Boost your productivity by making a habit of doing nothing

Boost your productivity by making a habit of doing nothing
Click here to view original web page at
Young man sits with his feet on the desk, dreaming of a wind-up toy monkey, to depict boosting productivity by doing nothing.
Image Letting your mind go for a minute between tasks can help you with everything else you do in a day.(ABC Life: Nathan Nankervis)

No matter how efficient you are or how well you plan your day, you'll still encounter distractions, interruptions or just moments when your mind doesn't want to get on board with your grand plans for a productive afternoon.

Instead of acknowledging the very human tendency for things to go off track, we can instead fall into "productivity guilt." At this point, doing nothing, even for a few minutes, can feel like failure.

The problem with measuring our worth by our output is that we feel we can only have a break when we "deserve" one, instead of having one simply because it's impossible for anyone to be 'on' for eight straight hours.

Finding ways to be more efficient and effective can improve motivation and provide a sense of meaning in our working lives.

But doing nothing and taking pause is often necessary for our focus, energy and wellbeing — and is something we can learn to embrace.

The benefits of doing nothing

Doing nothing can be misconstrued as laziness, when in practice it serves an important role in helping us recover and reenergise from work stress and fatigue.

Particularly for those who define their own work hours, switching off can be challenging. If you work from home or for yourself and there is no physical or psychological separation to signal you are done for the day, it can be all too tempting to check another email, take another call or just keep on chipping away.

When there is always more to be done (and for most of us, that's most of the time), doing nothing becomes a process of actively deciding to detach from work-related activities.

Studies show jumping off the productivity treadmill can reduce work-related fatigue and procrastination and enhance engagement with tasks when at work.

Doing nothing can also improve our memory.

A series of experiments found that students randomly assigned to sit and do nothing in a dimly lit, quiet room for 10-15 minutes after learning something retained more information than those who attempted to use that moment "more productively" by continuing to cram.

In the case of memory, doing more can be to our detriment — our minds need rest and space in order to better learn and recall information.

How to embrace doing nothing

What might take away from the positive benefits of doing nothing are those feelings of shame or guilt which can create a sabotage loop, when we beat ourselves up for not doing enough, making it difficult to find motivation to do something.

Instead of feeling guilty for doing nothing, we can see it as a crucial ingredient for inspiration and restoration.

Here are three ways to start:

1. Build a habit of doing nothing into your day

Scrolling newsfeeds or doing a load of washing instead of working can easily be labelled as procrastination, but when we are intentional about 'time-wasting' activities, such breaks can help sustain our focus for the work.

Magdalena Janiak is a GP who finds it necessary to seize moments of downtime between seeing patients.

Image For GP Dr Magda Janiak, taking breaks (and eliminating the associated guilt) is an act of self-care and preservation.(Supplied)

"During appointments my focus is always on the other person the whole time," she says. "It's good to have that bit of 'me' time in the rare breaks, even if it's as superficial as going on Facebook."

Instead of viewing breaks as an indulgence or something we have to earn, we can view them as helping us work better, complementing our natural ebbs and flows of energy throughout the workday.

Having a break whenever you feel like it may be a privilege that's unique to freelancers or people who work from home, but there are benefits for anyone able to take within-workday breaks, without guilt.

If you have the option, definitely don't skip your lunchbreak.

US research into the relationship between lunch and end-of-workday recovery found that a worker's autonomy over what they did in this break time was central to reducing fatigue.

So as tempting as it might be to check or answer emails during a break, rest should be detached from work.

When we step away from a screen during our break, we can shift our perspective — actually going outdoors, for example, takes us from a narrow view of our phone or computer to the expansiveness of the world around us.

2. Redefine the working week

As the 52-minutes-of-focus ratio shows, many of us have natural rhythms, ebbs and flow to our energy and focus levels.

As a freelancer, understanding how your energy fluctuates and scheduling breaks accordingly can help you work smarter.

Freelance writer Neha Kale sustains her focus by allotting different tasks to times of the week; for example, writing in the morning when her brain is most primed, or pitching to editors on a Monday because that's when she feels more optimistic.

Image Freelance writer Neha Kale is working on letting go of feelings of guilt when doing nothing, and focusing on 'being' rather than 'doing'.(Supplied)

"I recommend paying attention to the ways in which productivity fluctuates, but also how much your levels of enthusiasm vary and how much a task feels creatively energising," says Neha.

For Magda, reducing how many days she works has made work more sustainable.

"When I was working five days I would really be counting down until the weekend and feeling resentful about going to work.

"When I work less hours I feel a lot more present when I am at work, as well as more present in my downtime doing whatever it is I'm doing, even if that's watching TV."

For Magda, the decision to work less initially came with a sense of guilt that was compounded by the demand for doctors.

"Both society and we as individuals really undervalue how important it is to have your own time, to have downtime, and how that positively impacts your professional time. For me, I know I'm a better doctor for working less," adds Magda.

3. Remember there's more to life

Breaks and time to do nothing can have positive impacts on our work because they provide space for thinking, inspiration and rest, but also remind us there is more to life than measuring our worth through our productivity.

The term "dolce far niente", or the "sweetness of doing nothing", was a subject popular with late Victorian painters, and captures the bliss of doing nothing for a moment.

If you embrace them, these moments can be personal reminders of all we have to be grateful for.

This is something Neha is learning.

"I'm also trying to reclaim the concept of leisure even as much as I know that, as I'm sure is the case for many [freelancers], leisure can often feel a little fraught."

For Magda, eliminating the guilt of doing nothing is an act of self-care and preservation.

"I don't feel guilty, I feel the opposite," she says.

"I could be doing something productive but I'm staying in bed all morning and feel good that I am doing something for myself."

When we replace guilt with feelings of bliss, we begin to untangle what may be unrealistic expectations of productivity.

We stop being 'doing' machines and instead learn to equally celebrate the moments we find flow and the moments we go off track. Because both are part of being human.

Spread the love

Leave a Reply

Nature Knows Nootropics