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This ‘unproductive’ activity can actually help you get more done

The activity that you use to procrastinate might just be the productivity hack that you’ve been missing all along.

This ‘unproductive’ activity can actually help you get more done
[Photo: Jo Szczepanska/Unsplash]

If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re on a mission to be as productive as possible. After all, there’s always more to do when you’re a high achiever. You want to accomplish more, achieve success, and continuously be on top of your game.

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Now, there’s nothing wrong with that mindset. But, unfortunately, this kind of attitude can also cause you to overlook a productivity hack that on its face, seems like the antithesis of getting things done.

I’m talking about lightening up on your approach and bringing play into your everyday work. Yes, you read that right. In fact, a new study found a link between play and performance—specifically a 20% increase in productivity.

Here’s how you can play more and achieve more at the same time.

Train yourself to take things less seriously

As a high achiever, you probably take yourself very seriously, which means that you’ll benefit a great deal from taking yourself less seriously and having a playful attitude. You can do this by seeking opportunities to laugh and joke with colleagues. Now, I’m not saying that you need to throw rubber chickens or tell knock-knock jokes. You do, however, need to find ways of bringing appropriate humor into work situations. Make it a point to smile and laugh. Bringing positive energy into relationships tends to build trust and connections.

Another aspect of play for productivity is its connection to creativity and innovation. Often a new idea is a result of putting different or unexpected things together in new ways. The distance from “ha ha” to “aha” is short. The (appropriate) joking you do about a barrier or problem can lead to unexpected insights you might not have come across otherwise.

Make the ordinary more creative

You can also look for ways to adopt a more playful approach into your ordinary day. If your group is brainstorming and putting ideas on sticky notes, ask them to use images rather than words. One team I know holds regular meetings where they talk about what went well and less well in the previous work cycle. Each week, a member of the team is responsible for finding a new metaphor for their brainstorm. One week, it was the wind in their sails versus the waves slowing them down. Another week, tailwinds versus headwinds, or gas in their engine compared to potholes in their path. You get the idea. They made the ordinary a bit more fun by thinking about things in a slightly different way. Because they were having fun, they could get through tasks more quickly.

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Be present

Part of why play is so engaging is because it tends to occupy all our thoughts in the moment. When you’re running for the goal in your neighborhood flag football game or strategizing to win your family card game, it’s hard to be distracted by other problems. Use this thinking in your work by staying focused on the present. When you’re in a meeting, put away distractions, and keep your attention on the items in front of you. Don’t worry about the 12 other tasks on your to-do list. You’ll be more effective in the moment—and more productive with this kind of focus.

It’s also important to be present with people. When you give people all of your attention, you’ll build relationships and connections with colleagues. These positive relationships will make work more rejuvenating and support your ability to get things done.

Tap into things that bring you joy

Play makes us more productive because it energizes and engages us. So think about how you can incorporate more things that bring joy to your day-to-day work. That might be bringing uplifting music into your work environment, so you have a happy beat to your work. Of course, don’t forget to check in with your team if you want to go headphones-free. I know one team that plays a streaming video of puppies at play in their project space. Take breaks that include nature via a walk outdoors or a quick breath of fresh air. Even if you’re in the middle of the city, stepping outside for a deep breath can make a world of difference. One company I know has adopted a norm of “walking meetings” for those conversations that can occur outside a conference room.

Sometimes, productivity can be found in unexpected places. But in our “get more done” culture, many of us don’t take the time to tap into these “incidental” sources of productivity. So next time you feel the urge to be creative just for the sake of it, don’t try to fight that feeling. Lean into it, and you might just encounter a new source of inspiration and productivity engine.


Tracy Brower, PhD, MM, MCRw, is a sociologist focused on work, workers, and workplace, working for Steelcase. She is the author of Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work: A Guide for Leaders and Organizations.

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