What We All Want (And Why We Struggle to Obtain It)
I have been thinking a lot about my own personal productivity lately. Our team has been paying a lot of attention to articles, books, and other resources that claim to provide the ultimate advice to help you accomplish more during the business week. Everyone wants to know the answers to questions like:
- Why does my coworker seemingly accomplish more than I do on a daily basis?
- How do I find the time to do more?
- Am I getting in my own way when it comes to finishing tasks?
- Can I create new habits and stop allowing distractions to get the best of me?
- Do I have to spend more time working just to accomplish more?
The fact of the matter is that we all have limited time to do what we need to do. And if you are anything like me, your productivity changes throughout the week. But let’s take a more extended view of productivity.
What happens to your productivity as you work day in and day out?
And, more specifically, how do REST and PLAY impact our output?
The Two Simple Solutions You Need to Consider
There has been a lot of attention on this topic lately. The chatter often discusses productivity in terms of creativity or imagination. Those of you reading this blog likely think that creativity has little to do with your day job. But without the creativity to solve problems and assess a client’s need within a sales context, you would not be successful. Creativity is a thought process that most of us use everyday without realizing it. So, let us assume that salespeople have to be the tiniest bit creative in order to meet their sales quota. And let us also assume that “rest” and “play” are an important part of the process.
One of the most recent, credible resources on the subject of REST and productivity is Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine: How Creativity Works. In it, he provides examples of individuals and companies that have been incredibly imaginative and have prospered because of their ability to create. A lot of the basic points of his book are condensed into an NPR interview from March 2012. I think one of the most interesting concepts Lehrer discusses is that of the “shower epiphany”. The shower is probably one of the most creative places we experience as individuals, he says. Think about it. We are alone. It is quiet. We do not have access to our smartphone (thank goodness!). We are not engaged in conversation. And we are relaxed. And, in an instant, we have a great idea. It a solution to a problem at work, an addition to a proposal that would delight a client, the next update to a complex product, or a better way of asking a qualifying question.
Would allowing your body and mind to relax, allow you to also be more productive?
Here comes the fun part. Most of the time “resting” can also mean “playing”. What if, instead of sitting quietly in a coffee shop during lunch, you decided to play a pick-up basketball game with coworkers? Or, what if your next vacation swapped relaxing quietly on the beach for cliff diving or hiking through a rain forest? While either one of these options would help to restore your mind, playing may be more beneficial to your productivity.
Last June, I went to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico for an entire week. Out of 5 resorts, I chose the quietest, most secluded option that included reviews with multiple versions of this sentence: “If you don’t want to listen to music by the pool, deal with kids splashing in the pool, or deal with teenagers going crazy on spring break, this is the resort for you”. I thought to myself, “Perfect! I’m trying to avoid all of those things!”. I wanted to literally sit by the pool, read a book, and nap as much as possible. By the end of the week, I felt like the most relaxed person on the planet. But when I arrived back at home, I didn’t feel the least bit rested. I wasn’t ready to return to work.
And I wonder, how would I have felt if I had decided to “play” just a bit more during that week in Mexico? I could have rented a jet ski one day. I could have played volleyball with strangers in the pool. I could have gone out dancing at night. In a way, I think this “play” would have made me feel more “rested” upon returning to the States. It is really easy to fall into what a recent New York Times article calls “the busy trap“. We feel anxious when we are not working or accomplishing something. We decline social invitations and sacrifice time with family and friends to submit the big proposal that could mean big things for the company. We feel noble in making these decisions because we think we will be more productive in the end. As the author of the NY Times article writes, “It’s hard to find anything to say about life without immersing yourself in the world, but it’s also just about impossible to figure out what it might be, or how best to say it, without getting the hell out of it again.” (If that’s not an argument for paid vacation, I don’t know what is!)
While we can’t all go on vacation whenever we want (unfortunately!), we can try to include REST AND PLAY into our normal routine. These 4-letter words are powerful. And they might just lead to increased productivity for you and your team.
John Cleese has an amazing speech available on YouTube on the subject of creativity. He focuses a large portion of this speech on the ways in which we can “create a space/time oasis of quiet”, so that we can be more creative and productive. He suggests creating boundaries to leave the “closed mode” and enter the “open mode”. He is his usual snarky self, but there are some really great takeaways in this speech! [Check it out here.]