TIME health

Slacker’s Guide to Productivity: 6 Ways to Goof Off and Get More Done

I’ve posted about how people at the top of their field are relentlessly productive.

But you can’t sprint for miles. There’s plenty of research showing that being a touch lazy might be beneficial at times.

Here are six research-backed ways to get more done in less time by taking it easy.

1) Work Less

Working too hard for too long makes you less productive.

Yes, pulling 60-hour weeks is impressive.

But pull them for more than 2 months and you accomplish less than if you had only been working 40-hour weeks.

Via Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much:

One study, on construction projects, found that “where a work schedule of 60 or more hours per week is continued longer than about two months, the cumulative effect of decreased productivity will cause a delay in the completion date beyond that which could have been realized with the same crew size on a 40-hour week.”

(The best system for time management is here.)

2) Go Home

If you’re doing creative work, research says you’ll be more productive at home than in the office:

On the uncreative tasks, people were 6% to 10% less productive outside the lab… On the creative tasks, by contrast, people were 11% to 20% more productive outside the lab.

(More on what boosts creativity here.)

3) Take A Nap

Naps rejuvenate you and increase learning. Some of the most successful people of all time were dedicated nappers.

Via Daniel Coyle’s The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills:

Napping is common in talent hotbeds, and features both anecdotal and scientific justification.

The anecdotal: Albert Einstein was good at physics, and he was really good at his daily post-lunch twenty-minute snooze. Other famous nappers include Leonardo da Vinci, Napoleon Bonaparte, Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison, Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy, and John D. Rockefeller. Spend time with any professional athletic team, and you’ll find that they’re also professional nappers.

The science: Napping is good for the learning brain, because it helps strengthen the connections formed during practice and prepare the brain for the next session. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, found that napping for ninety minutes improved memory scores by 10 percent, while skipping a nap made them decline by 10 percent. “You need sleep before learning, to prepare your brain, like a dry sponge, to absorb new information,” said the study’s lead investigator, Dr. Matthew Walker.

What you can learn about good sleep from astronauts is here.

4) Procrastinate

Yes, that’s right, procrastination can be a good thing.

Dr. John Perry, author of The Art of Procrastination, explains a good method for leveraging your laziness:

The key to productivity, he argues in “The Art of Procrastination,” is to make more commitments — but to be methodical about it.

At the top of your to-do list, put a couple of daunting, if not impossible, tasks that are vaguely important-sounding (but really aren’t) and seem to have deadlines (but really don’t). Then, farther down the list, include some doable tasks that really matter.

“Doing these tasks becomes a way of not doing the things higher up on the list,” Dr. Perry writes.

A similar tip is described by Piers Steel, author of The Procrastination Equation:

“My best trick is to play my projects off against each other, procrastinating on one by working on another.”

Dr. Steel says it’s based on sound principles of behavioral psychology:

“We are willing to pursue any vile task as long as it allows us to avoid something worse.”

(Here’s more on “positive procrastination.”)

5) Go On Vacation

For up to a month after a vacation you’re more productive at work:

One hundred and thirty-one teachers completed questionnaires one time before and three times after vacationing. Results indicated that teachers’ work engagement significantly increased and teachers’ burnout significantly decreased after vacation. However, these beneficial effects faded out within one month.

(Here’s how to improve your vacations.)

6) Hang Out With Friends

Easily distracted? Having friends around can make you more productive, even if they’re not helping you.

Via Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are:

Just having friends nearby can push you toward productivity. “There’s a concept in ADHD treatment called the ‘body double,’ ” says David Nowell, Ph.D., a clinical neuropsychologist from Worcester, Massachusetts. “Distractable people get more done when there is someone else there, even if he isn’t coaching or assisting them.” If you’re facing a task that is dull or difficult, such as cleaning out your closets or pulling together your receipts for tax time, get a friend to be your body double.

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Related posts:

Productivity Ninja: 5 Powerful Tips For Getting More Stuff Done

Stay Focused: 5 Ways To Increase Your Attention Span

Work Smarter Not Harder: 17 Great Tips

This piece originally appeared onBarking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME Work & Life

Sheryl Sandberg and Princeton Mom Want You to Fast Track Your Life

Sheryl Sandberg and Susan Patton
Paul Morigi, Peter Kramer—Getty Images

Their two new books push women in different directions, but they agree on one thing: whatever young women want out of life, they need to get cracking

Two new books promise young women the secrets to achieving their wildest dreams. Facebook exec Sheryl Sandberg’s upcoming Lean In for Graduates is a how-to guide for early 20-somethings hoping to get a head start on their careers. And Marry Smart by Susan Patton (widely known as the “Princeton Mom”) cautions women to focus on their love lives in college so that they can snag a “good” husband and have kids while they still can.

Sandberg and Patton have about as much in common as Kim Jung Un and Beyonce; one has become a feminist role model, the other is the second coming of Phyllis Schlafly. But if you listen closely, they’re both saying the same thing; whether we want a picket-fence family or a professional blastoff, recent graduates like me need to get cracking, because our biology means we may only have one shot at getting it right. Even “leaning in” is almost as much about preparing for a family as it is about winning at work; the idea is to get good enough, fast enough, that your career becomes childproof.

Charlotte Alter – TIME

You could say that when it comes to advising women my age, both Sandberg and Patton have set their watches to Hurry Up Time. Now we don’t just have to be “twice as good to go half as far,” as novelist Fannie Hurst once said, we also have to be twice as fast. Men and cats have nine lives to get it right. Women have only one, so there’s no room for mistakes.

Patton is candid about a young woman’s need for speed when it comes to getting serious about her personal life: “Work will wait; your fertility won’t,” she said on the Today Show. “If you spend the first 10 years out of college focused entirely on building your career, when you finally get around to looking for a husband you’ll be in your 30s, competing with women in their 20s,” she cautioned young women in her Wall Street Journal op-ed. “If you want to have children, your biological clock will be ticking loud enough to ward off any potential suitors.”

Sandberg’s message is more subtle, but equally urgent. “There’s no question that the world moves faster today,” she writes in the introduction to the new Lean In for Graduates. “This means that grabbing opportunities is more important than ever.”

I should note that I fully subscribe to the “Lean In” movement that encourages women to commit to their careers and aim for leadership roles. But what’s left unsaid in that philosophy is the notion that much of “leaning in” is about gaining the clout to be able to lean out when you need to. High-powered executives like Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer can demand an onsite nursery, in her case, or time off or a flexible schedule or any number of things a mom might want. Office administrative assistants or mid-level managers–not so much.

In a frequently quoted chapter of Lean In, “Don’t Leave Before You Leave,” Sandberg encourages women not to hold back at work just because they think they might have children. But the unstated implication is that women should “lean in” especially if they want to have children. The more valued you are at your company, the easier it is get the flexibility you need, and the more you want to return to work after your maternity leave. If your career is a marathon, you want to sprint as far as you can before you start dealing with the complexity of a family.

In other words, there is no room for dilly-dallying in the worlds of Susan Patton and Sheryl Sandberg. Like so much of what young women hear, their advice is punctuated by the persistent tick of the biological clock, thudding under the floorboards like a telltale heart.

And Patton and Sandberg aren’t the only ones out there giving well-meaning advice to my generation and the next one. Actress and writer Amy Poehler’s “Ask Amy” web series helps girls deal with pressing real-life problems. Publications like Cosmopolitan and The New York Times regularly publish roundups of the “best advice for young women in the workplace.” Memoir/polemics like Tina Fey’s 2011 Bossypants and Caitlin Moran’s 2012 How to Be a Woman are huge bestsellers.

But where is all the advice for young men? A quick Google search delivers only reprinted texts from the 1850s and a few choice nuggets from Ben Franklin. Young men aren’t warned about the perils of their future mistakes, or cautioned that one missed opportunity could leave them childless or unfulfilled. Instead, lots of men seem to be following the advice given to young tech entrepreneurs about how to build a good startup. “Fail early, fail fast, fail often” has become a mantra among the young Zuckerberg-wannabes of Silicon Valley. Or, as LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman put it, “you jump off a cliff and you assemble an airplane on the way down.”

Maybe the need for deliberate planning comes from an assumption that women are on a different timeline, one that leaves no room for error, while men have room to experiment. They can go to Nepal for a few years, spend a few more years touring with their band, and then decide it’s time to start medical school at 30. (There are heroic women medical students who also have children, but that particular balancing act is a tough one.) Men can live with someone for a 15 years and then change their minds about marriage, or they can get married early, then divorce, then get married again at 50 and start a brand new family. For women, that’s almost biologically impossible.

In short, men have the luxury of time. Most women don’t. If you subscribe to the Patton/Sandberg model, then you think women have to make sure to get it right on the first try, which is why we need so much strategic advice.

The scary truth is that Sandberg and Patton are probably right. Women do have to plan more. Our mistakes do cost us more. It’s not fair, but it’s not wrong. And it’s making me sweat just to think about it.

So if you’re a millennial woman, you probably don’t have time to be reading pieces like this or books like theirs. Just get cracking. Love, Susan Patton and Sheryl Sandberg.

TIME Work & Life

Your Life is Terrible Because You Are a Commuter

At least now you know

Heaven help you if you ride the bus for more than half an hour to work because that, according to a new study out Wednesday, is the worst possible commute you can have.

The study, released Wednesday by the United Kingdom’s Office of National Statistics, finds that “commuters have lower life satisfaction, a lower sense that their daily activities are worthwhile, lower levels of happiness and higher anxiety on average than non-commuters.”

If you don’t ride the bus for more than 30 minutes, don’t be too quick to leap for joy—any commute more than 15 minutes long tends to lower life satisfaction.

And if you’re a health nut don’t be too quick to celebrate you 45-minute, sweat-soaked trail ride into work every day. Though active commuters are in better health, in terms of mental well-being, the results still hold true even for people riding a bike or walking to work if those commutes last longer than 15 minutes.

Then again, the study only included UK residents. Maybe British buses are just that awful.

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