Scheduled Unproductivity

Scheduled Unproductivity

I’ve often heard the sentiment: “How do you do it all? You have three kids, a blog, and you work part-time from home.” My initial response is: “If I give off the impression that I’ve totally got it all figured out, I must be really good at lying!” Next, I say, “my secret to success is television!”

No, wait! Come back! I’ll explain better…

Everyone wants to be more productive (including me!). I’ve read all sorts of things that can help productivity, and some of them work for me:

  • Get up early – I do wake up before the kids do and get stuff done in peace.
  • Meditation – On the mornings that I read and meditate, my day is definitely improved.
  • Exercise – Taking a brisk walks motivates me and gives me energy to actually accomplish things!
  • Naps – Oh, I’m a big fan of the nap! Sometimes when I really need a nap (and I’m falling asleep trying to be productive), I can set my phone for 12 minutes and wake up totally ready to go (for some reason, 10 is not enough!).

I always return to the fact that everyone is different. Some things that work really well for other people do not work well for me. I once read a whole article on the benefits of taking a cold shower. For me? Not worth it. I love my long, hot shower. I get lots of thinking time done. It feels productive (and warm!).

I’ve also realized that I am terrible at being productive for long periods of time. Mr. T is really good at getting one-task focused and working on it until it is done. I go crazy. My job requires a very engaged mind. I read high-level studies and I have to make connections to ones I’ve already read, possible connections to other projects we’re doing, etc. My mind needs to be “on” for work.

I also know that I get over-stimulated. And I can tell you that being a stay-at-home mom of 3 is VERY stimulating!

We know that we need breaks, but we think we can just push through and be more productive! We can force ourselves to just hammer it out! I find, when I try to do that, I completely peter out and end up wasting time on nonsense (hello social media!).

Introducing: The Unproductivity Break!

I know it’s not a new concept, but it’s time you start being real with yourself and schedule a break. I find that when I schedule a break, I spend that time doing things I actually enjoy doing (usually planning future, hypothetical trips) rather than just wasting time.

To truly take advantage of the Unproductivity Break, you need to start experimenting. For the next week, I want you to write down every single time you unravel into wasted time. Write down the day, time, and how long you have been productive before losing your mind. If you’re average, you’ll find that working for about 52 minutes requires a 17 minute break. Chances are, you vary a bit. And I vary depending on the time of day. In the morning, I can go longer than an hour without a scheduled break. In the afternoon, 52 minutes is pushing it! I schedule my breaks based on my own experimentation.

Think Larger

Productivity experiments often fail to move past the minute-to-minute schedules (ie: 52 minutes followed by a 17 minute break). Those are an important part of the unproductivity break, but these also apply on a larger scale:

  • Weekly: I find that a scheduled evening of chosen television on Thursday night helps me with the Friday burnout.*
  • Monthly: Because I get paid hourly, I have cycles of productivity that correlate directly with my twice-a-month pay periods. The last few days of the pay period, I am a machine (gotta get the money!) and I am super productive. Allowing myself an unproductive day at the beginning of the next pay period (I have a whole two weeks!) helps me be more productive the next day.
  • Yearly: Alaska is very seasonal. When the reds start running, no one works (except the fishermen!). Allowing my hours to decline in the summer without guilt helps me work more during the winter to make up for it. I can take seasonal breaks in productivity to return in the fall refreshed and ready to tackle larger projects and work more hours.
  • Even Larger! I like considering life in 4-year rolling periods and after every four years, it’s definitely time to re-examine how productive you’ve been. Have you been spinning wheels because you’re stuck doing so or have you really been accomplishing the things you want to be doing? If you’ve been stuck, it’s time to ramp up productivity on your life to accomplish something meaningful. If you’ve had some killer years of doing awesome things, maybe it’s time to schedule an unproductive period to regroup on what your priorities are and how you will move forward.

June has been a month of scheduled unproductivity for Mr. T and I. We took a break from our normal, cleared our heads, saw new things, and are rejuvenated (well, jetlagged… we’re flying back today!) and ready to jump into new things!

You know you need breaks from constant productivity. If you actually take the time to experiment with your own, natural productivity cycles and schedule your Unproductivity Breaks, these breaks will be more meaningful and more helpful in your overall productivity.

What productivity tricks do you do? Do you schedule breaks? 

*I’m a proponent of escapism in small doses… but that’s a topic for another day! 🙂


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  1. I am definitely in the “morning camp” to get work done! But it is key to really know yourself. I do schedule breaks and fiercely prioritize my time now. I also log out of all sites when I write. The only thing open is the document. That helps me from being distracted.

    • MaggieBanks

      That’s smart to clear all sites while writing. I often write in a word document offline just to save myself from distraction as well.

  2. One of my biggest productivity issues was feeling the need to only work during regular work hours. I would lose steam, take breaks, and end up wasting hours of time. Now, I have built some flexibiilty into my work hours. When I need a break, now I work on things like blogging or even earning a few pennies on Swagbucks. Also, I make a plan for my true relaxation time. Instead of just mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, again, I make a plan to watch a specific show or take a nap.

    • MaggieBanks

      Planning your unproductivity helps it actually be more productively restful!

  3. I have found that I’m best in productive chunks and I can tell when I’m not going to be more productive the rest of the day. For instance, I get to work at 6:30am, and actually work for 2-3 hrs and then I need a break. My mind wanders, I read blogs, scan some news and enjoy some tea for a half hr and then get back to it. Usually if I stay like this mode, I’m done using my brain by around 2pm which is good because I leave around 3:30-4. Then I find papers to read or other things I can do without needing to tax my brain more for.

    On the flip side, when I get to the office, and take a 30 minute tea break/email/news scan BEFORE I start to work, I find I can crank out stuff right until lunch whch is around 11am. Then I “work” thru lunch and still hit a wall around 2.

    That’s why I scheduled a 2-2:30 walkabout on my calendar. It reminds me I ahven’t gone outside today, and I go walk around for 10-20 minutes and disconnect my brain. After I get back from that, I’m refreshed and ready to slog it out until the end of the day. 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      Reminders to get outside and get moving are always good. I need that!

  4. 3 kids, blog, part-time work- sounds just like me :). I am a Buddhist, so I read something more spiritually oriented and then meditate before bed. I block 15-30 minutes for this. The mister and I divide and conquer bedtime, so I put the girls down and he puts the boy down, who stays up later and is usually eating 1000 calories worth of food right before bed. This gives me a little time for this before my husband comes upstairs.

    I also have a treadmill desk, so I hop on for short bursts during the workday, if I am working, or right after getting the big kids on the bus for school. I can pull double duty and walk and watch a movie or TV show on the treadmill desk, so it saves me time. I “let” myself waste time if I can walk at the same time. I am doing that as I type.

    • MaggieBanks

      Connecting to spirituality is an important thing! I’m so glad you mentioned that. I try to meditate and study spiritual things first thing to center myself for the day.

  5. In the grander scheme of things, maybe we need a 3 year break every 10 years of work? ?
    scheduling breaks actually works wonders. I sometimes leave the office earlier than usual because I can’t get stuff done (instead of staying and pretending) and usually the next day is much better.

    • MaggieBanks

      Since we’re approaching our 10 year mark of work post college, we’re ready for a 3 year break! That sounds great!

  6. I’m scheduling some unproductivity this upcoming weekend! We’ve been working hard to get our old apartment back into tip top shape to hand back over to our landlord. I’ve been repainting and fixing things every spare moment, while Hubs has been moving out all of our remaining odds and ends.

    This weekend, my mom’s got the kids, and we’re looking forward to doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

    On a more regular basis, I try to schedule my day in terms of energy level. My job involves writing and creative work, which I try to do in the morning, and editing, laying out content, scripting videos, and coming up with new marketing concepts, which I like to do in the afternoon. I also schedule afternoon coffee breaks with coworkers one to two days a week. We’ve found we have some of our best ideas on the way to and from Starbucks.

    • MaggieBanks

      I love the quote from Winnie the Pooh quote: “Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.“

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