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Sometimes Less is More For Productivity

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Over at the website Blogussion, a writer named “Alex” suggested we can increase productivity by doing nothing. How can working less result in more?

In the article (which has since been removed from the site), Alex admits this is weird:

Productivity is actually your ability to produce something. It even makes quite a contradiction to the term as well. Today, I want to talk to you about doing nothing. My favorite thing for getting into a working mood. The Less you do, the More you want to do. Later.

There is some wisdom in this advice, although it’s not that you shouldn’t work at all. Rather, the article helps to remind us that when we are doing fewer tasks, we tend to accomplish more. Clearing your mind of all the extra, unrelated work enables you to focus. There’s only so much your brain can do and so many things you can process at one time. As strange as it may seem to our culture of busy workers, in this case, less is more.

improving productivity

© Flickr user erix!

An article on TIME’s website echoed this same sentiment. The full article is a fascinating read, and we’ve included some excerpts from it below.

Time and the way we spend it was Schulte’s focus, and she argued that we spend too much time working, logging more hours at the office than employees in any other developed country save Japan and South Korea. As a result, “we have a lot of unproductive, sick, unhappy, burned out, and disengaged workers,” Schulte noted. Ironically, we are less productive, creative, and innovative than we would be if we had more time off.

Our continual state of busyness, she explained, prevents us from entering the loose, associative mental state in which unexpected connections and aha! insights are achieved…

Beeman and his collaborators have found that although we may appear idle while daydreaming or mind wandering, the brain is actually working especially hard in these moments, tapping a greater array of mental resources than are used during more methodical thinking. This unfocused “default mode,” Schulte has written, “is like a series of airport hubs in different and typically unconnected parts of the brain.” When activated, it “puts together stray thoughts, makes seemingly random connections and enables us to see an old problem in an entirely new light.”

If we don’t allow our minds to have this kind of downtime—because we’re always under stress and on deadline, always making calls and checking email—such connections and insights won’t materialize. “At work and at school, we expect people to pay attention, to focus,” Beeman observed. “To focus on one thing, you have to suppress a lot of other things. Sometimes that’s good. But sometimes a solution to a problem can only come from allowing in apparently unrelated information, from giving time to the quieter ideas in the background.”…

“As we move ever further into a knowledge economy, in which ideas are our products, we have to think about where ideas come from,” Schulte concluded. Where they come from, she argued persuasively, is not only from conventional work, but from productive leisure.

At AccelaWork, we constantly try to improve our productivity by doing less. Employees try and find ways to reduce the number of projects they have at the same time. And although we don’t want to spend time doing nothing, brainstorming and innovating is always worthwhile. The great ideas of the future begin as daydreams. Why not plan to do less so one day, we can do more? For more information on bringing these principals to your organization, contact the business improvement consultants at AccelaWork today!

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