). Every dip in productivity, be it social, relational or industrial, comes with a dark shadow of doubt, shame, and criticism, fueled more by ourselves as individuals than by society at large. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be goal-driven. But it may be worth looking to see how much of that we are worn down by, rather than focused towards.
A lot of the time it’s easier to look at people around us and understand that they need a little TLC, than it is to give ourselves the same thing. We see the work they put in day after day and easily recognise ‘hey, they deserve a break, they earned that’. Why not you? Giving ourselves a little bit of slack or understanding does not mean erasing all our hard work, lowering our standards, or resting on our laurels. In fact, a bit of self care and nurturing is proven to boost your productivity, energy and overall health.
There are a lot of things potentially holding us back from doing this though, and fear of failure isn’t always necessarily the main driver for this. If there’s one thing a lot of us may need to reflect on from this pandemic it’s what spending time by yourself, truly, quietly, reflectively, actually means. And it can be intimidating. We live in a world, especially those of us in the middle of a bustling city, where we don’t have to be alone. We haven’t even learnt how to spend time without other people, so when those times come around, it’s literally a skill we don’t even have. And besides, there’s always someone else to message or something else to like to put you back in amongst the madness.
What’s that model? The 8 hours of work, 8 hours of sleep, 8 hours of play ratio. For many of us, it looks more like 10:6:8…. And that last 8 seems to include commuting, life admin and social media… none of which I’m convinced is play. When our lives get busy, it’s easy for our downtime - slack, relaxation, play time, whatever - to become another thing we have to fit in… it’s another chore on the to-do list. But maybe it’s easier that way. To know that uncomfortable self intimacy has an end time in sight.
And even if we do like ourselves and want to understand ourselves (which most of us can probably admit is an ongoing uphill journey), then there’s guilt around that fact that we don’t commit to it as much as we should. Maybe we’re afraid we won’t do a good job of looking after ourselves if we tried (cos it’s already a bit of a mess). That we have already let ourselves down in that sense, so if we continue on our grind, we are at least getting something right.
Post COVID, we can choose to give ourselves some slack. Don’t work UNTIL you burn out, don’t exercise UNTIL your body breaks. Listen to that little voice in your head asking you to take some time out from the rest of your life. Do that activity that isn’t social or cool, but makes you happy. Get nine hours of sleep a night if you can. Turn off your phone, tune out the world, find quietness in nature and beauty in solitude and satisfaction in stillness.
There will always be times in our lives that come and go where we will feel like we’re chasing a ball downhill or the ride is going too fast and we can’t keep up. These quiet times are important for that balance, and giving ourselves the compassion and patience we need is important for our own self value and growth.
Maybe next time you feel a bit slack… embrace it!