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Our careers are supposed to be a marathon, not a sprint. So why does it often feel like we’re running at a fast, unsustainable pace?
In short: we’re overworked. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly half of remote employees said they regularly work longer hours than before; 70% of those employees said they also work weekends. Overwork doesn’t just eat away at our time — it has long-lasting damanging effects on our mental health, productivity and engagement. It can lead to burnout, which disproportionally affects women at work.
When we work more, we feel like we’re getting more done. But in reality, working more hours doesn;t necessarily increase your productivity; in fact, over time you might actually get less done. According to a 2019 Standford study, productivity per hour decreases sharply after a person works 50 hours a week. After 55 hours, productivity drops so much that someone who works 80 hours a week will likely get as much done as someone who puts in 55.
Long hours aren’t the answer to getting more done. In fact, they’re hurting us in the long run.
This is where the slow work movement comes in. The slow work movement asks: what if we valued productivity without the extra hours? What if we decreased the number of hours we spent working, but still had the same results — or even better ones — all while living a more fulfilling life?
Slow work is a movement that emphasizes slowing down the pace of work with regular breaks. Slow work is mindful and focused on giving people time to process and regain energy between tasks.
In practice, this means spending more time away from work with controlled, leisurely breaks. When you get back to work, you focus your energy on specific tasks and chip away at your work one piece at a time.
Slow work values that workers are people, not just beings that generate results for companies. The point of slow work is to offload stress and instill a sense of control and relaxation during the workday. Instead of constantly worrying about keeping up with work, slow work allows you to put in your best work when you’re at your desk, and actually gives you a productive, restful break when you’re not.
Another benefit of slow work is that you’re micro-focused on the task at hand when you’re working. When we constantly chase the next thing on our to-do list, we can often get distracted and overwhelmed by the millions of things we’re supposed to be doing. Slow work focuses on one task at a time, which means you get to give your full attention to whatever you’re working on at the moment.
Your best ideas don’t always come when you’re constantly hard at work. Instead, sometimes you’ll get a bright idea when you’re making lunch or taking your dog for a walk. The reason? “When you’re relaxed, you tend to enter “alpha brain wave” state,” writes Sara Sabin for Fast Company. This is “a state in which you are more likely to come up with creative ideas.” When you’re practicing slow work, you’re entering that alpha brain wave state more often — meaning inspiration is more likely to strike.
Taking more routine breaks away from work helps decenter work in your life and identity. You’ll get more time back to take breaks in a way that serves you and your personal life, and take part in non-work-related activities you want to do. Instead of trying to fit your personal life around your career and its demands, you can start to live a more holistic life.
When we think about slowing down our work, we may worry we’re suddenly going to fall behind at work and become less efficient. Instead, slow work has the opposite effect. When we give ourselves time to slow down and take breaks, the times we actually work become more focused and creative, and we’re more productive in the long run — and our work quality actually improves.
It’s no secret that long working hours lead to burnout — and that burnout disproportionately affects women in the workforce. Slow work can counteract burnout by giving us adequate time away from work to take care of ourselves and our loved one’s health.
If you’re used to jumping from task to task, always trying to get the next thing done as fast as you can, slow work can feel like an impossible movement to jump into. In many ways, slow work does require structural change; it’s hard to slow down and focus if your employer is overworking you and not giving you enough resources and support to get your work done.
Yet there are still ways you can practice slow work even if your company doesn’t have flexible hours or has an “always-on” culture. One way to practice slow work is “monotasking.” One benefit of slow work is focusing on one task at a time so you become more focused and less distracted. Block off time in your calendar and dedicate yourself to doing one task uninterrupted for a specific persiod of time — no checking notifications or emails along the way. When you’re done with that task, give yourself a break fully away from work. That may be a quick walk or even a power nap. Then, jump into your next work task and repeat.
Giving yourself time to truly focus on a task — and then giving yourself adequate time to rest — can help instill a slow work mindset even in the most hectic of work cultures.
When we’ve grown accustomed to speeding up to get things done, slow work can make us feel like we’re doing something wrong. But slow work not only leads to better work — it leads to a better, healthier you, both inside and outside of work.
This article reflects the views of the author and not those of Fairygodboss.
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