How to use downtime to increase productivity

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Widely regarded as our most treasured commodity, time is one of those things that can’t be controlled, yet despite it’s value, we don’t spend near enough energy learning to manage it well, nor do we understand the finer nuances of getting the most from our time in order to become a well rounded human. Instead we pride ourselves on remaining in the default state of busy. Busy may not be such a bad thing, if it wasn’t so potentially counter productive.

It may well be that the answer to the ‘busy trap’ is not what you think.

How often have you spent the morning in front of the computer only to realise an hour or two has gone past with not a whole lot to show for it? Often we fall into the trap of thinking that if our bum is in the seat, we’re ‘working’.

On the flip side, it’s not uncommon to be situated somewhere far removed from the office (mowing, holidaying, fishing, showering) only to be struck by an idea or the solution to a problem we’ve been facing for several months.

When to walk away

The hardest part, and yet possibly the most productive thing you could possibly do when you’re feeling overwhelmed is - walk away.

Go for a drive and see a client or visit a jobsite or dare I say it, take the day off. Remove yourself from your day to day. It’s almost guaranteed that the most creative, useful, productive moments arrive when you’re driving, camping, hiking, holidaying or even when nature calls. Your brain is given a chance to step outside the noise and think, creatively and productively.

Taking time to declutter your mind is not only wise for your working day, it’s a really healthy thing to do for yourself and the people around you.

“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body.” Tim Kreider. The Busy Trap.

Strike a balance

Obviously, with all this said, there's hands-on work to be done on a daily basis such as managing staff, completing paperwork and making calls, but in order to move forward, to fulfil your purpose and not be caught in perpetual circular motion, get your processes in place then try taking some time off.

A popular option is to organise a regular block of time each month to work away from the office. Take the pen & paper, laptop, iPad, whatever your note taking tool of choice is, and immerse yourself in an environment that is not the office. Give yourself permission to stare into a space for a while to allow the brain time to think creatively.

If you feel yourself putting out fires all the time and never actually getting ahead, it’s well worth considering some time out.

As they say...

“You can’t do a good job - if your job is all you do.”

Recommended reading

The Busy Trap - New York Times (Tim Kreider)

Let’s stop the glorification of busy - Huffington Post (Guy Kawasaki)