Slow Productivity: The Lost Art of Accomplishment Without Burnout

Image of Slow Productivity: The Lost Art of Accomplishment Without Burnout
Release Date: 
March 5, 2024
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If your “to do” list is never ending, set it aside, get cozy on the couch, and read Cal Newport’s Slow Productivity: The Lost Art of Accomplishment Without Burnout. It could be the book that teaches you how to effectively change your work life.

Newport’s breakout work gives a clear and concise method for producing quality work without the busyness that creates burnout. It’s a must for the modern knowledge worker who has had enough of the pressure to produce more without reason or resources to do so.

Newport defines “slow productivity” as, “A philosophy for organizing knowledge work efforts in a sustainable and meaningful manner, based on [three principles].” He lists these principles as: do fewer things, work at a natural pace, and obsess over quality.

The book is a how-to approach for implementing the principles of the slow productivity philosophy.

The author excels in his combination of research and analysis. He boldly suggests that we cut out the activities that drive frustration. In one example, he points out how some projects are “task engines” that create an onslaught of tasks to accomplish. These are activities to avoid or minimize their impact with investment in resources to share or automate tasks.

The book is timely. It dives deep into the matters that most impact workers who are fighting against forced return-to-office pronouncements, computer-mouse trackers, and other invasions managers use to demand more “pseudo-productivity” from workers.

Some of the best examples are of writers, who in many ways epitomize the benefits of slow productivity. Kerouac famously bragged that he completed On the Road in three weeks, but analysis shows that he worked on the book for years. Other authors are described as creating spaces that inspire their work. The reader is encouraged to consider the same, to work in ways that will stimulate quality outputs.

Musicians too get their due. Newport showcases several as people who bet on themselves and their creative process, which often takes time and effort to develop. He indicates that betting on yourself “with nontrivial stakes for failure but attractive rewards for success . . .” is a solid way to position yourself for success.

The book’s “interludes” are opportunities for Newport to address what might be holes in his theory. Doesn’t focusing on quality, for example, promote perfectionism? To these and other questions, the author provides insightful responses and does a solid job of tackling the misgivings one might raise about his philosophy.

Slow Productivity calls each of us to step back from being busy or engaging in “pseudo-productivity” and focus instead on the work that matters for us to achieve our goals. It also provides a cogent viewpoint from which to measure productivity.

If you work for yourself, consider implementing Newport’s ideas. If you work for an organization that requires a lot of time-wasting activities that don’t push forward quality results, perhaps leave this book anonymously for your supervisor, or look for a job where the principles of slow productivity are appreciated.