Why doing nothing can be the most productive choice you make all week
- A Type A personality might feel guilty taking time to relax because they're not doing anything obviously useful.
- On New York Magazine's The Cut, Katie Heaney recommends scheduling laziness.
- A person with a Type A personality might be more inclined to take a break if it's planned.
- Plus, we sometimes generate our greatest insights during periods of mental downtime.
On a recent Sunday evening, I lamented to a friend that I'd wasted the whole day by doing "nothing."
I'd set out to run errands, to catch up on email, to clean my apartment — and instead I fell down internet rabbit holes and took a too-long nap.
"Aren't you allowed to relax?" my ever-sage friend asked me.
"Yes, but." I felt like she wasn't getting it. I didn't have any tangible accomplishments from the last 12 hours, ergo I was good for nothing.
I thought back on this conversation while reading an article on New York Magazine's The Cut. Katie Heaney, who counts herself among the world's "anxious perfectionists," was instructed by a therapist to relax more — and it proved exceedingly difficult for her.
One expert Heaney consulted — Sandi Mann, a psychologist and the author of "The Upside of Downtime" — recommended that people in Heaney's situation schedule laziness.
In other words, just like you'd schedule two hours of research for a work project, you might schedule one hour of watching a favorite TV show. "Reframe your lazy time as work, if you have to," Heaney writes.
Presumably, because the TV-watching (or social-media-ing, or whatever your laziness of choice may be) is planned, you won't feel as guilty about it.
Mental downtime can boost creativity and productivity
But why schedule laziness at all? If anxious perfectionists find the always-on lifestyle soothing, then shouldn't they be allowed to keep working?
Research suggests taking planned breaks can increase creativity. In one study, for example, which was published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, people were most creative when they were instructed to switch between two idea-generation tasks after a certain amount of time.
As the authors write in The Harvard Business Review: "Participants who didn't step away from a task at regular intervals were more likely to write 'new' ideas that were very similar to the last one they had written. While they might have felt that they were on a roll, the reality was that, without the breaks afforded by continual task switching, their actual progress was limited."
That is to say, while it's easy to delude yourself into thinking that working without pause is the best way to get stuff done, it's not.
As anyone who's come up with the solution to a persistent problem while walking the dog or showering can attest, mental downtime is a powerful thing. You can tell yourself that as you're penciling in "The Bachelor" on your calendar.
To be sure, those first few days with scheduled laziness might be uncomfortable. But presumably, once you see how much more productive (and happier!) you are, it'll get easier to switch off once in a while.
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