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Slowing Down Can Increase Productivity and Happiness, Part 2

Strategies on how to slow down

Part 1 of this article identified the related problems of busyness, workaholism, fast decision-making, multi-tasking and narrow perspectives on time. This article focuses on strategies for slowing down.

Reconceptualizing How We Structure Work

University of California, Davis professors Kimberly Elsbach and Andrew Hargadon have suggested that we find ways to balance our workday activities with a mix of “mindful” (cognitively demanding) and “mindless” (cognitively facile) activities. Giving the mind a rest from high-stakes responsibilities and strategically doing simple (but necessary) administrative or hands-on tasks give us freedom to take control of our schedules and maintain momentum with less cognitive strain.

More broadly, the philosophy of “slow work” challenges the unsustainable practice of doing everything as fast as possible and offers an alternative workplace framework for energizing people and helping people better align their personal and professional priorities. It urges us to punctuate our routines in ways that might initially appear to compromise productivity but actually enhance long-term creativity.

How Doing Nothing Can Actually Be Productive

A new study published in the March 2014 issue of the journal Psychological Sciencesuggests that simply having the choice to sit back and do nothing during your day-to-day grind actually increases your commitment to a certain goal, and may even boost your likeliness to achieve that goal.

"The funny/interesting thing is that most people think that making a 'do nothing' option salient at the time of choice will result in people being less persistent," study co-author Dr. Jeffrey Parker, an assistant professor of marketing at Georgia State University. The study included three separate experiments in which more than 100 men and women were put into different groups to complete a series of online cognitive tasks. Some of these groups were given the choice to complete one of two tasks or "opt out" of participating. The other groups were not given a choice to "opt out." All of the participants were offered a payment for doing the tasks, making the "opt out" choice unappealing. At the end of the tasks, the researchers found a major difference in the performance of people who had a choice to opt out, and those who didn't.

In an article in the New York Times, management guru Tony Schwartz cites research that shows downtime, napping and sleep significantly contribute to performance enhancement.

Practical Slowing Down Strategies And Habits

  • Practice mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation research has been shown to not only be beneficial for stress reduction, but also help your brain develop a greater capacity for cognitive tasks, attention and focus. Many organizations are now incorporating meditation practices for employees into the workplace.
  • Live a mindful life. Beyond the formal practice of mindful meditation, engaging in mindful life practices such as focusing being in the present; withholding judgments; not having attachment to expectations; practicing gratitude and compassion; behaving in a non-reactive manner; developing open-heartedness; being curious with “beginner’s mind;” developing self-acceptance; and developing patience.
  • Protect your focus time.  Block chunks of time on your work calendar for focusing on tasks that require intense concentration, and make it clear to others to not interrupt you. Doing so signals to others that you are serious about accomplishing specific goals and are therefore prioritizing the tasks needed to accomplish them.
  • Seriously reduce or eliminate multitasking from your work routine.As Part 1 of this article describes, multitasking seriously reduced productivity. This includes the discipline of not being “on” all the time by checking your email and social media platforms.
  • Vary the location of your work.  Taking your work offsite to give yourself a radically different experience that could spark some inspiration. If you work in a large city, take advantage of the myriad of public spaces such as parks, coffee shops and plazas that are accommodating to workers with plentiful seating and free Wi-Fi. A public setting can positively change your perspective and help you put things in broader context.
  • Block in reflection time. Rather than the always focusing on the immediate tasks of doing what is required or expected, taking a regular block of time each day or once a week to reflect without actually doing anything, on your feelings, your long range goals or vision for the future, uses a different creative part of your brain that is beneficial for satisfaction and stability.
  • Co-work with others for a day. This involves connections between people looking for space in which to camp out for a day or two and organizations that have space to share. This model connects like-minded people looking for creative inspiration through a mix of different work experiences. Organizations are also finding that this model of welcoming outsiders into their communities brings fresh perspectives to their people.
  • Eat mindfully. Eating more mindfully can be a meditative practice. Chew every bite slowly, analyze tastes like you’re a foodie, and generally savor the experience. Don’t view eating as an interruption into your activity filled life and something you need to finish quickly so you can get on with more important things.
  • Do nothing when you wake up. Rather than immediately jumping out of bed to shower and rush to work, or hurriedly checking your messages on your computer or phone, taking 10 or 15 minutes to just lie there and notice your thoughts without engaging with them, helps you ease into the day with calm.
  • Stop overscheduling your family life.  More activities in the absence of quality slow time do not make for a better life either for you or your family. Having unscheduled, spontaneous and unplanned time for yourself and your family is critical to work-life balance.
  • Learn how to say no. Saying yes can open you up to new possibilities challenges, but saying yes all the time makes you needy and can reinforce an external source for your self-esteem. Saying no can gives you a chance for me-time--an hour when you don’t have to keep any commitments or please anyone else, or a half-hour when you can just kick back and do absolutely nothing.
  • Walk more and drive less. Park the car and try walking to different places. Walking helps break the conditioning that wasting time was more critical than wasting focus. Deliberately taking walks may reduce your time, but it forces you to slow down your thinking so you can focus when you need to.
  • See time as a flexible flow from the past to the present to the future. This means seeing time as continuous and elastic rather than separated and broken into intervals. Learn how to set your internal time clock, which is inner directed, and separate from the external time clock. You have the capacity to slow down or speed up time when the context or situation demands it using only your mind. Understand that people and organizations have unique time rhythms. You can adapt to and influence that rhythm. This means learning how to recognize when the two are out of sync, and how to synchronize the two.

Website: http://raywilliams.ca

Twitter: @raybwilliams

Ray Williams is the author of Breaking Bad Habits and The Leadership Edge.

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