A person sitting on a couch looking at their phone.

Four Moments Where Being Idle Makes You Productive

It pays to lower your effort in these situations.

Action produces results. You can’t write a book if you never type the first word. You can’t run a marathon if you never run at all. Without action, there is just talk.

However, there are some moments where doing nothing is the right choice. There are moments where being idle can make you more productive. The key is in your ability to recognize those moments. While action is imperative, there are some instances where inactivity can give you the leg up you need. Here are four such instances.


A Quick Shut-Eye

The cursor on the screen blinks. It’s waiting to fulfill its purpose and put words on the page. But alas, I have no words to give it. I have been wracking my brain for over an hour. Nothing is coming to me. So I get up, set a timer on my phone for 25 minutes, and take a nap. The timer soon goes off. I sit up, run a hand through my hair, and approach the computer once again. Within minutes, the words begin to flow.

There are moments where shutting off is the best option. In my case, that means taking a nap. In yours, it could mean going for a walk or engaging in coworker chit-chat.

Regardless, there are times where no matter what you do, the work is elusive. You can force yourself to put something on the screen. Or you can take a break. It takes the same amount of time. In the former, it’s like hammering a screw into wood. Doable, but forced. The latter is like running out to the store to buy nails. They both get the job done. One inevitably produces better results.

In your work, not working can be a productive strategy.


Lost in Translation

You need to fill the silence. In conversation, any pause in discussion feels like eternity. Your mind races. You think, I am so awkward! Or, What’s with this guy? Silence is uncomfortable. However, silence can also be powerful.

In Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss, Voss applies his years of negotiation experience to help you get what you want. To that end, he touts silence as one such tool to make that happen. Silence gets the other person to speak. Mainly due to the discomfort it causes. Additionally, silence is powerful for an entirely different reason as well. It gives you time to think. Instead of vomiting words out into the ether, pausing allows you to plan your next move.

Japanese businesspeople are known for this smart tactic.

Voss explains that when dealing with a foreign nation, Japanese businesspeople will have a translator present. Even if they know the language they are dealing with. That’s because while the other party says their piece and the translator translates it, the Japanese businessperson is able to sit, breathe, and consider what to say next. It prevents them from sharing more than necessary. It also allows them time to think on the situation.

In a negotiation, not talking can be a productive strategy.


Spontaneity in the Rain

I sat with my wife and daughter. The sky was grey and rain sprinkled around us. Under the umbrella, we discussed what to do about breakfast. We talked through several options. None of which sounded that appealing to anyone. Frustration started to grow, as often can around mealtimes. It was at that moment that I took a pause. I asked for a minute to think. I looked off into the distance, took some deep breaths, and cleared my head. A flash of insight came to me.

That insight formed the basis of what became an incredibly fun, spontaneous day.

You feel the urge to go, go, go. Just like in conversation, you fill the silence of inactivity with more activity. This doesn’t always produce the best results though. Case in point, when you can’t decide what to get for dinner you end up driving to three different places. Three different places you don’t want and don’t order anything from. An hour later, you finally end up at the place you want to eat at. It’s an exhausting ordeal. But if you had only taken some time to think instead of drive, the answer would have likely become apparent. Sometimes giving yourself time to think, if only for a minute, can give you the idea you’re after.

When deciding what to do next, not doing can be a productive strategy.


A Fire That Extinguishes Itself

My blog looks… strange. Something is off. It only takes a second to realize what it is. The titles are wrong. Instead of being black, they are showing up as blue. Like cyan blue. I am particular about how my site looks so I immediately jump into action. Whatever’s going on with the code, I’m going to fix it. And I’m going to fix it now. But then I remember what the priority is. Fixing the titles is important, but it’s not the most important thing for me to do in this moment. So I table the titles until later in the day.

Hours later, it’s finally time to address the problem. Only… what’s this? It’s fixed! Whatever issue was causing the color change has miraculously resolved itself. Problem solved. And the best part is I spent no time solving it.

When fires arise, it is easy to fall into the trap I almost fell into. Where you feel you need to remedy the situation right away. However, more often than not, that fire isn’t a priority. You likely have much grander, much more pressing projects to tackle. You can spend time you don’t have in order to fix the low-priority problem. Or you can use that same amount of time on valuable endeavors. Who knows. By going with the latter, the former may just solve itself.

When fires arise, not jumping on them can be a productive strategy.


Move by Not Moving

It is natural to want more. You want to do more, get more, say more. However, there are several instances where being idle is the best option. For your reference once again, they are taking a:

  1. Break when hitting a wall at work.
  2. Breath to think in a negotiation.
  3. Moment to yourself when deciding what to do next.
  4. Delayed approach when fires arise.

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