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Slow and Steady Slays the Antelope and Wins the Rat Race

There's a strong case to be made for remembering our inner marathoner, our latent persistent hunter.

September 17, 2012
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Related Topics: Top Stories - Frontpage, Employee Engagement, Work/Life Balance, Corporate Culture, Organizational Culture, Performance Management, Motivating Employees, Technology
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Slow may be the new secret to success.

That is, the greatest workplace productivity could come from taking our time on tasks and tuning out the pressure to do more at once.

So says Peter Bacevice, research director at consulting firm DEGW. Bacevice borrows the language from the growing "Slow Food" movement to coin the term "Slow Work."

"Many of us recognize that constantly reacting to immediate demands distracts us from focusing on long-term goals and aspirations—and yet, we often feel starved for time to do so," he says. "Today's quick wins are undermining tomorrow's performance."

This rings true to me. I write and edit best when I carve out an hour and a half or two hours of dedicated work, ignoring IM, email alerts and even phone calls. And it's the long-term projects that typically are most satisfying or move the needle most. A case in point is our recent package on contingent labor strategy, where we stepped back and tried to chart a new course for how companies ought to work with contractors, temps and the like.

Bacevice's tortoise-over-hare strategy has some strong evidence behind it. For example, research shows that "heavy media multitaskers" are less likely than "light media multitaskers" to filter out distractions and have a more difficult time switching between tasks. In other words, the people constantly answering texts, tweeting, posting to LinkedIn and checking YouTube videos aren't ultimately as good at focusing on what matters.

Another study found that employees of companies with flexible work practices—defined by reduced working hours & work-from-home options—are more satisfied with their jobs and demonstrate escalated levels of commitment to the organization.

As my colleague Rick Bell points out, "Slow Work" also echoes the "persistence hunting" recounted in the brilliant book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. Persistence hunting refers to running after antelope or other game for hours on end. Humans can actually out-run any four-legged beast over long distances, thanks largely to our ability to cool ourselves by sweating. And most of the chase is at a jogging pace, not a sprint. Armed with our cooling system and marathoner legs, one theory goes, our ancestors became deadly, efficient hunters and eventually rose to dominance as a species.

To be sure, there are times these days when we need to sprint like cheetahs or flit about like hummingbirds. But I think there's a strong case to be made for remembering our inner marathoner, our latent persistent hunter.

Slow and steady can slay the antelope and win the rat race.

Ed Frauenheim is senior editor at Workforce. Comment below or email efrauenheim@workforce.com.

 

 

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