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Emma Sue Prince



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Slow done, be more productive


Lately, I’ve been making a conscious choice to slow down. Even though work is very busy and there seems to be constantly more to do, I’ve been finding that I am far more productive when I slow down…. I seem to work more efficiently, have more ideas, am more relaxed and happier! So, with summer here and generally – I’ve decided it’s time to embrace “slow work”.

Quite a paradox. Today’s pace of work feels “fast” and not slow at all! Having to rapidly respond to a changing market environment, competition and less resource feels like there is constant pressure on both organisations and individuals. Combine that with a flurry of information hitting from multiple angles and through an ever-increasing array of social networking and email platforms and they all compete for our rapidly diminishing attention spans. The message for today is that you’d better speed up because everything is changing so rapidly and you need to keep up with it all. So why slow down then?

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 gives us freedom to take control of our schedules and maintain momentum with less cognitive strain.

I’ve certainly found that when I have done this, it has made a big difference. By consciously not multi-tasking and being more present and mindful, focusing on what is in front of me at that moment, I am tapping into more energy and resource. I’m more productive.

For me, slow work is about the successful combination of my business and my work with family and community. I want the time to bake a cake, or cook a nutritious and lovely meal. I want to be able to step out into the garden (whether that garden is at home, in the middle of London or in the middle of Kuala Lumpur), if only for 5 minutes, and breathe, reflect, stop. And I want to perform to the best of my ability in my business and consultancy – to do this I need to think strategically, creatively and – yes – quickly. It’s not that I want to get rid of fast and I still love the high-tech world that I live in which makes so many things possible and achievable. It is about balance.

The continuous drive for ever higher levels of productivity at work pushes people to work faster and in a more fragmented way. They’re constantly dividing mental capabilities across an ever wider range of tasks – multi-tasking is actually ineffective and not the efficient, clever ability it is usually (even smugly) proclaimed as. That’s because the increasing speed at which we are expected to access and absorb information doesn’t always align to the pace at which our minds are equipped to process it and get meaningful insight from it. By slowing down, our brains will be more energised – it may seem that slow rather than fast might initially compromise productivity but actually, it’s not the case. What it does is teach our brain to handle information and overload smartly and creatively and be more productive.

So, how to bring this into the everyday? Try these:

1. Within your daily work routine, make more time for yourself - it’s so easy to let meetings and demands take over your schedule but when was the last time you scheduled some intentional time for yourself? Remember, this does not have to be long chunks of time – short will do, as long as you are focused on the present moment. Carve that time by being smart with your day – schedule also blocks of time when you are working on more concentrative tasks (yes, shut off Facebook, phone and email whilst you do this!) and other blocks where you focus on the “mindless” stuff that often slips out of reach – admin and routine tasks.

2. Vary your routine - take your laptop to a quiet area of your building, or to a cafe or park and work there. If you’re in an office, take time to walk to a different part of the building and while you’re at it, cultivate your interpersonal skills along the way by making time to chat and greet others. Taking that time to walk also gives you physical movement. Or try playing a short burst of music or 5 minutes of mindful breathing.

3. Co-work with others for a day - whether employed, running your own business or a freelancer, look for ways to connect with like-minded people with different work experiences. This will give you creative inspiration. Organisations like Loosecubes are finding that this model of welcoming outsiders into their communities brings fresh perspectives.

These different ways of working can seem like they take up more time, only because they require conscious efforts to vary your existing routine. So, in other words, they slow you down. But such simple changes will reward you with more time to absorb and process information and that will ultimately strengthen your long-term professional performance. Not only that, but also the freedom to give you more flexibility to balance work and personal life. 

Have a great week! Be your best self.

Unimenta – best practice membership site for practitioners working with soft skills. Join us today.

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Emma Sue Prince


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