Why Being UNproductive Makes You More Productive

Why We All Need To Chill Out, Bug Out, And Get Bored Once In Awhile

It seems everywhere I look these days people are talking and writing about productivity: How to be more productive, productivity ‘hacks’, and how to ‘hustle.’ Books are written and published, apps are developed and launched, YouTube videos produced (heck I’ve even shot one myself!)… And most of the tools, tips and tricks that are provided are great.

Don’t get me wrong: Learning how to be more productive is a wonderful thing that can truly enhance the quality of our lives. But the message that’s sort of implied — and in some cases directly stated — is that we are supposed to be productive and producing things all the time. It’s almost as though if what we’re immersed in isn’t deep and profound work, then it has no value to life.

This may be Western society reaching the next level in its esteeming of being busy. It’s no longer okay to just be occupied all the time (which has come to be strongly and most unfortunately associated with importance and worthiness). Now we need to also be effective, producing, and creating stuff 24/7. Not only is this impossible, it’s just not healthy. In fact there is real, scientifically proven value in allowing ourselves to indulge in moments that are totally unproductive. Even, I dare say, to the point that we become bored.

Boredom is a term that’s common in the Western world. The French have a word for it in their language too: “Ennui.” A Psychologist colleague of mine once researched the term “boredom”, specifically and interestingly noting that in many cultures and languages around the world, there actually isn’t an equivalent word. In fact, some cultures have no definitive description for this state of mind at all. In any case, Dictionary.com defines Boredom as “feeling weary, listless, and discontent by dullness, lack of occupation, or excitement.” And it has a very negative connotation in our parts of the world.

Here’s the thing: In being bored, we tend to experience total and utter release of our mental inhibitions. This allows us to think freely, more passionately, and with more clarity. Boredom can also be a very powerful incentive toward figuring out our next big move. Think about it: If we are bored — and therefore somewhat discontent — we logically become motivated to eventually move out of that state of boredom and onto greater and more exciting things. Reaching a state of boredom is therefore an important stage in the creative process.

A study conducted by Mann and Cadman (2014) at the University of Central Lancashire found that participants who had been intentionally led to boredom generated significantly more uses for a pair of plastic cups than those who weren’t. What’s more, their findings also showed that boredom felt during passive activities (like reading reports or attending tedious meetings) had an even greater positive impact to how creative one could be after feeling bored. There is much more research in existence that also supports these findings. Chronic boredom can be detrimental but natural, sporadic boredom is actually a good thing.

Early in my career, I used to practice in child outpatient psychiatry at a hospital in downtown Baltimore. After 10–12 hours a day of supporting kids through experiences so harrowing they could only be fathomed by some as tragic movie scripts, I’d drive home, settle into bed, turn on some mindless TV, and pick up In Touch magazine. Normally not a consumer of this type of content, and although it wasn’t boring per say, it would nevertheless not be considered a productive use of time by many. And yet, there was value to it because it was restorative in its own way. During that time in my life, it allowed me — and my mind — to totally decompress and stop being ‘on,’ so I could take on the next day.

I’m all for working more efficiently and effectively. But I’m also for giving ourselves permission to become bored every once in awhile, and for savoring — and not shaming ourselves over — those moments that are filled with absolute nothingness. You know the ones I’m talking about.

Natasha Sharma is a personal development and happiness expert, and author of The Kindness Journal (www.thekindnessjournal.com), a guided interactive journal for cultivating a happier and more positive life. She is also a Co-Founder of Intelligent Mindset, launching in early 2017.