Do You Really Need to Be Productive ALL the Time?

by Miranda Marquit

One of the more profound things I heard recently, while watching an interview of Luke Landes from Consumerism Commentary, was this:

You don’t have to be productive 100% of your life.

Too often, we think have to be doing “useful” all the time. But will your dreams of wealth collapse if you aren’t always being productive?

Sometimes You Need a Break

Do you need to be productive all the time?

Do you need to be productive all the time?

Yes, it makes sense to be as productive as possible — when you’re working. After all, you want to work as efficiently as possible. But sometimes you just need a break. If you are always working, always trying to squeeze the last bit of production out of every minute of every day, you can start to get worn out.

A break can help you relax, unwind, and even do better work.

Recently, I felt I was running myself ragged. I found myself too busy, too frazzled, and trying to get everything done. I finally just stopped. For a few days, I did practically nothing. After I got through those few days, and started working again, things flowed much better. I got more done, and I felt better about doing it.

When you take some time for yourself, and just unplug for a little bit, you can re-set your mind. It’s one of the reasons that I don’t go to FinCon with the intention of filling up every spare moment with meetings. Sometimes, you just need a vacation. You don’t have to leave everything behind when you go on a business trip; in fact, you should probably get something done. But don’t forget to leave the work behind for a little bit.

If you feel like you are doing too much, but you also feel like you have to keep working because you feel guilty if you aren’t being productive 100% of the time, perhaps it’s time for a change in your mindset. Step back, and ask yourself what you might do if you had a little time to watch your favorite TV show, read a good book, or sleep in.

Or perhaps you should get outside in the sunshine and play with your kids.

Learning To Say No

Every couple of years, I re-learn the same lesson: Sometimes you need to say no.

It’s hard to turn down work as a freelancer. It’s hard to cut a client loose as well. But sometimes, you just need to say no. There are times when you really are too busy. And there are times when you need your break, and letting someone else commandeer that precious time just doesn’t make sense.

I often let things pile up and pile up. And then, finally, I remember that I can say no. It’s very freeing once you realize that you don’t have to take on more work. You don’t have to come from your job and spend hours on a side gig. While you can get ahead with a little extra work, and it’s possible to turn your side hustle into a full-fledged business, it’s important to realize that you don’t have to be working on it all the time.

It’s ok to walk away from the computer and turn on the TV for an hour. Yes, it’s true that TV can be a real time-killer. But relaxing for an hour isn’t going to completely derail your dreams of financial independence. I was reminded of that while watching that interview with Luke. So, while you don’t want to turn into a total coach potato, there’s nothing wrong with entertaining yourself for a little while each day.

Taking some time to just be unproductive might be just the thing to boost you overall productivity in the long run.

Photo credit: Seattle Municipal Archives

Published or updated March 18, 2013.
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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 krantcents

For me, productive means effective. I need to be as effective as I can. That means saying no occasionally and resting in some form. I have difficulty walking away from something until I am done even when I know I am not as productive or effective. I am working on it!


2 Ross

I totally agree, all things in moderation. I’m the kind of person who feels lazy if I’m not working on something every minute of the day, but a nice book or tv show is super necessary to not go crazy!


3 Harry

Some of the best ideas are developed when your mind is idle and “not producing” anything. Archimedes’ famous Eureka moment occurred when he was in the bathtub without being productive. In our society productivity is taken to the extreme that strips people of having precious idle time when they can let their mind wander and come up with those Eureka moments.


4 Emily Guy Birken

I’m totally with you about the problems with freelancing and productivity. Because I work from home and I don’t have straight stretches of work–like I would if I had a traditional job–I feel like I need to always be working when I’m not taking care of home and family stuff. The only thing that really keeps me going is the fact that I have a definite late afternoon off switch. It gets to be about 5:30 or 6:00, and my brain just stops working. So I know I HAVE to be productive during daylight hours while my kid’s at school or napping, or else my power-down moment will stop me from getting anything done. It’s still tough–because I’ll find myself trying to be productive in other ways after my brain shuts off–and because I still feel like I can add more and more to my day without there being any consequences.


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