As the pandemic drags on, many of us are under more pressure than ever before at work. Perhaps your company was operating at a loss during the first few months of the pandemic, and now—half a year later—it’s regaining its footing and you’re juggling multiple new projects. Maybe your team laid off workers, and you’re forced to pick up the slack. Or maybe you’re trying to get a new side hustle off the ground.
These fluctuations at work are stressful. And even pre-pandemic, there was already a tendency to view overworking as a source of celebration. A more lenient time of year—such as this holiday season—can help recenter us and clarify what goals we want to achieve when we’re back at our desks.
The “slow work” movement prioritizes meaningful and measured productivity, alongside dedicated time for breaks. The work style places importance on concentrated work, especially on individual tasks. Hopping from assignment to assignment is not part of the slow work philosophy. However, wiping the slate clean, so your schedule is less packed, is a key part of slow work.
To try out this work style, find time for activities you enjoy. Build in concentrated parts of your day for passion projects that require you to use your hands—and not just your thumbs, swiping across a screen. You can more easily get to a place where your mind is uninhibited and free to wander, perhaps even allowing you to reach a breakthrough.
Our normal way of working, where you’re constantly operating under high-pressure situations, may feel motivating in the short term, but excessive strain is bad for us. Most likely, you’re already turning to unhealthy workflow habits, such as task switching, which unnecessarily tax your brain and set you back cognitively. If you find yourself toggling between a video call, a Slack exchange, and a frenzied read-through of a report, your brain is most likely buckling. The end result is your brain gets wiped out and your work suffers.
We need downtime to get back to a healthy level of productivity. Committing yourself to leisure time is something that may not feel productive, but it can lead to a more balanced and thoughtful output. Further, when we slow our thoughts down, the more trustworthy our intuitive impulses become. We don’t need to second-guess if our harried minds are reaching for the easiest option. Our thoughts are innately clearer.
One way to incorporate slow work into your life—especially during a time of increased stress and isolation—is with a new hobby. A hobby that requires your hands, encourages focused work, and celebrates a meditative, un-frenzied process encapsulates the merits of slow work.
Here are a few hands-on projects to help you leisurely invest your time. Your brain will thank you later!
Bake or cook something new
As senior staff writer Liz Segran describes in a recent video, this year’s holiday activities may be different, but they can still be celebratory. For instance, now is a good time to dive back into the kitchen and explore new holiday recipes. By spending your energy on perfecting a flaky pastry or finding joy in pulling bread out of the oven, your mind is able to slow down and become more attuned to its surroundings.
In socially distant times, you can spread some joy by delivering your creations to their doorsteps. Bonus points if you can leave a handwritten note with your holiday treats, since practicing your penmanship is another activity that embraces a focused and meditative routine—a tenet of slow work.
Take up a tactile craft project
Fast Company staff writer Pavithra Mohan reported in May how a particular subset of small businesses, such as puzzle makers, were finding unusual success during the pandemic.
These shops and services were all “indoor-friendly” but also incorporated aspects of slow work. Puzzles, knitting, and, of course, baking sourdough dominated the start of the pandemic; they also all prioritize leisurely and detail-focused activities that are done by hand.
If puzzles aren’t your style, you could try a board game or card game, cross-stitching, or needlepoint, all of which don’t require sitting in front of a screen. Other worthwhile meditative activities to try include decorating your home for the holidays.
Make art or music
Even if you’re no Picasso, this stressful period is a great time to create some terrible art. The fewer reservations you have, the better. Give yourself permission to make a truly unattractive set of clay bowls or a very avant-garde mix on the synthesizer from high school. It’s the doing of the activity that matters. Research shows that engaging with visual and musical art can have positive psychological effects. Taking up art for therapy can reduce stress, fight depression, and keep chronic disease at bay.
Declutter your workspace (and maybe the rest of your house)
Just like slow working can improve the likelihood of completing your work in one go, no corrective action required, refining your living and workspaces can free up your home from clutter, and it can also streamline your headspace.
If you’ve been working from home and are still dissatisfied with your remote setup, a holiday break is a good time to overhaul your desk. Clear off old notes and dried-up pens; wipe your space off and create a clean slate; detangle electrical cords and replace batteries in wireless devices; and finally, take the time to get a solid desk chair, for the sake of your back. You deserve to be comfortable and prepared to focus for the months ahead.
Although many of us now organize our lives through inboxes and digital files, our homes are typically still filled with outdated documents and excess paper. These piles of distraction can wreak havoc on our minds, elevating our stress levels, and upending our sense of control.
Take time this winter to purge your home of outdated papers; maybe even spend a few hours to scan your most important files to a cloud platform. Without the normal holiday craziness of parties and gatherings, you may have extra time to tackle a digital detox, including unsubscribing from services and deleting apps you don’t need.