The importance of quality downtime…

I came across this interesting article today that really resonated with me regarding productivity and the idea that more time worked doesn’t necessarily translate directly into more work completed on a one-for-one basis.

It’s a problem that no doubt anyone in the professional world has had to face – bosses pushing people to work overtime more and more regularly instead of hiring additional workers to keep up with demand – although I can say without a doubt that I’ve seen it with my own personal creative work just the same. And if you strictly look at the input and refuse to consider the ultimate output, it seems like it should make sense – more time that has already been paid for (i.e. salaried workers don’t get overtime) results in more work for the same cost to me!

Or in my case, I’m only one person, so my own time is the only currency that I have and the more that I pump into creating my work, the better … right???

Up to a point, yes.

The studies cited show that for pretty much any type of work (but even more so for knowledge/creative-type work), one’s productivity steadily decreases after you surpass about 8 hours per day/40 hours a week, so as to say that if each day in a week is worth 20% of your work, adding an extra workday on the weekend doesn’t automatically result in 120% productivity for that week. In addition, if sustained over longer periods of time, the overall productivity in general starts to drop, in that 48 hours of work might only yield 60-80% of what a standard, 40-hour work week once gave you in the past because, well, people are only human and most of us need things other than just work in our lives, be it family time, exercise, recreation, sleep … and if you deprive a person of those other things for long enough, his overall quality of life starts to suffer and as a result, the piece that you as an employer actually care about takes a hit, too…

In particular, the two that I run up against with my writing most often are #1 – sleep, and #2 – family time, because I have a ton of things that I need to get done trying to get my business off the ground and thus it just eats up ridiculous amounts of my time, although after reading this study it almost makes me want to re-evaluate the pacing of my strategy just a bit to see if ultimately I would end up being more productive by spending less time actually working. Re-reading that sentence, it sounds absolutely bonkers, but it actually kind of makes sense – if I spend 4 hours spinning my wheels trying to solve a problem one night that on a clear head I could’ve tackled in half the time, it’s actually a net gain for everybody because my problem still gets solved and my wife and puppy get a few hours with me instead of me staying locked in the office all night by myself running on empty. Of course, it’s tough to quantify those types of gains even in hindsight, but just recently I can think of at least a couple examples where I was fighting a problem literally for hours on end, only to come back later with a fresh look and realize that I had actually solved it long ago and just didn’t realize that my results had actually been correct the whole time!

I should also note that I’ve actively seen this ring true specifically when I’m trying to write things, too – the creative part of my brain doesn’t do well at all on little sleep … until it reaches a state of fuck all and decides to just crap any old thing out for the sake of letting me go to bed, anyways … but as for real quality work, I not only need to be rested to be able to write well, but it also actually helps when I’ve spent some time recently doing other fun things that aren’t work because it actually makes me look forward to writing as a release instead of just seeing it as another tick on my checklist of things to do. Besides, if I stay locked away too long, chances are I start to run out of things to write about altogether, which is really no good, either…

Granted, it’s an unfortunate truth, both for the creative entrepreneur juggling to do everything all by himself and for managers the world over who’ve got budgets to meet and find it easier to tell Johnson he’s working over the weekend than tell his boss that they can’t meet such-and-such arbitrary deadline, but at the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding and if your workers are still face down in said pudding when you come in the next morning, I suppose that’s probably a sign that something somewhere needs to change! 😉

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