Busyness and long hours can seem like a badge of honour in the world of business. But it doesn’t need to be that way. Chris Griffiths, Founder of the AI-powered brainstorming app, ayoa.com, and Co-author of The Creative Thinking Handbook, explains how doing less with your Mondays might actually make your more productive.
Our work culture has conditioned us into thinking that doing ‘the bare minimum’ is a sign of laziness. We’re in the age of ‘the hustle’ where a constant sense of busyness and long hours are often seen as a badge of honour. Unfortunately, it is these faulty beliefs which have actually led to a big rise in burnout and dissatisfaction in the workplace.
We often think of Monday as the archetypal work day – it marks the start of the working week and is regularly reported to be one of the most productive days within it. Yet, there may just be a case for doing less with your Mondays in order to achieve more. It might sound contradictory at first, but when you know how, it’s genuinely possible.
Keep reading to find out exactly why making space to think at work might just be the best thing you can do for both your work and your well-being.
Busy vs productive
So many of us conflate being busy with being productive. Of course, this is understandable. If it feels like you’ve spent the whole day with your hair on fire, chained to your desk, you’d probably be a little affronted if someone accused you of not being productive. But unfortunately, that accusation might just be correct. While all the digital trappings of the modern workplace have, in some ways, made communication and work more seamless than ever before. They come with their own set of problems, too.
For example, it’s all too easy to spend a day flipping between email, instant messaging and video calls. While this level of on-going interruption and communication might occasionally be warranted, most of the time it gives us a false sense of ‘getting on with things’ while we’re actually achieving very little. So, while doing less might sound bizarre advice on the surface, it can actually just mean turning the volume down on the digital noise so you can focus better on the work that matters.
We hear the term ‘burnout’ bandied about a lot these days. Sometimes its overuse means we stop taking stock and reflecting on just how serious workplace burnout can be. Ultimately, well-being is essential for good work. You’re not going to produce your best ideas or be at your sharpest when you’re also exhausted from overworking. This is one of the key reasons we should make space for thinking, rather than steamrolling through our day without taking time to pause and breathe.
This is especially important in the age of hybrid work. While being able to work from home and from the office should give us the best of both worlds, when it’s executed poorly it can also manifest as the worst of both. Research from Microsoft has proven that back-to-back video calls can cause stress to build up in the brain, while regular breaks give the brain a chance to cool down so that it can function at its best. In other words, taking some breathing space throughout your day will actually enable your brain to work at its best so you can produce better work.
Here’s the other thing about doing the ‘bare minimum’ – when you really interrogate it, what it really means is doing what has to be done. A concept we more commonly characterise as prioritising. Unfortunately, many of us confuse having a to do list with being able to prioritise. True prioritisation is an active skill, and it requires a lot of plate spinning in order to be handled correctly. That means considering more than just deadlines, but also the value of the work, the time it will take and how many stakeholders are involved.
It also means protecting your priorities once you have them. If you jump to respond to every email as and when it comes in, you’re unwittingly cutting into the natural flow of your concentration – a dangerous thing to do when it takes the average person more than 23 minutes to refocus after a distraction. In this way, doing the bare minimum also means prioritising quality over quantity; ensuring that the work you’re doing is done well, rather than rushing through a large quantity of tasks.
Saying ‘no’ more
Saying no can be difficult, and many people confuse agreeability with a good work ethic. But in actual fact, the opposite can be true. As American humorist, Josh Billings, once said: “Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough.” Learning to say no to tasks when you don’t have time, capacity or ability will give you time to think and focus on what’s in front of you. It’s important to remember, too, that saying no can almost mean saying ‘not right now’.
While it may seem daunting at first, over time, colleagues will come to respect your boundaries enabling you to spotlight your focus on the work which really matters. Mastering this skill is crucial to becoming a more strategic worker who pauses to think and consider the best approach forward, rather than working in a reactive manner, firefighting as issues come up.
This may be the most controversial bit of advice for achieving bare minimum Mondays, but it’s also the most important. While many of us think of daydreaming as a frivolous, time-wasting activity, crucial research has actually shown that it’s a key part of the neurological creative process. It’s also been linked with clearer cognition, improved productivity, lessened stress and an overall boost in happiness. In other words, it enables us to achieve an ideal state for achieving great work.
So, how to do it? The ideal daydreaming state is often best engaged through mundane or repetitive tasks. In other words, taking some time away from your desk to go out on a walk or tick off some chores from your list is the perfect opportunity to let your mind wander freely. And that ‘freely’ part is crucial, as dwelling is not the same as daydreaming. The idea of working daydreaming breaks into your daily working life can seem intimidating at first, but the proof is in the pudding. Make space for some mind wandering at work, and you’ll soon find the benefits speak for themselves.
Chris Griffiths and Caragh Medlicott have co-written a book called The Creative Thinking Handbook.Click below to share this article