How Being Unproductive Increases Your Productivity

Afternoon Break

I recently read this article by time management guru Laura Vanderkam about how we should all act more British.

She’s not talking about faking an accent, greeting your friends with a peppy “Cheerio!”, or eating tea and crumpets. No wait—she does say we should eat tea and crumpets!

Laura writes about how many British people observe afternoon tea time. Everything grinds to a halt and office workers, laborers, housewives, and even royalty break out the Earl Grey and take a breather.

I absolutely love the ritual of afternoon tea!

Of course I appreciate a warm drink and a yummy snack, but what’s even better is the fact that by taking an indulgent break in the afternoon I’m actually increasing my productivity.

I know that sounds totally fake like when my husband (who works for a video game company) tells me that playing Battlefield 3 for hours at a time is “research.”

But it’s true—purposefully taking a break and being unproductive for a short amount of time every afternoon will make you more productive for the last bit of your day.

You know how most of us hit that afternoon slump around 2:00 or 3:00? We get bored, tired, and start counting the minutes until quitting time.

We might quickly grab a candy bar from the vending machine or email a funny cat video to friend. And then we’ll feel guilty about goofing off instead of tackling our to-do lists.

Don’t feel guilty! But don’t half-ass your unproductive break either. Your afternoon tea time (or Starbucks run) should be purposeful.

Choose a specific time so you can look forward to it. Step away from your desk to prepare or pick up your drink and snack. Use real plates and cups; none of that cheapo disposable stuff. Talk to a friend. Walk around the block. Write out a gratitude list. Do your favorite meditation. Listen to a happy playlist.

The point is to make a conscious decision to put down your work and enjoy a moment of unproductivity. Is that a word? Well, I say it is now.

When your afternoon break is over, you’ll return to your tasks recharged and refocused. I often have my best ideas immediately after I come back from my afternoon break.

If you try to power through the afternoon without a break, you run the risk of making mistakes because you’re unfocused. You’re not a robot, and you deserve to honor yourself with a some self-care.

And don’t forget to raise your pinkie finger as you sip your tea.

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  1. D.K. Upshaw on August 1, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    Since I work at home all morning, I spend the afternoon out. I go shopping, visit the library and, when the weather’s good, go out and sit at my “thoughtful spot”–one of the concrete benches between City Hall and the Mayor’s Office in East Chicago, Indiana, where I live. It’s a much-needed breather and I feel refreshed when I get home.

  2. Caralyn @ glutenfreehappytummy on April 18, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    what a great post! anyone that says to take a tea and crumpet break is a friend of mine!

    • Sage Grayson on April 19, 2013 at 6:17 am

      Haha! Me too, Caralyn. Although coffee and cupcakes work too. 🙂

  3. Ashley Urke | Domestic Fashionista on April 17, 2013 at 8:55 pm

    This is a great tip! I often in boredom or tiredness often go to the computer for down time and it just sucks me in. And just like you said, it makes me feel guilty! I really need to allow myself to take down time and I think tea sounds perfect! I think I used to take a lot more time for myself before I started blogging. Having a place to always check in or catch up on the latest post definitely can be distracting. Thanks for the encouragement! I would really like to work on this!

    • Sage Grayson on April 17, 2013 at 8:59 pm

      Hey Ashley! I get sucked in by the internet too. I don’t dislike computer time, but I feel better when I plan for it and make a conscious decision to take a break.

  4. Sarah @ This Is What I Eat on April 17, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    I definitely agree that taking breaks is really helpful for increasing productivity. That mental break is necessary to be able to clear your mind and tackle tasks full throttle 🙂 I can tell you from experience that working those 12 hour days when I used to assist on weddings was painful because we didn’t really get a break. We are always on call and the last few hours dragged like crazy. It was torture sometimes.

    Chris’ job sounds awesome!!!

    • Sage Grayson on April 17, 2013 at 9:01 pm

      Ugh, 12-hour days sound terrible. 🙁 Chris loves his job! He’s a big video game fan, and he was really happy to score a job in the industry.

  5. Molly on April 17, 2013 at 10:00 am

    Mike would love to have Chris’ job! Between the love of basketball and video games, I think they could be good friends. Now to just get a decent job close to you so we can move……. 🙂

    Taking breaks during my work day has saved my sanity and made such a difference. I used to just work a straight 8 hours, but now I come home for an hour and take two 15 minute breaks throughout the day. It’s made such a huge difference!

    • Sage Grayson on April 17, 2013 at 9:02 pm

      I think you should move out here too, Molly. 🙂 Chris loves his job–he gets to think about and play video games all day!