Productivity. People (us included) talk about it a lot. And some people seem to have habits that are so far from productive they seem lazy. Except the chances are they are not. In fact, some habits that might seem lazy to some are in fact great ways to not only boost your productivity but your health as well. Here is a look at just four of them.
1. Actually getting enough sleep.
Lots of productivity enthusiasts and 'gurus'fetishize waking up early – and earlier and earlier – every day. For many of them waking up at 7am isn’t enough. To be most productive and energized, they say, you should be getting up at 6, 5 or even 4:30 in the morning. Even if you are not due to start working until 9am.
However, everyone has a natural sleep point and that is unique to each individual. Early-rising might be right for some. But for lots of others breaking that forcibly is simply a recipe for poor sleep and daytime exhaustion, neither of which are in any way productive for anyone.
Sleeping is the perfect example of a productive activity that looks lazy to some. Not only does sleep refresh your memory, enhance cognition and improve your mood, but its absence is disastrous. Failing to get sufficient sleep, many of us believe we’ve “adapted” to the situation but the truth is our cognitive performance continues to decline and it will show in your work.
The bottom line. Sleeping well leads to working better. And if for you that means setting the alarm clock later than others, that's fine.
2. Taking long walks just to think.
Another consequence of prioritizing the seen over the unseen in our work is that we devalue time spent just thinking. Since it's not obvious to outsiders what we’re thinking about, it’s often the case that those staring off into space or “taking a break” are seen as slackers.
In truth, long walks just to think are one of the most productive things you can do. Albert Einstein, in dreaming up the ideas behind general relativity did much of his thinking on long walks. Had he been forced to constantly publish rushed and ill thought out papers instead, to give the appearance of productivity, our entire understanding of the universe would be the worse for it.
3. Chatting with colleagues about work.
Water cooler gossip is a tell-tale sign of slacking. Except when it isn’t.
In The Enigma of Reason, researchers Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber, argue that humans did not evolve to reason well about things in isolation. Our faculties of deduction, logic and insight were developed to win arguments, not to determine the truth.
What this implies, however, is that when you only think about problems on your own, it’s much harder to arrive at the correct solution. Faced with a “sounding board” you leverage your faculties of reason in the way they were designed. As a result, many insights that seem unreachable in isolation are obvious in interaction.
Of course, like all unseen productivity enhancements, this one gets a bad rap because socializing is often not about making productive breakthroughs. Still, setting up time to chat about hard problems with colleagues is rarely a waste.
4. Taking a nap.
Sleep is important. Particularly so in the night when you can enter deeper phases of sleep that enable memory consolidation.
That being so, our lives don’t always permit perfect sleep. Sometimes we’ll find ourselves struggling to stay awake during work, barely making any progress. In those cases, taking a nap should be seen as a productive hack, not wasteful sloth.
A difficulty with taking midday naps is that you oversleep and feel groggy after (not to mention wasting time). Thus, if you’re in a position where napping is an option, you can use the spoon trick.
This involves napping with a spoon in your hand raised off the ground. When you slip too deeply into sleep, your muscles will relax, the spoon will drop and the clatter will wake you up.
Coffee naps, where you combine a short nap with a pre-nap coffee can also extend your wakefulness. The combination works especially well because adenosine, which makes you feel sleepy, is removed from receptors following a nap, and the freed receptors can then be “plugged” by caffeine, keeping you awake.