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Speed up to slow down: the importance of downtime for your productivity

How can a company reach true productivity? Simple: by stepping on the brakes once in a while. Are you ready to do just that and start working more efficiently? 

Science doesn't mince words: a productive brain is a brain that's allowed to rest. But still, the tendency remains to tackle both challenges and chances in the same way: shift up a gear. Go all out. Harder better faster stronger. But you can't force productivity. And putting the pedal to the metal sometimes blinds you from seeing exactly where you're going. So how can a company reach true productivity? Simple: by stepping on the brakes once in a while.

The science of doing nothing

Productivity was the simplest of matters during the Industrial Revolution: the less time a machine was down, the more it produced. The arrival of the internet, the 21st century's foremost machine, kept the focus on uptime firmly in place. But people aren't machines. Constantly "being on" even has the opposite effect on the human brain. It doesn't matter if you're C-level or entry-level: if innovation, productivity and creativity is what you crave, you have to embrace these essential resting points.

Because our brains never stop working, even during a relaxing activity like daydreaming. There's a ton of evidence to support that. Just compare it to sleeping: the same way your brain runs an impressive array of complex processes then (some even exclusively at night!), it also needs rest when you're awake. This helps your attention span and motivation, keeps your performance peaking and supports both creativity and productivity. It even has a name, this mysterious cerebral state: Daydream Network Mode.

Busy, busy, busy!

"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," writes New York Times essayist Tim Kreider. "The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration—it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done."

Only that's not the way it works for most businesses. Staring out the window for a half hour seems like a waste of time. And time is much too precious to lose. What, then, is by and large the standard way of working? Busy, busy, busy! However, 'being busy' and 'doing productive work' are not the same thing: busyness is productivity without focus. In other words, it's far from productive. But you won't realize that until you stop to take a breather.

Take the Boston Consulting Group for example. For years and years, a culture of workaholism reigned supreme there, meaning long days and quite a bit of work done after hours and on weekends. Until Harvard researchers had the illuminating idea to set aside at least one night a week for personal use. The results spoke for themselves: after five months, consultants who experimented with the compulsory resting points turned out to be more satisfied with work-life balance, prepared to stay with the company longer and more proud of their accomplishments.

You can't force productivity

Let's turn to one of the world's most well-known production environments for a poignant example of how not to deal with productivity. For this was a headline in last week's paper: "Volkswagen workers dismiss chief's productivity goal as unrealistic." Indeed, that is the board of directors' plan for the scandal-hit car manufacturer: recovering the economic losses on the backs of its workers in the form of 10% more productivity. Labor leaders think the idea entirely unrealistic, so in the end nothing will come of it.

What could Volkswagen have done different? They could have reflected on more future-oriented technological investments. Or aimed at a proposal that combines efficiency with a human support base. In any case, you don't need to have a stake in an auto industry giant to understand that Volkswagen's 12-point plan is hardly a workable solution. Whether you build cars, apps or websites, forcing people to work harder is tough. It doesn't matter how long someone is cooped up at their desk, because willpower remains a finite resource. When it's depleted, only a waste of time remains.

Know what you're making time for

Which brings us to our last point: making sense of the ongoing quest for time. And it really is a quest. A simple Google search for productivity tools renders more than 33 million results.

Productivity tools

"The 21 Best Productivity Tools To Add More Hours To Your Day". A promising title, that's for sure. But what will you do with that time? More of the same, casually ignoring what neurologists and psychologists have known for years?

The added value of productivity tools should be: get more from your uptime, so your mind can revitalize itself during downtime. The time you gain by working more efficiently can then be invested in yourself. Stare out the window, take a walk, spend the night with the family or an uninterrupted weekend away. If you insist on spending that time on work, then take a step back to reflect instead of just stubbornly trying to perform. Because sometimes the brake really does work better than the throttle.

Ready to push the brake and start working more efficiently? Teamleader, the online tool built for SMEs, helps companies win time with their day-to-day administrative activities. Time to be invested in what really matters.

Eager to know more? Try it now for 14 days and discover what Teamleader can do for you!

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About the author

Robin Van Cleemput

Writing something about a copywriter, always tricky… If it’s bad, he’ll hate you for it. If it’s good, he’ll hate you for it because he didn’t write it himself. Although Robin isn’t quite the hateful type, on the contrary. His sharp pen makes sure you are engulfed with – hopefully positive - words our customers have to say about us. He can turn a shopping list into a genuine page turner!

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