As I wrote in 3 Reasons To Break Your Addiction To Busyness, in today’s world it’s easier than ever to be distracted. Our phones ring, our emails demand instant responses, and we’re expected to show up at every meeting. Sometimes we feel demoralized at the end of the day, knowing we barely got started on our to-do list. Yes, we’re busy—to the point of addiction. The question is, are we more productive?
The answer is NO, not according to these three thought-leaders:
Stephen Covey introduced us to the concept “sharpen the saw” in his famous book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. He tells the story of a woodcutter, sawing to the point of exhaustion while trying to take down a tree. When a man watching suggests to the woodcutter that he could get the job done quicker by taking a break to sharpen his saw, the woodcutter responds in anger: “I don’t have time to sharpen the saw. Don’t you see I’m too busy?”
Sound familiar? I know I’ve been guilty of this. Pushing myself to get something done until I’m hungry, tired and a lot less likely to succeed at my task. Even so, it’s hard to pull myself away when I’m focused. Because I know I’m not good to anyone, including myself, when I’m in an overtired, overworked state, I remind myself of the instructions given on an airplane: Secure your own oxygen mask before helping others.
Like Covey suggests, I make sure to nurture myself. I spend time with my family, meditate, read, listen to great music or spend time by myself. When I care for myself the rewards are gratifying. I’m able to return to my task refreshed, with a better attitude and more focus.
Teresa Amabile, Harvard Business School director of research and Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration, believes that when it comes to creativity our current work environment dampens our productivity. Amabile suggests that employers encourage their employees to daydream for 30 to 60 minutes a day. Instead of constant doing, she recommends unstructured time, which can be spent in peaceful contemplation.
In an article for the Harvard Gazette, Amabile states, “In the short term, people become less engaged in their work if their creativity isn’t supported. They will also be less productive because they often can’t focus on their most important work. In the long term, companies may lose their most talented employees, as well as losing out because they won’t have the innovative products, innovative services, and business models that they need to be competitive.”
Christine Carter, happiness expert, sociologist and one of the founders of the Greater Good Science Center At Berkley, wrote that people equate their importance to how busy they are in her book The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work. However, she notes, the trick is to find your sweet spot—that perfect balance between power and ease.
Carter says, one way to do this is to: “Find the minimum effective dose of everything. The ‘minimum effective dose’ (MED) is considered to be the lowest dose of a pharmaceutical product that spurs a clinically significant change in health or wellbeing. In order to live and work from my sweet spot, I had to find the MED in everything in my life: sleep, meditation, blogging frequency, checking my email, school volunteering, homework help, date nights.”
Unlike many, I don’t feel obligated to keep up on everything, so I can really relate to Carter’s MED suggestion. Another way I find my sweet spot is to allow myself uninterrupted blocks of time. I clear my desk, answer all my pressing emails and phone calls, make sure that my family is taken care of, and then I get to work. Once I’ve made progress I take a break to tackle a few things on my to-do list, get something to eat or drink, or rest. This keeps me from feeling burned out.
I also work with what Carter calls “strategic slacking.” From a neuroscience perspective, we have two ways of focusing our attention. The first is comprised of intense concentration; the second is when our minds are wondering. I allow myself to daydream—or strategically slack—because I find it helps with my creative flow. While we associate productivity with what we accomplish with concentrated effort, I’ve learned just how powerful it is to clear your mind and just be.
How do you achieve more by doing less?