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Increasing Your Productivity by…Being Unproductive?

Young blonde woman summer day relaxing

Yes, you read that correctly.

Instead of kicking into high gear to increase your personal efficiency and get more done, try doing the exact opposite. Stop the multitasking madness and…do nothing. Or do something completely different. It sounds counterintuitive, but it absolutely works.

You’ve probably noticed this effect after a long weekend of rest, relaxation or fun. Chances are, you still weren’t thrilled when the alarm went off on Monday morning. But when you arrived at the office, you had a surge of productivity. Fresh ideas. New perspectives.

You weren’t simply imagining that. Research tells us that downtime really does boost our efficiency.

To clarify, downtime doesn’t necessarily mean binge-watching Netflix. It’s more about breaking out of our work-week ruts and doing something different. That shift in routine allows our brains to rest. And that translates into creative stimulation that scientists say can measurably increase our productivity for several days.

As a leadership coach, I often talk to my clients about the importance of downtime. It’s a tough concept for successful professionals who openly admit to being addicted to accomplishment. The natural tendency is “do more to achieve more.” That approach might work for short periods of time, but making it the status quo can completely drain our mental batteries.

Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, authors of The Power of Full Engagement, provide training on this subject and emphasize that “changing channels” has the power to refuel us emotionally. Their training program participants initially report rarely feeling a state of joy or deep satisfaction. According to Loehr and Schwartz, that is likely linked to our society’s 24/7 obsession with being digitally connected. Most of us would feel lost without our smart phones, tablets and laptops, but they do make it extremely difficult to “let go” of our work responsibilities when we’re at home. Ever sent off a quick email about the big project during half-time of the game? It’s just so easy…

Here’s the thing to remember: disconnecting actually makes us more productive. Experiment with deliberately making plans for weekends or vacations that will give you a much-needed change of scenery and a change of pace. Block out your to-do list, and just enjoy the moment. Guilt-free. Soaking in the joy and liberation of being disconnected will help you be much more productive when you get back to the office.

So how can you boost productivity by allowing your brain to shift gears?

  1. If your job is primarily quantitative, take up a creative hobby: music, gardening, art. Even coloring.

  2. If you have a home office, make plans to socialize more and increase your face-to-face interaction with friends and colleagues.

  3. If you work indoors, spend some time outside and take in the beauty of nature.

  4. If you exercise daily, try cross training. (And if you don’t exercise, give it a try!)

  5. If you always spend leisure time with the same friend or your significant other, branch out. Don’t be hesitant to take up a new hobby on your own or get out and meet some new people.

  6. If your reading list is confined to trade journals and business news, read something for pleasure. Fiction, non-fiction, anything that pushes your brain off the beaten path.

  7. If you have children and typically do things as a family, schedule some one-on-one time with each child to strengthen those individual relationships. Date nights are great, too!

  8. If you are glued to your electronic devices Monday through Friday, set a goal to “unplug” for at least part of the weekend and enjoy the space that creates in your life.

This same idea of shifting gears applies when you’re at the office. If you’re sitting at your desk trying to solve a problem and just feel stuck, take that as a signal to make a change. Go for a short walk. Call a friend. Organize something fun for the weekend. Those small breaks can make a big difference to energize your brain, boost your creativity, and increase your overall happiness.

The next time you recognize a dip in your productivity level, do something about it. Even if it’s something unexpected. Remember the value of changing your routine and allowing yourself to relax and rejuvenate. While it might seem like a strange contradiction, it could be exactly what your mind and body need.

Do you have a great suggestion on how to change your routine to increase productivity? I’d love to hear about it.

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