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This is how to make the ‘slow work’ movement work for you

The “always-on” style of work takes a toll on one’s mental and physical health. It’s time for a different approach.

This is how to make the ‘slow work’ movement work for you
[Photo: Flickr user Allan Hack]

Canadian journalist Carl Honoré first explored the concept behind the “Slow Movement” in his 2004 book, In Praise of Slowness. In it, Honoré writes on the pressure for individuals to maximize nearly every moment of their waking hours—whether at work or in their personal lives. He also writes about the toll this takes on our mental and physical health.

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Many of us living in an age of constant connectivity may laugh at the idea of an “always-on” life in 2004—because it probably looks a lot slower than how it does today. Today, the average American worker is busier than ever, and burnouts are becoming more and more common.

That’s why the slow-work movement is now more relevant than ever before. In sharp contrast to Facebook’s “Move fast and break things” slogan, the slow-work movement focuses on mindfulness, creativity, and a balanced working environment. So how do you incorporate that into your own working life?

Understanding the slow-work movement

The slow-work movement emphasizes using your time in a more meaningful and productive way by taking controlled breaks and devoting your energy to focus on individual tasks. Many people tie their self-esteem to their work. Work can frustrate and make people ill, but it can also be meaningful and affirmative. That’s why a different approach to work can have a massive influence on your quality of life.

Slow work requires the introduction of new routines into your schedule, as a way to step back from the hectic pace of daily life. When you allow yourself to get out of your headspace and destress, you might become happier and healthier. After all, you’re giving yourself room to consider new and more creative solutions to your daily challenges.

Why you should consider remote work

When you start your morning in a crowded commuter train or a freeway traffic jam, you’ll probably be grumpy by the time you get to work (and also a little flustered). On top of that, even small delays can cause you to run late, prompting yet more stress and the need to cram more work into fewer hours. The commute to and from work is such a stress point for workers that a recent survey found 23 percent of Americans have quit a job because of it, CNBC reported.

If you can find a way to work remotely, even just a few times each month, you can significantly lower stress and save valuable time otherwise spent commuting. Moreover, the now-widespread availability of video-conference technologies and messaging tools like Slack effectively remove many of the obstacles to team collaboration that might otherwise prevent this.

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Research also shows that working from home helps employees disconnect from their office mindset to improve productivity and open themselves up to new ways of creative problem-solving. Removing the physical space that you associate with work—whether that’s the office or the vehicle required to get there—can provide tremendous benefits for your mental health and performance.

The importance of boundaries

Just like our work lives, many people view relaxation as a way to maximize performance. Power naps are supposed to quickly rejuvenate the body and mind, without all that wasted time spent, you know, actually sleeping. While they can be useful, you can’t rely on these techniques to sustain you in the long term.

Actively setting boundaries between designated work and leisure time can allow you to maintain a healthy mindset and avoid burnout. The idea of separating your schedule into chunks is more commonly referred to as “timeboxing.” Timeboxing is typically used for work-related tasks, but it can also play a crucial role in helping you set windows in your schedule for some much-needed personal time.

Embrace monotasking

Timeboxing also plays into another important concept—monotasking. Many people consider multitasking a valuable skill, but most of us will try to keep several balls in the air and then wonder how things go wrong or end up forgotten. Of course, that’s not to say multitasking doesn’t serve a purpose in managing day-to-day activities, but it can keep us from really concentrating on any one thing. Monotasking, on the other hand, is what slow work is all about. Simply put, it’s about doing one thing at a time. When you set boundaries between tasks, you typically end up completing complex projects faster and deliver better results, because you can focus on a deeper level.

The slow-work concept is a far cry from what most of us have been taught our entire professional lives. As the movement gains momentum, the following questions might arise: Is slow work compatible with real career success? Do I risk appearing lazy or unmotivated if I subscribe to that model of work?

As with all things new, it will probably take some adjusting. Then again, you wouldn’t expect a concept called the slow movement to take over too quickly, would you? When you give yourself the time and space to take a step back and properly focus on your work, you might find that you’re happier, healthier, and far more effective. At least much more so than when you were glued to your phone 24/7.

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Paul Gentile is a workplace collaboration expert at LogMeIn.

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