Why doing nothing is a much more productive use of your time than you might think
A letter from editorial director Lisa Smosarski.

Somewhat counterintuitively, I want to focus today on how to NOT work. Or more specifically, why we need to stop filling all our time being ‘productive’.

Thinking has become vastly underrated in the workplace, which sounds utterly ridiculous when you say it out loud. But working culture is not built for us to daydream and problem solve, or noodle over a problem on a long walk or in discussion. We clock in, respond to messages and emails, join calls, attend meetings with fixed agendas, drill down into deep work and do anything – everything – rather than doing ‘nothing’ for fear of being labelled lazy or not pulling our weight. We ‘trust our gut’, ‘act on instinct’ or ‘let data decide’ and pride ourselves on quick decisions while forgetting that it’s in the depths of thought that the real ingenuity comes. The expression ‘sleep on it’ has increasingly become lost because we’re now so terrified of not sleeping; we want to clear our to-do list and our problems before we wrap up for the day. Which is ironic when you consider that by not allowing space to think in daylight hours, our brain will automatically jump to that when the busyness stills – usually the second your head hits the pillow.

We need to remember that ‘nothing’ is where the magic happens. An idle brain finds its own way to a solution. Think about those 3am epiphanies, the shower brain waves, the magical journey your mind travels on when you’re driving on a motorway, having a massage or going for a run without music or podcasts to distract your thoughts. The French philosophers didn’t spend their days working in Excel and their evenings flicking through books full of pictures of cats falling off walls and then attempt to tackle the meaning of life. They had (and created) space to spend time in their own heads and allowed ideas to grow.

Of course, we’re not philosophers (well most of us, anyway); we’re workers with KPIs or OKRs and a to-do list the length of our arms, but we still need space to let our thoughts breathe. So, this is my plea to you: find some way to prioritise doing nothing for a short time every day to be the best possible version of yourself at work. Because not working is your new working superpower.

Work smarter: add your working hours to your email signature
Deputy editor Ellen Scott shares insightful hacks to make work that little bit easier.    

This is one of those things that seems so obvious when your first see it that you feel silly for not doing it all along. But let’s forgive ourselves for the oversight and move forward with this simple act: adding your working hours to your email signature.

Why do this? Because it’s an easy way to quickly and clearly let people know your most basic work boundary. You don’t have to write a massive spiel. Just add something like this to your signature: “My working hours are 9am to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday. Emails outside of these hours will be responded to when I’m back at work.” By doing this, you’ve set an expectation. You’ve been explicit in stating when you’re available and when you’re not. You’ve pre-empted anyone’s attempts to send you an ‘URGENT, PLEASE RESPOND’ message at 8pm.

And, perhaps most importantly, having your working hours in your signature is a handy reminder to yourself of your own boundaries. If you’re formulating an email when you’re not supposed to be working, you’ll see your own words at the bottom and get the nudge you need to just log off and rest.  

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