Being unproductive can be very productive

For many people, 2020 has felt like all systems go. People have been forced to spend energy credits on things they never thought they would spend energy credits on. Things like how to get toilet paper and of course getting up to speed in super fast time on technology to allow themselves to work from home and still stay connected with others.

Thanks to lockdown(s), many days seemed to roll into one – groundhog day anyone? Without natural breaks to walk between meetings and even shorter trips to the bathroom than in a usual office, one zoom meeting can just roll into the next.

Going on any holidays was out of the question for those still in lockdown and many people have opted not to take holidays at all until they can go with their original plans without risking 2 weeks of quarantine.

The end result is that breaks of all descriptions have been lacking. Therefore, many people are in need of some more unproductive time.

Why is it productive to be unproductive?

In short, your brain needs a break. We only have between 4-6 hours of heavy cognitive energy available to us throughout each day so your brain needs some time to recharge by taking a complete break, and also by doing some lighter tasks. When we stop focusing on one thing and let our minds go blank for a while, you’d be surprised what other great ideas will just magically pop into your head.

Have you ever found that when you take a long holiday, it takes say a week (maybe longer) to really start to feel relaxed? That’s not a good thing, by the way. It means that your body and brain are so wound up that you probably have excess cortisol (the main stress hormone) running rampant through your body and taking its toll on your immune system. And you can’t expect your brain to operate at its cognitive best with all of that stress running through your body.

So if you don’t take shorter breaks on a daily and weekly basis, you are going to need longer breaks to recharge – that’s if you don’t get sick in the meantime, which you probably will.

Changing your physical state and location also gets opens the brain up to thinking differently.

Lose the guilt about being unproductive

For those of us who were brought up with parents telling us to work harder and that hard work is good and productive, it’s no wonder many of us feel guilty for taking that break throughout the day or taking the holiday. I’ll admit I used to feel the same way. Thanks to a heap of neuroscience we can now have evidence that that’s a really dumb way to function.

So something which helped me overcome the guilt was to think of downtime as a highly important part of my productivity plan. Great – it has a productive purpose – now I feel better about it!

Schedule some unproductive time

So on a daily basis – have a play with scheduling some unproductive time. It could be walking to and from work – a time to gear up and decompress. It could be 15 minutes of leaving the house between meetings (my dog has lost almost a kilo during Covid thanks to this strategy).

Or some people are finding that booking phone or video meetings on the quarter past and quarter to the hour can help with getting those extra 15 minutes of downtime.

On a longer term basis, lockdowns have made it even more imperative to take a holiday of some description, even if it’s domestic, in the same state and shorter than normal. If that’s tricky, maybe some long weekends away. Book that holiday even if it’s domestic and shorter than normal. If that’s tricky, maybe some long weekend getaways could work.

If you need some help getting your head around the need to be unproductive to be productive, please get in touch.