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The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

    You probably read this blog because you want to get more done each day. But do you want to become more productive so that you can maintain a better work-life balance, or so that you can fill up your newly freed hours with more work? Sometimes the importance of downtime gets relegated to the sidelines, and we forget that optimal productivity cannot occur without it.

    You need to rest mind for it to work well on a long-term basis. Believe it or not, some of us need to schedule these rest periods and even lay down rules for what can and cannot be done during those times. I’m a classic case – if I didn’t follow my own advice, I’d work almost every minute I’m awake.

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    Making the Time

    If you’re not naturally inclined to slowing down and taking a break, the best thing you can do is schedule downtime. I know, downtime just sounds like something that shouldn’t be scheduled, like it ruins the whole idea of relaxing. But if you’re the type who is always tempted to keep working until it’s late at night, it may be the only way.

    How much downtime you need to schedule is a personal matter that depends on a several factors, such as how much time you need on a physical and mental level to unwind so that you’re optimally productive the next day. It’s tempting to schedule less time than you need (for some, it might be tempting to allocate yourself more time than you should, but self-discipline is another topic altogether!). Don’t succumb to that temptation – think about how much you need as opposed to how much you can get by with, and mark that time as downtime in black and white.

    Use alarms and reminders. People who forget to take downtime usually do so because they get carried away with work, often not noticing the passage of time for hours. In that case, there’s little chance you’ll look at the clock and remember that it’s time to go; you’ll need to be prodded. If you’re using a computer program like iCal to make your downtime appointments, make use of the reminder and reminder alarm features.

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    Keep It Strictly Downtime

    Set rules for your downtime. You have a goal: to relax and recover from your workday so that you can hit optimum productivity the next day. Since it is so tempting for people like us to ditch the downtime and meander off onto other things, it’s important to set rules that keep us within certain boundaries.

    Do you need a computer during your downtime? So surfing or gaming is a hobby of yours when you’re not working, so you shouldn’t rule out the use of computers, but you should restrict what you can and cannot use a computer for.

    Are there certain things you should do with your downtime? Perhaps you feel as though you don’t get outside enough, so require that one scheduled downtime session per week involve exercise or, at the least, sitting in the backyard. Maybe you need to spend more time with your kids, so give yourself the requirement that you spend a certain amount of time each week playing with them (if you’re not already doing this, this article is even more important for you).

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    I know, it can be hard to follow rules that you set for yourself. Self-discipline plays a big part here, and you need to remember that downtime isn’t wasting time. It’s truly important to your continued productivity and happiness.

    Optimizing Your Downtime

    Proponents of GTD and various other productivity systems have a great tool for optimizing your actions based on observation of the past week and planning for the coming week in the weekly review. If you don’t already use the weekly review I highly recommend that you take the time to check it out and implement it, since it is the wheel that keeps many productivity systems turning.

    The weekly review should adopt a new component – the weekly downtime review. It’s a good chance to review your past week’s downtime, and to schedule downtime for the next week.

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    Why would you review your downtime? Measuring your effectiveness at tackling your task list makes sense, but perhaps this seems too clinical. It’s important, though, to gauge how effective your downtime is and how successful you’ve been at making your downtime appointments.

    How much downtime did you take in the last week? How does that compare to the amount you scheduled? Did you get carried away and take a little too much downtime, affecting your productivity levels, or did you fail to take enough? Adjust your plans accordingly. If your plans were fine but your follow-through wasn’t, it’s time to crack open a book on self-discipline.

    Downtime is important. The first hurdle one must overcome is often to realize that relaxing isn’t a total waste of time, even if the lack of action makes it feel that way.

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    The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

    The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

    It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

    Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

    “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

    In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

    New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

    There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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    So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

    What is the productivity paradox?

    There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

    In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

    He wrote in his conclusion:

    “Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

    Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

    How do we measure productivity anyway?

    And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

    In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

    But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

    In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

    But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

    Possible causes of the productivity paradox

    Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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    • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
    • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
    • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
    • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

    There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

    According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

    Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

    The paradox and the recession

    The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

    “Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

    This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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    According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

    Looking forward

    A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

    “Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

    Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

    “Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

    On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

    Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

    Reference

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