Doing less in order to be more productive might initially appear to be a contradiction or a paradoxical idea. But there is an important difference between being busy and being productive.
Businesses are constantly trying to squeeze more activity into less time. Increased connectivity in and out of the workplace blurs the separation of work and life as it is. But for those who run their own businesses, it’s not uncommon for work and everything else to become completely intertwined. The drive to be more productive and more successful is a necessity for any entrepreneur, but the risk is that you become so involved that you’re unable to switch off. It can do more harm than good.
We only have so much time in a day. By neglecting our downtime to produce more work, we rapidly run out of that resource—time. Once we run out of spare moments, the only thing we have left is our energy and our will. But working excessively long hours isn’t actually that efficient, and it risks our own health and happiness for lesser results.
Why do we work so much?
Dr. Azevedo Hanks, Ph.D., LCSW, says that many people “mistakenly believe there’s actually a point where we get everything done that we want to, or should, or expect, and we start to associate relaxing with being lazy, bad or worthless.” This mentality can lead to burnout and missed opportunities, lost connections, and stress.
According to an article from Harvard Business Review, Out of 1000 professionals, 94 percent worked a minimum of 50 hours a week. Almost half of them worked more than 65 hours, not including the 20-25 hours spent on phones outside of the workplace dealing with work-related calls and messages.
The article also mentions an experiment that challenged the “always turned on” concept, forcing employees completely detach from work and take time off which produced seemingly counterintuitive results.
What is quality downtime?
Work less but smarter
The deceptive illusion of being busy is that it “feels” like we’re being productive. Even when we are being productive, not all the work we produce is equal. In this case, less is more.
There are distinct benefits to creating a culture that values quality over quantity. A study from the University of London showed that multitasking diminishes an individual’s IQ by an average of 15 points, which lowers scores to that of the average 8-year-old. It’s the same effect as staying up all night.
Taking rest isn’t the same as being lazy
But, as all levels of productivity are not equal, neither are all types of rest. Overindulgence can lead to laziness, but structured downtime where you switch off from work completely can boost creativity, productivity and overall happiness and well-being.
Balance is key
Carving out time to completely switch off from work and relax makes for a better work-life balance, whether you’re spending time with friends or family, having a Netflix binge, or working on a hobby. Taking this time can lead to a better sense of control over your professional life.
The brain craves variety
Great work requires you to occasionally leave your desk in favor of new and interesting experiences. It gives your mind a chance to process accumulated information and make sense of it all. The combination of different degrees of idleness and varied environments help our unconscious brain to process the buildup of information. It sets us up to tackle the mental roadblocks we’ve encountered by connecting seemingly unrelated information to solve problems in ways we would otherwise not have thought of.
Regularly taking downtime can also reduce that chance of burnout. Job burnout is more than just feeling tired and exhausted. It is psychological, physical and emotional exhaustion that’s often accompanied by a sense of overwhelming hopelessness that impacts every aspect of your life—personal and professional.
Job burnout doesn’t happen overnight—it’s linked to long-term, unresolved stress on the job. It can manifest as fatigue, insomnia, depression, anxiety, decreased immune response to illnesses, heart disease, and the list goes on. It requires much more than a day or two to recover from and can have long, lasting consequences. Turning off from work gives your mind and body a change of pace and a chance to rest and release stress.
Needless to say, taking preventative measures for burnout increases long-term productivity, and for entrepreneurs, it could be the difference between your startup growing or closing down.
How to work smarter
Benefitting from unproductivity isn’t always easy, it takes practice and commitment but the rewards are worth it. Being as consistent as possible goes a long way in helping switch off, especially if the “always on” mentality is deeply ingrained.
Most who are successful at switching off have a hobby to distract their mind from work, like reading, sports, crafts or even meditation. It’s possible to organize your workday and your habits so that they support being able to take mental time away.
1. Prioritize your work
Identify the most important, priority tasks. A task may be urgent, but that doesn’t make it important. Avoid being distracted by non-urgent tasks that pop up during the day.
Practice setting aside 30 minutes every day just for tiny tasks that can be done in less than five minutes each. This will help you avoid the productivity hit you take from multitasking.
2. Take breaks
Over long periods of time, concentration decreases and work productivity and quality quickly diminish. Use tools to automate low value, repetitive jobs in order to focus on individual higher priority tasks.
When you’re working on a day-long project, take short breaks every 40 to 60 minutes to give your brain a chance to rest and process the mental congestion. Make a coffee, read a news article, or take a power nap.
3. Unplug at the end of the day
Finally, when work is done, it’s done! Complete the final task of the day and switch off from work entirely. Leave work and its intensities at work, and give yourself the time you need to refresh.
Then at the end of the day get a good night of sleep, the quintessential downtime. Most of all, don’t check your email or do work in bed. Give yourself a chance to completely unplug before you go to sleep and first thing in the morning.