Turning Off The Productivity Switch We need more time to think. If we treat our brains like they are valuable hardware, we must take the best possible care in feeding and nurturing our thinking machine. We are, of course, called to take this time in the midst of a global, 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week business cycle.
Author James Gleick, in his book Faster: The Acceleration of Almost Everything, coined the term “hurry sickness.” He writes, “For all the hours, minutes, even seconds being saved, we’re filling our days to the point at which we have no time for such basic activities as eating and relating to our families.” This takes its toll on our ability to strategize, problem-solve and lead our organizations.
Our brains don’t process information the way a computer does. When do you do your best thinking? Many people will say that their best thinking is in the shower, on the road in the car or when falling asleep. Our brains think best when they are in the theta state—when our brainwaves are relaxed and creative. Stress, multitasking and focusing on productivity can actually sabotage our best thinking.
Your technology may run on reserve power, but you need to recharge your batteries in order to cope. A young woman I met many years ago, a school administrator, once told me, “If I don’t keep going, I’ll get behind, and so I take work home every night, and now they’re giving me more because I’m so productive. I’m scared that I’ll be so overwhelmed at some point, I’ll just give out!” She was soon unable to work because of a stress-related disease. Sound familiar?
What’s the prescription for turning off the productivity switch, you ask? Take 10 to 15 minutes every morning for one week, and be very quiet and still. Don’t be productive. Just think. You can take a walk, exercise or sit in your office, but let your mind wander for at least 10 minutes. Observe your thoughts. If anything grabs you as important, write it down afterward. After a week of this practice, notice how that thinking time impacts your work. I promise this small step will make a positive difference.
3M’s policy of a half day of think time per week illustrates one way in which a successful company has implemented this strategy. With creativity as its goal, 3M has come up with breakthrough ideas and innovations in its category of adhesive products.
A 2001 study conducted by the Families and Work Institute showed that U.S. workers may be working too hard, leading to more mistakes on the job, neglected personal relationships and higher healthcare costs. Out of 1,000 respondents, 40 percent said they were overworked. Also, 29 percent of respondents said they had no time to step back and reflect on their work, leading to costly mistakes, low morale, poor judgment and stress-related health problems. Most of us are working 50 hours-plus per week. This sounds like it’s because more will happen if we put more hours in, but that’s not always the case. Often, productivity goes down as a result of working more. The goal in great business thinking is not just to keep producing. The goal is to produce something valuable and useful. Are you overworking your brain? Is your brain optimized for its best thinking?