5 benefits of slow work

For too long being able to consistently say that you’re busy was treated as a badge of honor. It was a fact of the never-stop hustle culture—or the idea that if you get things done, you’ll eventually see more and more money. But this mindset comes with a cost. Is success really success if every other aspect of your life suffers, include your health and your relationships with family and loved ones?

While some people may be able to work 20-hour days, at full capacity, for years, without breakdown or burnout, for the vast majority of people, this is not sustainable. The Mental Health Foundation points out, “The cumulative effect of increased working hours [has] an important effect on the lifestyle of a huge number of people, which is likely to prove damaging to their mental well-being.”

But what if there was another way and you could achieve success, holistically, without compromising the quality of your work or sacrificing your mental health? Enter the “slow work” movement. The slow work movement focuses on mindfulness, creativity, and a balanced working environment.

“Slow work” goes against everything we have been taught about being successful. However, applying these principles and taking time to recharge is likely to improve the quality of your work. As we move into a colder, more festive season, it’s a natural time of year to slow down, rest and reboot. Here are five benefits of giving yourself a break this festive season and deciding to approach work differently in 2022.

Getting off the “hamster wheel”

When you are trapped in the cycle of constant busyness, it is very difficult to get off the treadmill. The more you are on the wheel or treadmill or whatever equivalent of never-ending motion, the more concerns there are to take up your attention. You can get trapped in thinking about “urgent” over “important” most of the time.

The important things will help you in the long-term to reach your goals, but they often keep being delayed in the short term, so you can address more urgent tasks. The irony is that in allowing yourself space to focus on what’s important, you can reduce the number of urgent things that you need to address at work. That is because you have taken the time to anticipate what needs to be done to help you work more efficiently and prevent fires starting.

If you consciously choose to stop the busyness trap, you have space to see how to do things differently.

Putting your efforts into focused work

Focused word results in higher quality work. There is no such thing as “multi-tasking” (another term people are proud to say they do!). Research tells us that we don’t do tasks simultaneously. Instead, we switch between separate tasks. This process of switching may only lose you micro-seconds each time, but the cumulative effect of it is inefficient and unproductive work patterns, that become draining.

The most efficient way of working is to allocate dedicated time to spend on one task at a time (especially where the task at hand is complex or requires creativity). If you work in this way, it means that you are likely to complete work quicker and to a higher standard.

If you work, free from distraction, it also increases the likelihood of entering the “flow state”, a term coined by the psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, to denote “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”

Leaning into flashes of inspiration 

Slow work is also likely to heighten your creativity. Have you ever noticed how your brilliant ideas often come to you, while you’re out for a walk or taking a bath? Or the answer to a complex problem you’ve been thinking about for weeks just pops into your head? The reason for this is that when you are relaxed, you tend to enter “alpha brain wave” state. A state in which you are more likely to come up with creative ideas. This makes a compelling case for taking regular breaks.

When your brain is in beta mode (the usual working state), you tend to get into “rut-thinking.” Not too helpful if you are trying to solve a complex problem or innovate. And if you are stressed or anxious as well, this can serve to completely shut down expansive thinking.

Using the “Pareto Principle”

The Pareto Principle states that 20% of our activities produces 80% of our results. In other words, there may not always be a high correlation between input and output. It depends whether you are focusing the majority of your time on the “right” activities. Most of us, might not even know what those 20% of “right” activities are.

Taking the time to really understand which activities produce the most impact can help you to get out of that hustle mentality and into slow work mentality. When you focus on the things that matter in a concentrated way, and either delegate or stop doing those less impactful activities, it will free up your time and allow you to work in a more balanced way, whilst not compromising performance.

Why slow work creates sustainable success 

Your career is a marathon, not a sprint. What’s the point in hustling constantly, if your health suffers and cuts down on your life? If your goal is to succeed in the long term, then, you need to nurture your mind and body to allow yourself the best platform to create success.

Everyone has 24 hours in a day. There is no excuse for not taking some time off to exercise, eat well, and sleep. All these things will feed and fuel your brain and allow you to perform at a high level consistently, without sacrificing your own well-being. If you want sustainable success, you cannot afford to neglect yourself.

Sara Sabin is a coach to executive and entrepreneur leaders. She is a business owner and has been the founder of many startups over the years.