“Slow productivity”, or the praise of deceleration in business

“Slow productivity”, or the praise of deceleration in business

How to increase productivity? This is the great obsession of the working world. If employees often have the impression that they have to do more and more things in less time, voices are being raised for the professional environment to slow down. Decryption.

What's more demotivating than a constantly growing to-do list? However, it is the daily lot of many employees. Many complain about their workload. Six out of ten French people have the impression that it has increased over the last five years, according to the Institut Montaigne study, “The French at work: overcoming preconceived ideas”. And it's not just a feeling. Economist Melanie Rudd from the University of Houston states in an article, published in 2019 in the journal Current Opinion in Psychology, that the workload of American workers increased between 1965 and the early 1990s, before reaching a plateau and to decrease slightly in recent years.

At the same time, workers are under increasing pressure from their superiors to do more in less time. Add to that rendering deadlines are getting tighter and tighter and overheating is guaranteed! A large number of executives say they are victims of a structural phenomenon of overflow, like a vase that overflows. Their working day simply no longer allows them to meet their obligations: 77% of workers believe they have too many tasks to manage at the same time, according to an Ifop-Mooncard study dating from 2019. To give the illusion of productivity , some work outside office hours, which is not without consequences on the body and the psyche.

Fortunately, another path is possible. Cal Newport, professor of computer science at Georgetown University, encourages working people to slow down in their professional lives. In his latest book “Slow Productivity: The Lost Art of Accomplishment without Burnout” (Portfolio, 2024), he advocates the virtues of what he calls “slow productivity”. This concept is in line with the slow food movement, driven in Italy at the end of the 1980s by the eco-gastronome Carlo Petrini and his Slow Food association. Slow productivity stands against the cult of performance, which subjects employees to a permanent injunction to surpass themselves and “multitasker”.

Say no to move forward better

However, as Cal Newport points out in his book, our brain is not designed to multitask. He can quickly move from one task to another, if their execution has become automatic and unconscious, thanks to repetitive learning. For example, it is entirely possible to walk while having a conversation on the phone. But it's much more difficult to participate in a meeting while responding to emails. This is why Cal Newport encourages us to abandon multitasking. “The first principle (of slow productivity) is to “do fewer things,” which many people naturally interpret as “finish fewer things.” But actually, a better way to phrase this first principle might be “do fewer things at the same time“”, he explains to Bloomberg.

In the same way, the specialist advises us to adapt our work rhythms to that of our body. You should not hesitate to take a break after several hours of mental activity, or even to allow yourself some real recovery time if the need arises. Of course, this is easier said than done. Working to excess is reassuring: it allows you to stay within the norm. But it is harmful in the long term.

This is why it is important to be violent and not say yes to all professional requests. “Much of the advice I give in my book can be summed up as “How to say no without ever saying no“,” Cal Newport told Bloomberg. If the prospect of not complying with the requests of your number one or your colleagues gives you a cold sweat, rest assured. It is entirely possible to say no in a roundabout way. You can, for example, use the formula “yes but…” or even ask for a cooling-off period to save time.

But no matter what, remember that rejection isn't always negative. Saying no means preventing yourself from going straight into the wall by accepting an excessive workload. It's learning to measure your efforts, to keep up the pace over time and not to exhaust yourself with the task. Enough to make you more productive in the long term.