Slow Down! How Slow Work Increases Productivity

Trends around productivity are a little dubious. What works for one person might not work for another, and it’s practically impossible to design a style that will work for absolutely everyone. Just look at office design; the open concept space allows some people to feed off the group energy, but others need some element of privacy and quiet to focus.

The Slow Work movement might sound like just another trend, but it has some perks that can appeal to all work types. Particularly as more and more research emerges showing that hyper fast, multi-tasking environments are actually more distracting and wear out the brain rather than prime it.  Many workplaces and projects move employees from meeting to meeting to impromptu meeting to phone calls and constant interruptions through IMs and emails.

This was the study scenario in which the slow work movement was born. An effort was made to identify the periods of productivity in these hectic schedules (check out the study detailed on Workforce).  Similar to the slow food movement (which is essentially bringing elements of mindfulness to eating, so every bit of consumption is contemplative vs. mindless), the slow work movement suggests that building in time for contemplation is necessary to reaching full productivity.

Slow work is defined by periods of punctuated work. It’s building in breaks to the nonproductive whirl of activity, and can take the form of whatever works best for each employee. That customization to individuals is part of what makes it work so well. Whether it means signing out of email for brief period, working offsite for half a day, or making a coffee run, it’s open to everyone to determine what works best for them.

Some organizations have taken it to the next level, designing their offices in a way that facilitates a slow work environment. Also termed “smart-working,” some elements include:

●  No assigned work spaces, allowing employees to reconfigure based on projects or personal preference for the day.

●  Taking employees offsite to put them in a fresh frame of mind.

● Creating communal spaces as well as private offices for use.

Finding ways to facilitate slow working can be done on a personal basis as well. If your organization isn’t set up in a way to fully facilitate a total engagement in slow work, there are some things you can do individually or with your team to take advantage of this mindful practice:

●  Schedule downtime. Literally schedule yourself time to work on work. Sounds crazy, huh? Set recurring meetings for yourself for things like lunch and other breaks as well to preclude any ambitious folks taking over your calendar.

●  Vary the routine. Allow yourself and your team the freedom to move around, sitting in different areas, or work from home (if that’s not currently an option).  This has additional benefits, like running into coworkers with whom you might not see often and facilitating relationships, or gaining full focus without distraction.

●  Encourage a walking meeting or holding a meeting at the coffee shop down the street to rejuvenate the brain with a different environment.  

Like many moments in life, sometimes hitting pause is like hitting refresh. It can be the link between new ideas and re-engagement.