Slow Living in the City: 5 Tips for Navigating London’s Fast Lane

London streets with checkerboard tiles

“The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat” – Lily Tomlin, American actress

There’s a reason they call it a ‘race’. In 2007, a well-cited British Council study revealed how our pace of life had become 10% faster than it was in the early 1990s. The research, which measured the walking speed of city dwellers in 32 countries around the world, found that Londoners had an average walking speed of 12.17 seconds. This interestingly only won the capital 12th position in the list of cities analysed, while Singaporeans were found to be pacing the pavement quickest at 10.55 seconds. Yet, we’ve probably all felt frustrated at one time or another when people are dawdling around us, or not keeping right on tube escalators.

Arguably, in the decade or so since the study, our pace of life has only accelerated further as we try to keep up with increasing technological advancements. In other words, pace of life increases with pace of change. Evening Standard suggests that the fast pace of life in London has something to do with the city’s youthful and diverse population – the capital is young at heart with 24% of inner London residents fitting in the 25-34 age bracket.

With a cohort of people open to new experiences, trends are born and die fast in the city, while new tech is often adopted quickly. Uber, Deliveroo and Monzo are just a few tech brands to mention, while on the lifestyle scene, a constant cycle of Insta-worthy hotspots seem to appear overnight. Freakshakes have made way for flower walls and poke is the latest bowl-based food of choice. Londoners are constantly pushing boundaries and this buzzy atmosphere is one of the reasons why it’s such an exciting place to live.

But, does this innovation and the rapid rise and fall of ‘the next big thing’ have a downside? Although glorifying busy is not exclusive to London, there is a perceived pressure to ‘make the most’ of living in the city, as well as pursuing a jam-packed working schedule. But, since when did burnout, both socially and professionally, equate to popularity or success? If your answer to ‘how are you?’ is often ‘tired’, ‘busy’ or ‘stressed”, it could be time to indicate left and move from the capital’s inside lane to the slow lane.

How to Navigate Life in London’s Fast Lane

1. Reclaim Your Time from Your Phone

While we’d never be without the likes of Citymapper, the amount of time we spend on screens each day is increasing. From first thing in the morning to last thing at night, we’re checking emails, Instagram and WhatsApp. There are many ways that tech overuse can leave us feeling far from our best – from creating a culture of comparison to stealing our focus from the present moment. Ever found yourself falling into a spiral of screen-scrolling? Before you know it, 30 minutes have passed and you’ve read three Daily Mail articles and stalked your ex’s sister’s holiday snaps. Tech is designed to help us become more efficient, but without boundaries, we’re prone to letting it ebb away at our productivity.

Try a screen time app and measure when you’re on your smartphone and what apps you’re using. It will help you work out when you need to reclaim your time from the digital rectangle in your hand. Not charging your phone on your bedside table is a often a good place to start.


2. Cook from Scratch

City living is about choice, but all too frequently, it’s about convenience. Since there are an ever-growing number of healthy takeaway options in London, the joy in cooking from scratch is often overlooked when we can still order nutritious meals to our door. Cooking is often seen as a burden after a long day, but it can be actually be a form of simple meditation and a great way to unwind. Following a recipe and using simple, rhythmic actions, such as chopping vegetables or stirring a pot, allows you to be mindful.

Still don’t fancy spending a long time in the kitchen? Make it easier on yourself by prepping a week’s worth of chopped onions on a Sunday and choosing meals you really look forward to eating.


3. Schedule Downtime

Even tech creators schedule ‘downtime’ for their software, so why don’t we create ‘recharge’ time? Time spent doing nothing can feel unproductive or wasted, but it’s actually incredibly important for our brains. Stew Friedman Ph.D, author of Leading the Life You Want, tells Shape“Research shows that after you take a mental time-out, you are better at creative thinking and coming up with solutions and new ideas, and you feel more content.” In this sense, we should stop seeing unscheduled time as unhelpful, and rather see it as a tool to help us be creative and find solutions to issues we’re facing.

Natalie Macneil, entrepreneur and founder of She Takes On The World, tells Girlboss that she schedules her first appointment of the day for herself. Instead of skipping self-care when other distractions arise throughout the day, she puts activities like meditation and exercise first by building it into her morning ritual.


4. Escape the City

Whether you live in North, East, South or West London, you’re only a short journey away from somewhere new to explore. Taking a day trip or weekend away is a great way to help yourself switch off and slow down by re-adjusting to a slower pace of life – one with much less pollution, people and public transport. And of course, escaping the city will help you reconnect with nature and enjoy its (free!) beauty.

If you can’t get out of the city, there are still many places within London’s boroughs that offer escapism from urban overwhelm. Kew Gardens, for example, are an oasis of greenery and easily reachable from Central London.


5. Embrace Your Commute

Commuting in London is a fact of life, but it’s still pretty difficult to adjust to. The average commute in London is 46 minutes one-way, adding around an hour and a half to your working day. When crammed against the tube doors (no leaning, please), grappling for a space to hold on and faced with someone’s morning coffee breath, the daily commute feels like a bore, a chore and a waste of time. That’s especially when you consider that both ways, the average commute is the same duration as an entire football match.

Yet, as with most things in life, you can make the most of the situation at hand. Rather than spending your journey glaring at that person with the disproportionately large backpack and arriving at work with less #mondaymotivation that you thought possible, turn your commute into time well spent. Listen to an inspirational podcast or meditation session, read a book, write your shopping list – whatever it is, there will be something you can do to switch off from the business backpackers around you.

If you’re looking to slow down and enjoy a better balance while living and working in London, give these tips a try for thriving, rather than just ‘surviving’ the capital.

4 Inspirational Podcasts To Transform Your Morning Commute

Inspirational podcasts for commuting - tea flatlay

46 minutes. That’s how long the average Londoner’s commute lasts each morning. It’s the longest of any region in Great Britain. Surprised? Probably not. According to TfL, there are up to five million tube journeys made each day.

While we’re minding the gap on these underground trips, we’ll likely encounter many of the same, tiring situations each day. We’ll experience heavy eye-rolling, plucky people who think they can squeeze into non-existent gaps, visitors creating vast delays on escalators by not observing ‘keep right’ and an invasion of personal space by other people’s limbs, books, smartphones and enormous rucksacks. And that’s all before 9am. Don’t even mention the words ‘signal failure’ or ‘severe delays’…

It’s easy to become one of the eye-rollers, sighing as another person falls into you as they failed to hold on as the tube or bus came to a stop. It’s also easy to see this time as wasted. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Adding listening to podcasts to your morning ritual could help you arrive at work feeling inspired or having learned something new. 51% of podcast listeners said they listen because they find podcasts interesting and 26% shared that their motive for listening was to learn something.

Eager to put those 46 minutes to better use? Here are four inspirational podcasts for your morning commute.

4 Inspirational Podcasts to Listen To While Commuting

1. Your Dream Life by kikki.K founder, Kristina Karlsson

Founder of Swedish stationery brand kikki.K, Kristina Karlsson is determined to empower 101 million people around the world to live their ‘dream life’. The podcast, which supports her new book and journal, shares inspiring stories from people who followed their dreams, even in the most unlikely of circumstances.

This is the perfect podcast for a Monday morning – it’s uplifting and enlightening. Start with the moving two-part interview with Dr. Tererai Trent, who has been named Oprah’s favourite-ever guest.

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2. Girlboss Radio

“We exist to redefine success for millennial women by providing the tools and connections they need to own their futures.”  – Girlboss’ mission.

Girlboss, founded by former Nasty Gal CEO Sophia Amoruso, is a resource that helps to entertain, inspire and inform women to pursue their aspirations through great content. To support the popular website, Sophia developed Girlboss Radio which features honest conversations with “boundary-pushing women” to offer listeners valuable insight from people who have been there and done it before.

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3. Conversations of Inspiration by Not On The High Street founder, Holly Tucker MBE

Spend a lot of your commute longing to be your own boss? Not On The High Street founder and ambassador for UK creative businesses, Holly Tucker, has developed a podcast that explores the highs and lows of starting your own business. She talks to inspiring entrepreneurs, such as Jo Malone, and shares their insights and advice.

Keep listening until the end – each interviewee reads a moving letter they’ve penned to their younger self.

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4. Deliciously Ella: The Podcast

To accompany Deliciously Ella’s immensely popular app, cookbooks and website, the podcast, hosted by Ella and her husband Matthew, discusses physical and mental health, well-being and what it’s really like to build a brand. Ella’s podcast reminds you of the importance of taking time to reflect on your own self-care, especially in today’s fast paced world. It’s honest and interesting, and will inspire you to live a better life in London.

Those 46 minutes could be put to much better use than counting tube stops and scrolling on your smartphone. Including inspirational podcasts in your morning routine could encourage you to slow down and reconsider your commute as your daily opportunity to learn something new or reflect on your well-being and other thought-provoking issues. What are you waiting for?

Making Time for Slow Moments with SlowBox

Slow Box - Slow living subscription box

SlowBox is a monthly subscription box that challenges the way we live and consume. It’s lovingly curated by Glasgow-based wife and wife duo Gabby and Sally, who decided to slow their own pace of life and pursue a more considered way of living. Originally founded a couple of years back as ‘Hyggebox’, the brand decided to move away from the Danish concept of ‘hygge’ after it started to become over-comercialised, thus diluting its meaning.

Founders Gabby and Sally would arguably agree that slow living is also not something you can acquire with a single purchase. Instead, with SlowBox, they offer more than a monthly delivery of products. SlowBox is a collection of five carefully sourced items that aim to help recipients embrace a slower lifestyle, while at the same time supporting local talent and small businesses. It reminds us to celebrate things that take time to create and in turn, to take our time to enjoy them. After exploring the glorification of busy and stats about just how stressed the UK and Londoners are, it’s likely that many of us could benefit from a few more slow moments.

SlowBox – “Slow down to live well”

“A good life is one where we are fulfilled and make a positive contribution to the world. Many people say they are too busy and stressed a lot of the time. We want to show that there is a better way.” – SlowBox

Every month, there is a new theme to look forward to. For October, Gabby and Sally chose all things Scottish. The products are inspired by Scotland’s wild winters and landscape and aim to invoke cosiness. Inside the box, the items included:

  • Ochre Geometric Paper Vase by Kate Colin Design, Glasgow
  • Wild Gorse Candle by Arran Aromatics, Isle of Arran
  • Sloe Gin Skin Candle by Siabann, Sterling
  • Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate by Shetland Fudge Company, Isle of Shetland
  • Tunnock’s Teacake, Glasgow

Alongside the thoughtful artisan products, a highlight of SlowBox is the ‘mini magazine’ that explains each product in detail and offers tips on embracing slow living during autumnal October. The recipe for Cullen Skink (a Scottish soup) is a fitting touch.

Wild Gorse Candle Arran Aromatics

Standing Out with Sustainability

Entrepreneur reported that of February 2018, there were almost 7,000 subscription box companies around the globe. So, how does SlowBox stand out? Aside from the message that the brand is trying to relay and the personal touch, SlowBox stands out due to its curation of products and sustainable ethos. They lovingly choose artisans and small businesses to support, which are as sustainable as possible. In turn, this ensures subscribers receive good quality products with a stronger sense of heritage or meaning, that hopefully help them reflect on their own way of living. In addition, the monthly boxes are made from recycled materials.

Without a doubt, a monthly surprise delivery of beautiful items that help to support small businesses and promote a slower lifestyle, ticks a lot of the feel-good factor boxes and would make a thoughtful gift for a friend.

*SlowBox kindly gifted their October box for this post.

Inspirational Morning Rituals from Deliciously Ella and Other Female Founders

Pear and maple syrup porridge: morning rituals

Over the past few years an increasing number of articles have surfaced around the morning rituals of inspirational and successful people.

When we use the words ‘morning rituals’, we’re describing a set of actions that someone performs every morning that have been prescribed additional meaning. The writing around morning rituals often makes big claims: adopting them could be ‘life-changing’ and lead to happier, more productive days. But, in reality, we’re all different and we’re not all natural early-risers.

Morning Rituals: The pinch of salt

Having said that, habits can be formed. In interview with The Washington Post, Christine Whelan, a public sociologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, gives advice on forming and sticking to a new habit.

She advises to make one change at a time – listing everything you want to do differently and trying to tackle it all at once is, in her words, “a recipe for failure“. Whelan also advises that resolutions should be specific and measurable – a commitment to being a happier person is extremely tricky to measure. Similarly, she also highlights that the change you are trying to make must be something you want to do, not something you feel you ought to do. So, before adopting (or failing to adopt) all of the healthy habits of the world’s entrepreneurs and lifestyle gurus, ask yourself if their goals are truly in line with your own.

If you’re reading this article, you’re probably interested in what else you could be doing in the morning to feel more productive or are wondering how you can start the day with your best foot forward. Perhaps you’re fed up of hitting the snooze button or scrolling through your social feeds in bed, or maybe you just want to try and exercise before work. Whatever your motivation, there’s inspiration in the idea that some of the world’s busiest people manage to adopt morning rituals that they now swear by. Here are three positive morning rituals from some of today’s most popular lifestyle gurus and female founders.

Morning Rituals from 3 Inspiring Female Founders

Waking Up with Deliciously Ella

After developing a limiting health condition at university and finding that medication wasn’t working, Ella Mills, founder of Deliciously Ella, eventually turned to her diet and lifestyle. She taught herself to cook and documented her plant-based experiments and recipes on her blog. Today, her community-led brand is wildly popular and boasts an app, multiple cookbooks and a deli. In essence, Ella works hard to ‘make vegetables cool’.

Although Ella is now an ambassador for a plant-based diet and enjoying what you eat, she didn’t always live this way. Her story is a great example of making positive change in your own lifestyle, even when it seems like nothing will make you feel healthier.

And her morning ritual? Yoga. Today, Ella swears by her morning yoga session from 6.30 a.m to 7.30 a.m. In an interview with The Cut, she explains, “No matter how I’m feeling. I find that it gives me a really good mind-set for the day and a real sense of positivity.” Before finding yoga, Ella would check emails and Instagram first thing and “…go into a vortex of stress at 6 a.m”. Sound familiar?

Founder of Kikki.K, Kristina Karlsson’s Morning Rituals

Kikki.K is a Swedish lifestyle and stationery brand. There is a positivity that runs through the beautiful products which include journals, planners and books centred around dreams, inspiration, wellness and setting goals. Founder Kristina’s new book Your Dream Life Starts Here helps readers follow a road map towards their dream life and is accompanied by her Your Dream Life podcast which explores the stories of inspirational people who have followed their dreams, despite major life obstacles.

Speaking to WGSN Insider, Kristina describes her morning ritual. She rises at 5am and has what she calls her “holy hour”. In this time, she journals. She writes down everything she is feeling and this helps her to explore any fears and risks she is experiencing. Kristina burns her papers after writing as this allows her to fully express herself and write freely, without worrying that someone else will read her thoughts at a later date.

What Arianna Huffington Avoids in the Mornings

Like Deliciously Ella, Thrive Global CEO Arianna Huffington (and previous co-founder of The Huffington Post), hasn’t always lived healthy habits. In 2007, she hit her head on her desk, breaking her cheekbone, after fainting from pure exhaustion and lack of sleep. At this point, she developed an obsession with the importance of sleep and began to take her morning ritual more seriously.

Now, she removes digital devices from her bedroom as she sleeps and tries to be in bed by 11pm. Speaking to My Morning Routine, Arianna summarises, “A big part of my morning ritual is about what I don’t do: when I wake up, I don’t start the day by looking at my smartphone. Instead, once I’m awake, I take a minute to breathe deeply, be grateful, and set my intention for the day.” In this sense, it’s not just about the habits you are adding to your morning ritual, it’s about those that you are taking out.

From yoga to journaling, there are many habits to add to your morning ritual, and ultimately, just because these lifestyle gurus are doing these things, doesn’t make them right for the rest of us. Yet, a bit of inspiration is a good place to start!

Live Lagom and Prosper: Should Londoners Be Living Lagom?

Living Lagom: Scandi Lifestyle Book

London can often seem like a city that’s out of balance with itself. Sky-high property prices get you small, one bed flats. Opportunities are rife, but work-life balance is skewed. Londoners can be innovative and creative, yet wasteful. So, how should those living in the capital seek to find better balance with themselves and the world around them?

In her book, Live Lagom. Balanced Living, The Swedish Way, Anna Brones, the daughter of a Swedish expat, offers that “applying a sense of lagom to our everyday lives – be it in what we eat, what we wear, how we live, how we work- might just be the trick for embracing a more balanced, sustainable lifestyle…” Like the now-popular Danish concept of hygge, Swedish lagom is intangible and difficult to define. Though, unlike hygge which encompasses moments, lagom is a way of living. It describes an approach to life that focuses on just the right amount of everything and anything. Roots of the term are said to trace back to the Viking era. After a long day, the Vikings passed around horns of mead and each person was expected to take just a moderate sip, while leaving enough for the rest of the group.

Brones summarises lagom as “not too much, not too little… just something in the middle, the moderate choice between two extremes.” But a perhaps more useful definition for non-Swedes comes from Lola Akinmade Åkerström, a Nigerian-born, US-educated travel writer and photographer, who is now an expat in Sweden. In her BBC article ‘The Swedish word that’s displacing hygge’, she explains that the reason why lagom is difficult to translate is because its meaning changes in different situations. She mentions, “It could mean ‘appropriate’ in social settings, ‘moderation’ in food, ‘less is more’ in interior decor, ‘mindfulness’ in wellbeing, ‘sustainability’ in lifestyle choices and ‘logic’ in business dealings.” Explained in this way, lagom is easier to grasp.

So, should Londoners learn to embrace lagom? Is it the cheat code we’ve been unknowingly searching for to escape the rat race? Or, is it a romanticised trend?

Sustainability in the City

Material written about lagom, including Brones’ book, explains how lagom touches upon every area of our lives; from work to home and how we interact with the environment. For everyone’s favourite Swedish brand, IKEA, sustainability is at the heart of what they consider lagom. They believe that lagom is “what living a rewarding but responsible life is all about: not denying yourself or sacrificing what you love, while not taking from the planet more than you need.” Ikea’s Live Lagom project encourages people to make small changes to their lifestyles to show how living sustainably can be affordable and achievable.

With the lowest average household recycling rates of any region in the UK, it’s probably true that many in London could make some small swaps to improve eco-friendliness. It could even be as simple as investing in a reusable plastic mug for your morning coffee, saying no to plastic straws and bags, or buying veg that is packaging free. In this sense, lagom is not ground-breaking, we know we should be better to the planet, yet it reminds us that small actions go a long way when everyone is invested in the same common goal of looking after the natural world.

Pros and Cons of Lagom: Tray with tea and Lagom book

Live Lagom and Prosper?

The strong sense of moderation in Sweden and other Nordic countries extends to work, too. While Londoners cram an extra day into the working week, wracking up 8.2 hours of overtime on average each week, Swedes tend to stick to their formal hours. In fact, according to Eurostat, the working week in the UK is the longest in Europe at an average of 42.3 hours. Sweden’s working week is 39.9 hours, on average.

We live in a screen-dominated culture that glorifies busy and leads us to believe that to be successful, we must be working long hours and sacrificing our sleep and social life. While long days can be unavoidable at times, what would happen if Londoners applied some lagom-style principles to their work-life balance? According to Brones, this means changing our attitude to work. She writes, “We have a tendency to approach life-work balance by starting with the question ‘How can I work less?’ What if we instead asked ourselves ‘How can I work better?'” She advises us to work smarter with better planning and prioritising as “quality work doesn’t necessarily mean working more hours, just as working fewer hours doesn’t always mean producing work of a lesser quality.”

Fika, another untranslatable word which broadly means ‘coffee break’, also plays a role in making the Swedes efficient at work. It means making time to slow down and switch off from your work stress for a short period. While perhaps easier said than done, it’s often quoted as key for the productivity of the Swedes.

And finally, allowing ourselves to digital detox and unplug from our modern ‘always-on’ work and screen culture  helps us to recharge and re-find our creativity and motivation. Arguably, this is also pretty important for doing well at work and having those eureka moments.

Everything in Moderation

While finding balance with work and caring for the environment are undeniably positive consequences of embracing lagom principles, there is a side to the concept that doesn’t mesh well with London’s personality. As highlighted above, lagom promotes moderation and this encompasses everything in life, not just how we recycle or how long we spend at work. Yet, when delving deeper, critics of lagom highlight that this can promote moderation in personality, too. Being ambitious can be seen as showing off, whereas in London, entrepreneurialism, innovation and going the extra mile are seen as things to be celebrated.

In his Guardian article, writer Richard Orange, claims that after spending some time living in Sweden, he noticed that not all Swedes are pro lagom. Which, he mentions, differs to the Danes, who are all “fanatical” about hygge. He offers that during the past 20 years, Swedes are removing themselves from the “self-restraint” associated with lagom. And finally, he begs us not to adopt lagom as a lifestyle trend in the same way that hygge was commercialised.

Lagom and London

Where does this leave us in London? Many articles around lagom focus on the pros or cons of one aspect of the concept. Yet, to truly adopt lagom and find the Swedish formula for happiness, must we adopt all aspects, the good and the bad?

At this point, it’s useful to return to Akinmade Åkerström’s writing on lagom. She explains that lagom means making the optimal decision for the situation and group of people that you are with. The group is considered important as, in reality, a ‘lagom’ quantity of something will be considered different to different people. This could, of course, create conflict. According to Akinmade Åkerström, lagom “insists that people conform to ensure harmony and not bring their individual levels of lagom into the group because it can cause jealousy and breed resentment.” And ultimately, in an interview with The Local, Akinmade Åkerström highlights that “what makes it very Swedish (or Nordic) is just how often lagom pulls us from individual focus to group focus.”

Her argument to those that criticise lagom of being uninspiringly moderate, is that “re-centring lagom back to its optimal core carries a more holistic view of the choices we make in our lives.” In other words, to live lagom is to be encouraged to consider all the decisions we make in life collectively and find our own levels of contentment across the board, instead of in just one area of our lives. And this is arguably an approach to life worth trying.