How Going Slow at Work Helped Me Speed Up
I used to brag about being a Type A personality. I equated long work hours as a sign of my productivity. I thought going fast was the key to professional success. Boy was I wrong. It wasn’t until I left the office environment that I discovered the power of going slow at work.
It took me 20+ years into my career to discover how going slow at work actually INCREASED not only the quality of my work, but also my productivity. And a bonus side effect – improved personal relationships with my friends and family as I finally had the time to make and foster meaningful connections.
For those of you Type As who are rolling your eyes, I encourage you to keep reading. While it may seem counterintuitive, there are great benefits in going slow.
A lot of the professional development articles and videos out there talk about how to cram more work into your day, get the most out of your daily routine or juggle multiple projects.
Rarely do we hear advice on how to slow down, how to do less or how to give yourself space.
It is only through self employment and being (mostly) in control of my time that I’ve truly understood how going slow at work is key to increasing my productivity. It’s also meant tuning out mainstream advice and tuning in to what works for me.
This wasn’t an easy transition or one that came naturally. Having worked in government and corporate offices, I was so used to spending my days going from meeting to meeting, often on different topics or projects, and trying to cram work into tiny windows (which of course meant working nights and weekends). Since everyone around me was in the same rat race, I didn’t know another way.
I would often come home from work exhausted, my mind racing from project to project, and have little energy to connect with my family. After 20 years of keeping up this pace, my health was deteriorating and I was looking for a way to jump off the hamster wheel.
Having worked as a consultant numerous times throughout my career, I was comfortable making the leap. But one thing had changed this time around – I was now a mom of two busy kids. This meant my old consulting career, that included regular travel, was no longer desirable.
In short, I had to redefine not only my consulting career, but also figure out how to do so while being a mother.
Slow work movement
The first thing I did was hire a career coach to help me not only figure out my business structure, but also how to get the most out of my productivity while still having time for my family.
And this is where I was introduced to the slow work movement (and the magic happened).
I learned how by leaving space in my calendar, I not only had more time to think about the projects I was working on, but also opened myself up to new opportunities (many of which I never could have imagined).
Ending the practice of scheduling back to back meetings, I am able to make the most out of my client meetings. Instead of working on 10 different projects in a day, I schedule out blocks of time to work on a single project. This allows me to stay focused on the project, instead of half thinking about the next meeting.
I also include space in this project time. Space for a walk, coffee with a friend, time to read a book, listen to a podcast or do whatever comes to me. Often it is in this space that I come up with my best ideas. I’ve learned it is the space that fosters creativity, not the crammed schedule.
So let’s go back to the idea of increased productivity by going slow at work. This is an idea that is gaining traction in a number of innovative corporations around the world.
A Stanford University study brought the challenges of long workdays to light, showing how people that work long hours are less productive than their counterparts who have more manageable hours.
Since that study was released, some corporations have gone a step further. We are now seeing corporations, small businesses and public organizations allowing employees to work from home (eliminating the stressful commute) or having flexible hours (letting night owls start their day later). These small changes not only lead to greater work satisfaction, but also result in less sick days and increased productivity.
Find what works for you
While you may not be in control of the work flexibility in your office, you can control your career and find what works for you.
For me, it meant leaving the corporate and government day jobs behind and transitioning into self employment. It meant taking the time to find my balance, figure out how best to set my schedule based on when I’m most productive (mornings) and what projects spark my creativity. I also learned how the space in my calendar is key to helping my brain work through a project. My greatest aha moments have come when I’m out walking my dogs, not sitting in my office staring at a computer screen.
Letting go of my Type A personality, I’m continually learning lessons on the power of slowing down at work. There are days that old habits kick in and I’m tempted to cram five client calls into a day. But then I remember I’m not giving my clients the attention they deserve (and are paying for), nor will I be fully present.
What slowing down at work means will be different for each person. It could be leaving at the end of the work day, not staying for an extra hour. Or it could taking your full lunch break instead of eating at your desk.
I encourage you to find ways to slow down at work (even minor shifts can result in big changes). Be clear on how you are going to slow down, commit to this change (so you don’t slip into old habits) and see how it impacts the quality and enjoyment of your work.
And for those of you who are self-employed, why did you leave traditional jobs in the first place? Was it to be in control of your time and choose the projects that interest you? Now ask yourself, are you truly in control of your time or it at the mercy of your clients?
Look at how you can stay true to what drove you to set your own career path in the first place.
I know for me, the slow work movement has resulted in huge professional and personal transformations. My clients, my family and my friends have all benefits. But most importantly, the biggest winner has been me as I now get true joy out of the work I do each day. Something that couldn’t be said when I was running on the hamster wheel.
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