Slow Productivity: How to Work Sustainably While Improving the Quality of Your Life

Slow productivity post feature image that says speed limit 25
Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

Most of us are burned out from the fast pace of our work environment. 

We have an intuition that there’s a better way to manage our workload, but we can’t seem to grasp it. 

Slow productivity offers a way to work at a sustainable pace while increasing the quality of our work.

Whether you’re stressed out or frustrated with your current way of working, this guide offers ideas for working sustainably while improving the quality of your work and life.

Table of Contents

The Core of Slow Productivity

The Slow Productivity Movement

The Slow Productivity movement focuses on reducing an individual’s work volume at any given time.1

The movement’s central goal is to help individuals work at a sustainable pace while increasing the quality of their work.

Workers’ main sources of stress are overload, breakneck speed/multitasking, and limited time to get things done. 

Slow productivity offers an alternative way of working that eliminates or reduces the negative effects of these stress sources.

The Costs of Overload

Productivity demands have increased in recent years, leading to more stress and lower quality of life.

Increased work volumes bring about more overhead and coordination/collaboration, reducing the actual time for an individual to actually get work done.

The human brain is good at organizing, planning, and executing tasks. But when there’s simply too much to do, this makes you anxious and uneasy, increasing your stress level and lowering the quality of your work.

The Costs of Speed

Speed inevitably comes with hidden costs: stress, burnout, decreasing quality of work.

In the moment, it may feel like we’re getting a lot done, cranking through our tasks at breakneck speed.

But this comes at the expense of our physical and mental health.

When you factor in the time it takes to recover from burnout and high stress, you’re better off working at a slow, sustainable pace.

The Limits of Time

Our time is limited, but the volume of work keeps increasing. 

This leads to many workers cramming as much work as possible into their limited time, with work bleeding into their free time, evenings, and weekends.

By embracing slow productivity, we accept that we may never have enough time to do everything on our to-do list.

But we can prioritize the things that matter most.

Three Strategies for Implementing Slow Productivity

Do Fewer Things

When you focus on a few tasks at a time, only starting a new task when you’re done with your current one, you actually complete your work faster. 

Focusing on a task with all your attention offers a better return on investment than multitasking between several tasks at a time.

By doing fewer things, you leverage slow productivity to work at a sustainable pace.

Work at a Natural Pace

Working at a natural pace means taking your time to do a task really well. 

When you work at a natural pace, you reduce the likelihood of burnout and increase the quality of your work.

Your goal becomes consistency and high quality instead of speed and quantity.

The most important benefit of working at a natural pace is that it builds your stamina and ensures longevity and sustainability in your work.

Obsess Over Quality

In the long term, high-quality work almost always wins. 

One of the goals of slow productivity is increasing the quality of your work.

When you embrace slow productivity, high quality becomes your top priority—you obsess over it and make sure you always deliver your best work.

A Call for Working Less and Embracing Slow Productivity

A possible key component of slow productivity is working less.

Although counterintuitive, working less improves the quality of our work and life.

In a recent research study in Iceland in which several workers tried a four-day workweek, many of them expressed feeling better, more energized, and less stressed. 

They had more time for other activities like exercise, socializing, and hobbies, which positively impacted their work 2.

Although most of us don’t have the luxury of working a four-day week, it is something we can all work toward in the long term.

Working long hours, at light speed, and on several tasks at a time doesn’t equate to high productivity or high quality of life.

To increase the quality of our work and life, we must embrace slow productivity.

We must focus on fewer things, work at a natural pace, and obsess over quality.

Further Reading:

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  1. It’s Time to Embrace Slow Productivity, Cal Newport, The New Yorker
  2. Going Public: Iceland's Journey to a Shorter Working Week, Autonomy

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