Is Slow Productivity the Wave of the Future?
In a time when almost 90 percent of employees feel burned out, and another 90 percent say that work-related stress is making their home life a mess, it’s time to rethink how we’re working and if it really is working. Quick productivity makes you feel like you’re accomplishing as much as possible during the workday. But if every day feels like running a sprint, how can you retain the energy for the marathon that is your career? You may need to take stock of your work habits and change them to retain the stamina you need for a happy work life. And the best way to do that is by shifting from regular productivity to something called “slow productivity.”
What is it
Slow productivity was coined by Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work and A World Without Email. His think piece in the New Yorker discusses the idea that four-day work weeks and compressed work weeks are only a partial solution to a bigger problem: that of overwork. By cutting down on our hours but retaining the same workload, employees will be subject to even more stress due to the pressure of condensed deadlines. Slow productivity isn’t about mentally checking out. It’s just about working a little slower on fewer things at one time so that you enjoy the process of work a bit more. That way, productivity can be redefined based on the quality of your work rather than the quantity.
Slow productivity, adds Amy Blankson (author of The Future of Happiness) in an interview with Forbes, is a method of coping with something called the productivity fallacy. This is the idea that our ideal level of productivity will allow us to complete everything on our to-do lists so that we can have time to ourselves – almost like making sure we’re earning our time off by putting in the right amount of work. Many are used to setting the bar high, attempting to break their own personal productivity records, and continually taking on new projects. But this, Blankson argues, is a recipe for burnout. Enjoying life isn’t something to be earned; it’s something to be experienced.
Why it’s going to trend
Slow productivity is the wave of the future because 2023 will be a year of mindfulness in work culture. Other trends like quiet quitting or downshifting your career have a similar idea behind them – people are tired, and they’re looking for a way to enjoy life more without investing all of their mental energy in a career that didn’t give back to them during the pandemic. In an attempt to manage their work/life balance, employees are realizing that work doesn’t need to be all stress so that life can be all fun. Sometimes, life outside of work can be stressful as well. And when that happens, you want a job you can find respite and solace in rather than one that upholds you to a standard of productivity that drains you.
This trend may also take hold because, for some, it’s a bit on the problematic side. Author and consultant Karla Starr tells Medium that the human body and mind are “lazy by default” and that burnout isn’t a sign that something is wrong – it’s a sign that we’re human. Rather than being self-motivated, human beings need to be motivated by outside sources. That’s why slow productivity doesn’t solve the problem of burnout; working less doesn’t inherently solve other issues in the workplace. Bosses and managers might still be rude, the pay might be insufficient, or teammates might be ostracized, and no deficit of work can fix those things. It’s not about how much of a workload you have, says Starr. It’s about how the people around you are helping you to tackle that workload and how appreciated you feel after doing so.
While Starr has a point, slow productivity isn’t just about working less to experience less stress. It’s about an institutional and cultural change that values methodical processes over rapid ones. Some work needs to be cut, that’s for sure – especially if it’s busy work or “office housework.” But the work is just a barometer of the entire workplace as an organism, and the ultimate goal is to replace your “hustle culture” with mindfulness culture.
How to put it into practice
1. Space deadlines out
One of the main problems with productivity as it stands is that there are too many deadlines in too quick of a succession. Sometimes it can feel like you’re under a time crunch to do just about everything, and it will make the quality of your work suffer. Instead, try out setting deadlines far in advance or making shorter deadlines more reasonable and taking appropriate breaks. For instance, ordering food online can provide a good break during work hours. Opting for vegan-friendly plant-based meals can foster a healthier lifestyle for the team and cue conversations about responsible eating habits, contributing to the team’s overall balance and productivity. If issues come up in a project and all hands need to be on deck, make a contingency plan for how that level of stress can be handled, and never overload one employee with the majority of the work.
The basis of slow productivity is to scale back on the less important features of work and focus on what really matters. And if data entry seems to have the same gravitas as regulatory reports, your team’s priorities might be a bit out of whack. Be reasonable about your expectations and ensure you’re not placing undue importance on tasks that are less consequential than others. By making everything seem urgent, nothing will seem urgent – and teammates or employees will feel simultaneously resentful and overwhelmed.
Rather than considering slow productivity as a way to work less, try conceptualizing it as a way to work smarter. Automating the tasks that you do on a regular basis can cut the fat from your workday and allow you the space and time for slow productivity to thrive. Turn to project management software, AI or machine learning (ML) tools, some light coding, or other options that might lighten your load.