How to get more done by goofing off, checking email frequently and other bad habits

Have you seen all well-meaning the advice that tells you to do things like:

  • Turn off all email and check it only once each day
  • Work in focused bursts – don’t let anything interrupt you
  • Do your highest value task first thing every day
  • Do the task you least want to do first so it doesn’t distract you all day
  • Journal every day for 20 minutes as soon as you wake up
  • And many other well-intentioned nuggets of wisdom

Unless you live under a rock, I’m sure you’ve heard advice likes this many times. But here’s the thing…

It’s ALL a load of bull

Here’s what I do to get more done in the shortest amount of time

What I’m about to tell you flies in the face of all conventional wisdom. But it works for me. In fact, it works extraordinarily well.

When I have an important task to do – things like coming up with a new product idea, solving a major problem, creating the content for a training program, or writing sales copy – I get a LOT more done by goofing off. Yep, by goofing off.

I check email frequently. I play solitaire online. I scan the news headlines. I browse bird photography web sites to see what my fellow bird photographers are up to. I check ESPN to see who loves LeBron and who hates LeBron.

Why do I do so many of the seemingly “stupid things” you’re told by all the experts not to do?

Because it works for me. And it may work for you.

You see, current research shows that most adults can only focus on an important task for a maximum of 20 minutes – and 5 to 10 minutes is even more likely. Now, I didn’t need a bunch of scientific studies to prove this for me as I discovered this about myself years ago.

So when I’m working on an important task, I take breaks like crazy. And I don’t schedule them, I just take them whenever I feel like it. As odd as this may sound, if I have a serious problem I need to solve or I want to create a breakthrough idea for my business or a client’s business, I get my best ideas by thinking deeply and playing a lot of solitaire.

That’s because the way the brain works best is on a stimulation-rest-stimulation-rest cycle.

First you bombard your brain with stimulation – all the ideas, idea fragments, odd facts and whatever else you need for your specific task. Then you let your brain rest. And what happens during this resting time is both magical and totally reliable.

While you’re off doing something else (watching ESPN, reading the comics, browsing bird photography do it for me), your brain is working in background mode to process all that stimulation, making new connections and coming up with new ideas. And in my experience, if you try to force your brain to function without this stimulation-rest-stimulation-rest cycle, the quantity and quality of your ideas drop off substantially. Plus, it takes a lot longer to get those ideas.

Can you benefit by practicing my goofing off behavior?

Look, I really don’t know if this will work for you. But you might want to give it a try and see if your results are as good as what I experience.

But the more important point is this… if you really want to maximize your productivity and the joy you get from working, you need to find the rhythm and practices that work best for you.

The “no email ever” gurus can’t do it for you. The “do your highest value task first” gurus can’t do it for you. And even my “goof off to get more done” method may not work for you.

Only you can find the rhythm and process that works best for you. So test out a bunch of things. Note what works and keep doing it. When you find something doesn’t work, especially “expert advice” don’t think it’s a flaw in your personality. Drop it without giving it a second thought.

Soon you’ll have your own ritual and practices that work best for you. Then you’ll get a lot more done in much less time. And you’ll have a lot more fun doing it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Am I nuts? Am I right on target?

Feel free to let me know – or share your own experience on this topic – by leaving your comment below.



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4 Responses to How to get more done by goofing off, checking email frequently and other bad habits

  1. Lateef says:

    You are definitely right on target Bob. I find this useful.

  2. Kurt Shafer says:

    Bob, I really don’t know what works. I know I play solitaire often, but seldom after 7 AM. I get up and walk around, do a little work on restoring my dune buggy, or sweeping the sidewalk. I check email every few minutes, it seems. I have not done what the experts say so I don’t know if what they say would be better for me. What I DO know is that I never get everything done everyday that needs to be done to accelerate success……..Thank YOU for the thoughts.

  3. Steven Cox says:

    Thak you for sharing what works for you.
    I too, figured out for myself that reading a hobby book or magazine really does it for me.
    I’ll bet that even the time management gurus have a similar process.

  4. Rob Smith says:

    When I was a pharmaceutical scientist and I was stuck on a problem, I did the exact same thing as you described. The building where I worked was large, so I’d simply take walks and purposely clear my head, especially of the problem I was faced with. The answer to my issue usually came to me after one of these walks. The subconscious at its best!

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