How Being Less Productive Can Generate Big Ideas

November 27th, 2009 § 0 comments

Written by Everett Bogue | Follow me on Twitter.

Productivity is such a popular concept. Everyone is trying to streamline their lives so they can get more and more done during their 40-60 hour workweek.

Funny, that, because being productive is the exact opposite of what everyone needs to be doing to get ahead in the modern workplace.

Productivity is a trap.

You’ve bought into this idea of a safe productive workplace, where everyone does their part and the company gets ahead, and so you get a raise, right?

Doing 60 hours a week of mundane productive work is useful, if you’re a cubicle-bound widget pusher. Large industrialized corporations reward workers for how many ticks they tock in the collective board every day.

I know, I’ve been to cubicle-nation. It ain’t pretty.

If you work in a cubicle, take a moment and think about the last person who got a promotion at your company. Was it a widget pushing productivity master? Probably not. I bet it was someone who either:

  1. Had a big idea.
  2. Brought in a lot of money because of a big idea.

I bet you want to know what the secret to having big ideas is… it’s simple really.

Let me propose a minimalist way of working: be less productive.

Big ideas don’t drop into your head for no apparent reason, you have to take time to cultivate them. Just as you can’t grow an avocado tree in a desert, you can’t grow big ideas in a brain that is dumbly moving from one mundane task to the next as fast as possible.

Big ideas need a lot of space to grow up in, they need vast open fertile fields in which to frolic. You need a minimalist mindset towards your brain in order to start thinking big.

If you make space in your brain for big ideas to form:

  1. You will be respected by your peers
  2. You will rise to the top of your organization
  3. You will have more spare time for yourself, your friends, and your family.
  4. You will make more money

If you’re not making time for big ideas to form, it’s time to start now.

Be careful though, many cubicle nations aren’t happy when their lower-level employees stop pushing widgets and start dreaming. Big idea generation is like hunting for wild game in the forest, you need to be quiet in order to discover them –before your boss finds out you’re thinking and sends you packing!

Remember, you are on your own. I cannot be held responsible for big thinkers who blow their cover before they have a good idea to defend themselves with. Be sure to ‘look busy’ whenever your manager is looking over your shoulder.

How to be less productive and think of big ideas.

  1. Be less productive. Take inventory of everything that you have to do in a given day, write down a list. Chances are that you’re trying to spread out the work you do over an 8-hour day, because you feel that you’re supposed to work that way. Organize your day into specific sections. For instance: TPS reports get done between 1:00-1:30pm, sales calls between 9:00-11:00am. Stick to a schedule and don’t let tasks bleed over into non-scheduled blocks. The idea here is to get work done so you can have time to think of bigger things.
  2. Use communication consciously. A lot of people roll into the office (or out of bed!) and check their email immediately. This is a bad policy, as you’re going to be immediately inundated with multiple tasks that ‘need to be done now!!!’. You probably have more important things to do than reply to email emergencies that happen in the morning. Finish one important task in the morning, before you check email. When you get emails from colleagues requesting that you put out fires, wait 30-45 minutes before replying. Fires have a way of going out by themselves if you don’t step in to save people. Go a step further: only check communications devices at set intervals daily.
  3. Delegate stupid repetitive tasks. Do you have a lot of unengaging work assignments that has to be done every day? Find a way to get these out of your domain. There are three places stupid mindless work should go: 1, send it to someone who works under you, like an intern or an assistant; 2, make a computer do it; 3, don’t do the task at all. Just stop doing the task and see if the company falls apart, did it? No probably not.
  4. Firewall your time. Once you’ve delegated stupid tasks and started completing important work quickly, don’t let anyone suck you away from your big idea generating time. Lock your office door, put on the headphones if you work in a cubicle. Go for regular breaks outside and enjoy the morning air. But DON’T let people pull your attention away for mundane reasons. Tell people you are very busy, there are vast deadlines that are approaching. “Sorry, I wish I could help you, but I’m swamped with work right now.” Even if you’re simply generating big ideas, this is an effective response.
  5. Stop going to meetings. These gatherings are often fruitless wastes of time. They’re fine once a month to make sure everyone is on the same page, but hours of endless unproductive meetings are a sign of weak management. When people insist on hosting meetings for nonsense reasons, there are a few strategies for avoiding them. First try telling your colleagues that you have too much work to do, you can’t fit in the meeting. If that doesn’t work, ‘accidentally’ forget about the meeting. Ask forgiveness later, use the time wisely to generate big ideas.
  6. Don’t listen to anyone. There are always people at work who will try and squash big ideas. These are the people who are negative about everything, who have worked in cubicle nation for so long they don’t know there’s a world outside their cardboard walls. You can identify these people easily, they cluster around the water cooler and complain about their sad lives and gossip about other employees. Don’t engage in these types, get as far away from them as possible. They will drag you and your big ideas down. Don’t believe me? As a test try asking any of their opinions about your big idea. Chances are they will reply with ‘oh, that’ll never work.’ or ‘That’d be great if it was a perfect world.’ or something similarly not-helpful.
  7. Go home early. The best way to make big idea thinking time is to get out of the office as quickly as possible. Don’t stay a minute past 5pm, have your bag ready and get the hell out of cubicle-nation. Don’t take work home with you. When I was working a desk, commonly I would receive the biggest requests of the day at 4:59pm, which was insane. Do what I did, tell these people the work will get done tomorrow, and go home. Work has a way of filling up as much time as you give it, if you tell your work day that it will only exist for 8 hours a day, you will only have to work that much.

Please keep in mind that the above suggestions are for people who want to dedicate their spare time to generating big ideas. Not for people who want an excuse to be lazy.

Generating and executing big ideas will get you promoted, being lazy will get you fired. These suggestions will have very different results for people who want an excuse to slack off.

For more on this subject, you should check out Hugh McLeod’s book Ignore Everybody. It’s an excellent collection of short ideas about being creative and avoiding cubicle nation by a man who spent a lot of time in advertising. You can also check out Hugh’s blog, Gaping Void.

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