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Better than quiet quitting

BOOKS | Author suggests pacing work—and focusing on quality

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Better than quiet quitting
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FOR THE LAST couple of years, we’ve been hearing about the “quiet quitting” trend among American workers. Quiet quitting, in which people do only the bare minimum required for their jobs, became a means for coping with workplace burnout. The pandemic caused many office workers to reflect on their work, and some decided it wasn’t worth doing, or at least not worth any extra effort. In Slow Productivity (Portfolio, 2024), Cal Newport is sympathetic to these workers’ malaise, but he thinks quiet quitting is the wrong solution.

Newport is a computer science professor at Georgetown University and bestselling author of books on technology, productivity, and culture. In Deep Work (2016) and Digital Minimalism (2019), Newport encouraged his readers to eliminate distractions in order to boost productivity. With Slow Productivity, he takes aim at the very nature of the knowledge economy.

One of the main problems Newport identifies is that most workers don’t have a clear definition of productivity beyond achieving various tasks. But performing assigned tasks doesn’t necessarily translate into adding value, either to the company or to society. Throughout most of history, our agrarian forebears worked within a natural rhythm. Industrialization sped up the process and enabled easy metrics to gauge worker productivity. But this approach isn’t well suited to knowledge workers who make their living using their minds and, in today’s economy at least, a computer. How can one measure a mind’s productivity?

Newport suggests that in the knowledge economy, visible activity, for example meetings and paperwork, becomes a proxy for measuring productivity. With the advent of computers, email, and instant messaging, the problem of low-reward busyness intensified, and many workers find themselves talking about work more than they actually work.

Slow Productivity suggests a solution based on three principles. First, knowledge workers should do fewer things. Newport says we all say “no” to extra work, but we start too late, when we’re already stressed beyond our capacity. We should look for ways to limit the scope of our work on the front end. Second, he suggests we work at a natural pace. He thinks we should recapture the preindustrialized world’s seasonal quality to alleviate burnout. The first two principles might sound like quiet quitting, but Newport’s third principle differentiates his approach. Practitioners of slow productivity must obsess over quality.

Newport’s books aren’t based on Christian teaching, but they’re consistent with the Bible’s vision of humanity. Newport’s first two principles echo the importance of sabbath, and his advice to obsess over quality sounds like the Christian instruction to do all things with excellence.

Collin Garbarino

Collin is WORLD’s arts and culture editor. He is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Louisiana State University and resides with his wife and four children in Sugar Land, Texas.



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