How Slow Living Habits Apply to Your Work Productivity

Feb 12, 2019 · 5 min read
Photo by Andreea Avramescu on Unsplash

Slow living philosophy has been gaining popularity for several decades. Opposing to the fast-paced modern lifestyle and productivity obsession, it chooses quality over quantity. Doing (and having) less in a more mindful and responsible way actually brings more value to our existence. Slow life means wearing clothes you already have instead of buying new ones, spending more time with relatives and friends instead of posting to the social networks, cooking simple food instead of eating out, and thoroughly experiencing local culture instead of jumping between touristic sights.

And what about our work? While technological progress over the last decades doubled productivity in many areas, Gallup research shows that 30% of people don’t have enough time to fulfill their assignments. At the same time, the urge of being productive and incessantly checking boxes in our to-do lists are often used as a refuge from asking ourselves important questions about the aim of our activity and the fulfillment it gives us.

Slow life offers a completely different approach to productivity. It focuses on how good we do each task and what impact it’ll have at the end of the day. Applying the slow life principles to your workplace will help you get out of the routine fuss, re-evaluate your activities, and finally get more satisfaction from what you’re doing.

1. Personify the Meaning in Your Work

John Coleman in an HBR article cites a New York sewage workers competition where they showed an incredible devotion to their hard job and then compares it to high-paid employees working in comfort and having almost no interest in what they do. The difference between the two attitudes lies in building your own meaning of work.

That’s easy for us to say. The meaning never comes upon us, but it should be constructed in a proactive way. One of the efficient ways to do it is connecting your work to the value you bring to the real people you know. It can be your clients, your colleagues or even people who don’t even have a clue that they use the results of your work every day (as in the case of the above sewage workers). As humans, we become more emotionally involved knowing that we make someone else’s life better than seeing growing figures in annual reports.

When you define and personify your meaning of work, this gives you a different perspective on your true priorities and empowers your motivation. People who are certain about the meaning of their work also show incredible creativity and the desire for continuous professional improvement. In the same article, Coleman provides an excellent example of hospital custodial staff who even having limited freedom to act rearranged artworks in rooms and changed chemicals that could irritate the patients.

2. Use Slow Thinking for Strategic Decisions

Daniel Kahneman in his famous book “Thinking, Fast And Slow” refers to two systems of thinking: the slow system requires a lot of energy and time as it helps us to analyze complex data, come to new conclusions about the world, and make difficult decisions. Fast thinking is responsible for processing immediate sensations and updating the world view we already have. If we use fast thinking instead of slow we may make impulsive decisions like buying too much food in the supermarket when we are hungry or choosing easy routine tasks over-complicated problems we’re afraid to tackle. As Tony Crabbe puts it in Personnel Today: “We throw ourselves into frenetic activity and give ourselves the perfect excuse for not doing the big-thinking stuff.”

To avoid such useless activity, regularly take your time and turn on your slow thinking to work through your current goals, priorities, and complex issues. According to some researchers, our brain works best a few hours after we wake up. So put off all urgent and routine tasks and dedicate this part of the day for strategic stuff.

3. Compete in a Smart Way

Of course, you as an employee and as a company has to be competitive and pursue your market share. But many experts say that in today’s economy of abundance it’s more advantageous to find your unique niche than to try to outcompete others with your marketing expenses.

Searching for limited markets and working on differentiating your product (and not just in terms of price!) brings long-term profitability and security. And this means that maybe you don’t need to spend budget on all those conferences, Black Friday sales, and being everywhere your competitors are. Separating strategic activities for your business from simply creating a buzz is definitely a slow-thinking task.

4. Use the 80/20 Rule

According to the famous Pareto distribution, only 20% of all work that you do will bring you 80% of all results. And 80% of this work will be done in 20% of your most productive time. So the trick is to determine which part of your work belongs to this top important fifth and set correct priorities.

Also, important work should be done when you’re most focused and productive. Determine your biological productivity cycles (usually the most productive time falls into the morning or early afternoon) and use the system of regular work and break periods that we describe below. Organizing your work smartly you’ll achieve better results than working up to late night every day.

Start using an easy and efficient time tracker to gain control over where your time goes.

5. Take Regular Short Breaks

Research shows that the longest continuous period of work for most people is 52 minutes. After that, most of us start losing focus, slow down, and show worse results. That’s why making a short 5–10 minute break every hour will keep your mind fresh and help you get back to your work with new ideas. Regular breaks are particularly significant for creative type of work that requires constant intellectual effort.

Make sure that your break activity is pleasant and different from your work. If you work at the computer, the best option will be minimal physical activity — at least, make a coffee, walk to the window, and watch the street for a few moments. Or, discuss with a colleague non-work-related topics. Or, read an article about another field of interest. Such non-intentional activity as contemplation or friendly conversation recharges our brain and brings us insights for out-of-the-box solutions.

6. Invest in Good Relationships with Colleagues

Is there anyone who hasn’t yet read about the importance of soft skills? That’s because well-coordinated teamwork stands behind every great success. Not to mention good relationships with people who you see no less than 8 hours a day greatly contribute to overall happiness and fulfillment. Few ways to invest in your work relationships are showing the newcomer around and inviting them for lunch, initiating a team gathering event so you can discuss non-work-related topics together, and simply being more attentive and patient in your daily communication.

The most important part of your relationship with colleagues is expressing gratitude for their work. When you acknowledge their personal contribution and explain how it resulted in the common achievement, this helps them build their own meaning of their work and makes your team stronger.

As you may see, all slow life principles are connected and practicing them ultimately leads to one goal: valuing your own life and the lives of others more and doing something that improves it.

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