Slow Down! How “Slow Work” Makes Us More Productive

It is increasingly clear that our personal and professional lives stand to benefit from change that eases these mounting pressures and strains. It is time to embrace “slow work.”

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Summer is that time of year when many of us take breaks from our jobs and school to regroup and relax.  Vacations are time to slow our pace, calm our minds, and take a much-needed respite from the otherwise fast pace of life and its responsibilities. Many of us lament the dramatic contrast between our vacations and the faster pace of our work lives, but are generally remiss to change because of feelings of career vulnerability or weakness that we fear it could project. However it is increasingly clear that our personal and professional lives stand to benefit from change that eases these mounting pressures and strains. It is time to embrace “slow work.”

The reasons that today’s pace of work feels “fast” are fairly familiar. For one, many organizations face constant pressure to adapt to rapidly evolving market pressures, societal changes, and political pressures, and these pressures are increasingly passed to a gradually reduced workforce. To make matters worse, we face a flurry of information hitting from multiple angles (work, home, extended family, & friends) and through an increasing array of social networking and email platforms. This information onslaught competes for our rapidly diminishing attention spans. Third, it is normal to feel – despite this constant flurry of information that we are processing – that we are failing at staying in command of all of the work we need to do.

Many of us recognize that constantly reacting to immediate demands distracts us from focusing on long-term goals and aspirations — and yet, we often feel starved for time to do so. Today’s quick wins are undermining tomorrow’s performance.

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So how do we reverse this situation, or at least begin to shift the balance? Existing research has demonstrated how some basic aspects of the work environment can improve one’s ability to be creative on the jobs; these include the freedom to make decisions about one’s work; encouragement from leaders; and striking a healthy balance between challenging or interesting work on the one hand and extraordinary workload pressures on the other hand.

UC Davis professors Kimberly Elsbach and Andrew Hargadon have suggested that we find ways to balance our workday activities with a mix of “mindful” (cognitively demanding) and “mindless” (cognitively facile) activities. Giving the mind a rest from high-stakes responsibilities and strategically doing simple (but necessary) administrative or hands-on tasks give us freedom to take control of our schedules and maintain momentum with less cognitive strain.

Similarly, our work here at DEGW helps organizations design work environments and practices that give people more flexibility and resources for varying their routines and making choices about how to effectively do their work with greater degrees of freedom.

More broadly, the philosophy of “slow work” challenges the unsustainable practice of doing everything as fast as possible and offers an alternative workplace framework for energizing people and helping people better align their personal and professional priorities. It urges us to punctuate our routines in ways that might initially appear to compromise productivity but actually enhance long-term creativity.

What follows are a handful of practical ways that one can begin to “work slow” in order to more strongly grip short-term demands and feel some creative energy to inspire us for the long-term.

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1) Make more time for yourself within your daily work routine.  It is easy to let meetings consume schedules, but when was the last time you scheduled uninterrupted time for yourself? A strategy for accomplishing this is to block chunks of time on your work calendar for focusing on concentrative tasks or any other necessary tasks that seem to slip from your reach. Doing so signals to others that you are serious about accomplishing specific goals and are therefore prioritizing the tasks needed to accomplish them.

2) Vary your routine.  Consider taking your laptop to a quiet area of your building or to another building on your campus. Casual seating areas are incorporated into many contemporary work settings to give people space to think. Taking the time to walk to a different corner of the building or campus provides exercise but also increases the likelihood that you will encounter a colleague that you may not have seen in a while.  Such interactions strengthen professional relationships and provide fresh perspectives and insights.

3) Look for a way to “break out” of the office.  If you schedule concentrative time for yourself, consider taking your work offsite to give yourself a radically different experience that could spark some inspiration. If you work in a large city, take advantage of the myriad of public spaces such as parks and plazas that are accommodating to workers with plentiful seating and free wi-fi. DEGW’s BREAKOUT! study in New York City was an effort to reclaim public spaces throughout the city and demonstrate how they provide people with an alternative to an office work setting. The milieu of a public setting can positively change your perspective and help you put things in broader context.

4) Consider “coworking” with others for a day. A Brooklyn-based start-up company called Loosecubes facilitates connections between people looking for space in which to camp out for a day or two and organizations that have space to share. This model connects like-minded people looking for creative inspiration through a mix of different work experiences. Organizations are also finding that this model of welcoming outsiders into their communities brings fresh perspectives to their people.

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Each of these different ways of working consumes more time because they require conscious efforts to vary existing routines. In other words, they slow us down. But these changes reward us with more time to absorb and process information, which strengthens our long-term professional performance. Consequently, slow work and the freedoms afforded by it provide more flexibility to align personal and professional goals and responsibilities.

Peter Bacevice is a Senior Consultant at the New York office of DEGW, part of AECOM. He works with organizations on developing strategies for creating effective work and learning environments.  He holds a PhD in Education from the University of Michigan.

22 comments
Starshiprarity
Starshiprarity

The whole idea that "Traditional ____s work fine" is a dangerous thing. Even minor improvements of the norm should be sought after  because of the many windows that they open elsewhere.

And if I could put my debit card, my IDs, and my pink berry card in a phone, I would jump at the opportunity. It would mean a whole new empty pocket in my jeans with limitless posibilities!

Clockmeister
Clockmeister

I think it might be quite nice to pay for certain things using my smartphone, but I would still carry around cash in my wallet. It will take a lot of time until you can pay everywhere with your phone anyway... 

Raymond Chuang
Raymond Chuang

I think most skepticism about using smartphones as payment devices is the fact it hasn't been really tried in the USA outside of the Google Wallet system with its very limited usage base.

In South Korea and Japan, payments by using specially-equipped cellphones are VERY common, many of them using the Sony-developed "FeliCa" system for NFC communications. Indeed, it's very common for many Japanese rail commuters to swipe their cellphones to pay for train tickets (e.g., the Mobile Suica system used on JR East Railway). And 7-Eleven in Japan offers the Nanaco payment system, which preloads money on your cellphone so you can buy items from 7-Eleven convenience stores and certain other retailers that accept Nanaco mobile payments.

In short, if the next-generation iPhone gets NFC mobile payments, the idea of paying for items by cellphone will _explode_ up in popularity in the USA very quickly.

dialyn
dialyn

Well, I don't own a SmartPhone and have zero $$$ to indulge in one so my few dollars are tucked in a wallet and are likely to stay there.  I've been cringing at the idea of everything going through privacy sucking companies online and hackers looking to get their jollies out of stealing information.  I'm just hoping the brave new world of all things electronic for payments holds off until I'm long gone and don't have to worry about paying for anything anymore.

lokiii
lokiii

I think most people don't like the idea of getting stuck in the middle of nowhere if the phone is lost, stolen, or broken.  If you follow their logic you will no way of contacting people and no money as well to make other arrangements.

Kelub
Kelub

Ahh I hate this "all or nothing" mentality. "Why bother with the change if we're still going to need wallets?" Yes, it's evolutionary, not revolutionary. But in just the past 20 years my wallet "needs" have gone from carrying a checkbook/photos/business cards/license/insurance/receipts/cash etc etc to just my license and a couple of cards. If someone had said "why replace checks? Everyone takes them, they work just fine" we'd not have the explosion of debit/check card usage. Convenience is enough of a reason for change! As change happens, the use of the wallet changes and dimishes. ONE DAY... maybe we won't need it. Not tomorrow, not just with NFC. It's an evolution.

I get the argument that data mining will likely increase with this. That's a problem. I'd hope that regulations currently in place on existing purchasing infrastructures will be applied to anything in the future; however I'm not sure how many people AREN'T using discount cards, which perform the exact same function. That concern doesn't mean we shouldn't be striving to get there.

Security is also a concern. Again, when credit/debit cards first starting gaining widespread use, the concern was about theft. It's a lot easier to use someone else's card - if your checkbook is stolen, you have a delay before the checks hit the account and can cancel the sequence. Now you have to rely on disputes if someone spends money without authorization before you cancel the card. We adapted to the change. 

My phone has allowed me to go from carrying a massive pocketbook to a small front-pocket wallet because of the advances in technology. I'd LOVE to stop carrying a wallet. Maybe one day, as we push forward, we'll get to where our licenses are digitally accepted. Why not? But if we draw a line in the sand and tout all of the "I'm afraid of change" arguments that are always used since ever, we'll never get there. 

LoudRambler
LoudRambler

 US is very skewed towards credit card usage.

 Living in Canada, I can tell that most merchants would rather take cash or debit (debit works differently in Canada with the non-profit Interac system processing most charges for a low fixed fee rather than giving a cut to credit card companies) than deal with credit cards that can stop a transaction and will take a pretty sizable percentage in fees.

 I don't foresee cash disappear from my wallet any time soon, even though cheques are dwindling (too easy to fake, I guess).

Hootman52
Hootman52

 I would be better off if my phone were stolen. It's password protected and I can track it.  My wallet is not as secure.

Gentler_Reader
Gentler_Reader

Sometimes it seems that people today never developed bulls--t detectors. Perhaps it's the result of the latest generations' helicopter parenting wherein no one learned to think for himself, was shielded from failure and was encouraged to think that he existed to be given things, but folks are just clambering for this... stuff  for which they have no need but will still "make life easier." Easier than what?! Developers and manufacturers have always striven to create the solution first then sell the public on the idea that the problem exists--always. But it's never been so successfully deployed as in the last couple of decades against generations that grew up having to choose between only two options: "I want that" and "I want that now." There is no alarm system, no inhibition, no logic, no reasoning, no common sense... nothing standing in the way between them and the latest bit of utter nonsense.

Amitavo Mitra
Amitavo Mitra

plus, what happens when your cell phone gets stolen? who would be held liable for fraudulent purchases made with tapping the cell phone ? how are such transactions verified?(not that credit card transactions are matched to the person using it at most places).

Denise Lee Yohn
Denise Lee Yohn

the true test of the value of one;s smartphone can be answered by the question: which would you rather lose, your wallet or your phone?  I, for one, would pick my wallet -- I can do without  few bucks cash and my credit cards are covered, but I can't live without my phone and all the info it enables me to have at my fingertips. -- denise lee yohn

Wholesale suppliers
Wholesale suppliers

Yes, I am agree with your post that "slow work" makes us productive.  It is also true that summer is the time when mostly people are on vacations. But its is a very good time to analysis your business.  We can easily define and correct the errors who are terrible for our business. It is also very best time to train our employes.    

vstillwell
vstillwell

This stuff always falls on deaf ears. Study after study as shown that laying off workers every time Wall Street wants quarterly earning up costs companies more in the long run, yet, they still lay off tons of workers every quarter. Also, study after study has shown that working more than 40 hours per week actually makes us less productive on the job, yet, hours keep inching upwards. When Wall Street runs the economy, societal productivity goes out the window. 

Haim At Iqtell
Haim At Iqtell

Maybe instead of slowing the pace we should focus more? Don't get me wrong, I'm in favor of working slower as long as it helps you get things done better...but working slower alone might not be a good fit for everyone.

Some people might lose their jobs because they're bugging co-workers and taking too many vacations.

I'd suggest to maybe tone it down a bit, mix it with productivity methods like GTD and focus your workflow to get more done...It will probably yield more “me time” and opportunities to take vacations then just focusing on slowing down.

I'd like to invite you to our productivity app to check how you can improve your effectiveness by collaborating with others and automating all your tasks  http://iqtell.com/

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