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Want To Be More Productive? Slow Down

A counterintuitive guide to getting things done

August 08, 2020 | 4 min. read

Remember that thing called multitasking? The jokes about women being better at it than men? How being a ‘life juggler’ was worn like a badge of honor? Look at me being versatile and important keeping so many things in the air!  

Well, it doesn’t amount to that much, and you can mess yourself up pursuing it. It’s not for nothing that the WHO defined burnout as a ‘chronic workplace stress phenomenon’ in 2019.  

Busting the myth 
More importantly: multitasking doesn’t work. If you eat your breakfast on a call while trying to soothe a baby, you won’t do any of those three tasks well. You’ll have a baby that needs more attention, memory blanks so you need to call again and stomach cramps from inhaling your breakfast – all of which take more time (or are just plain uncomfortable). 

And here’s the thing, if you’d done those three things one by one, then you (and the baby) would have been more satisfied, and you would have saved time! 

Why slow down?
Remember the fable where the slow and steady tortoise wins a race against the arrogant, erratic hare? Aesop was onto something 2500 years ago and that ancient wisdom still applies today. Going slow with work, or in other parts of our lives, can deliver way more benefits than modern life would have us believe. It can help achieve something more easily, in a more satisfying way, or with a better outcome. It can bring clarity, creativity and calm.  

What does it really mean? 
To be clear, slowing down doesn’t mean literally doing things in slow motion. It simply means doing less at any one time. This gives the impression that things happen slowly, while in fact they are just worked on in a sequence instead of simultaneously. This allows them to be done better because your mind is more present, focused and thoughtful.

Slow down in 3 steps 
So how do you put on the breaks? Not surprisingly, slowing down is a gradual process. You’ll need to train and renew it all the time. Here are three steps to get started:

1 Become a single-tasker
The key to slowing down is to do one thing at a time. Be kind to your brain, don’t overload it. Start by choosing a single task and giving yourself time to work on it with no interruptions. Prioritise and do the most important things first. Let go of the urge to do everything. Tackle just three tasks a day, but do them well! You’ll also need a coping strategy for interruptions. Dodge digital distractions by switching your phone off and closing computer apps. Dodge people distractions by noting any requests and returning to them later.  

 2 Be here now
While working on your task, give yourself permission to become fully absorbed in it. No need to check emails or think about tomorrow’s plans. Just be present in the work you’re doing with your brain fully focused on the task at hand. Work flows more smoothly when you’re immersed and enjoying it so allow time for imagination, learning and problem-solving. The same goes when you’re talking to someone: give them your full attention and you’ll leave the meeting with a better understanding of what to do next. 

 3 Decompress 
Work shouldn’t be a peddle-to-the-metal process. It should be cyclical with restful, regenerative pauses. Give yourself breaks to stretch, get a coffee, go outside or just daydream. Release tension after a stressful interaction or long video call with deep breathing or a power nap. Carving out time to relax can be hard: you have to let yourself prioritise things beyond work, such as your health and mental state. 

Slow and steady wins 
Ultimately it’s not about the destination but the journey, right? So make sure you enjoy that journey. Whether at the office or at home, embrace your inner tortoise and give the slow approach a try. 

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