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Business + IT Insights

Increasing Employee Productivity: Downtime Is A Good Thing

Posted by Dave Lazor on Wed, Nov 26, 2014


Blog 5 resized 600This blog isn’t about technology downtime, though the topic has its relevance for improving and sustaining the growth of your business. Your business’s growth is also affected by another kind of downtime, or lack thereof.

As a business owner or company executive, you are always expected to be working, and in turn, you probably expect your employees to work just as much. But, is this a healthy way to run your business if this intensity prevents people from taking the downtime – via 10 or 15 minutes during the workday, a weekend getaway after a long work week or quality holiday time spent with family and without electronics – necessary for refueling and rejuvenating their creativity?

With Thanksgiving just days away and the holiday season on the horizon, it helps to think about how invested we are in our downtime away from our jobs and how present we are with friends and family during breaks away from work. It also helps to think about your life – not as split between professional and personal, but rather as one life that you are constantly challenged to manage effectively in the greater pursuit of happiness.

Downtime Is Not Screw-Off Time

Because of the speed of technology and its constant presence in our culture, the Internet never sleeps. This doesn’t mean that you or your business can afford to do the same. Our connectedness is a blessing and a curse. Text and email seem to demand your instant attention whenever you receive a new message. But multitasking actually increases the amount of time needed to finish a primary task by 25%. It’s not your ability to balance your day accordingly that helps create clarity and agility, but rather your resolve to take brief breaks throughout the day. That’s the key to maintaining momentum and concentration during the workday.

The popular misconception created by tech companies in Silicon Valley is that volleyball courts, pool tables and video games are there for employees to have fun at the expense of efficiency. Yet, the opposite is true. These various elements incorporated into a workday allow employees to use different parts of their brains, getting blood and oxygen flowing so that energy and focus is renewed. We seem to think that the more hours we put into a day, the more we accomplish. But, the energy we bring to our work is what matters most, and “intermittent renewal fuels higher productivity.” 

Downtime Produces Benefits Beyond Productivity

The Energy Project, started by Tony Schwartz and operating under the motto “the way we’re working isn’t working,” supports a new paradigm on the workplace that challenges organizations to meet the "employee's core energy needs" and thereby "fuel sustainable high performance."

But the advantages to intermittent breaks do not stop an increase in productivity. Breaks also have the ability to create:

  1. Improved mental health

    Workaholic environments are bad for business because they contribute to poor personal and mental health. The importance of sometimes doing nothing cannot be overemphasized. Downtime triggers imagination and creativity.

    Chris Barez-Brown, author of Shine: How To Survive And Thrive At Work, says, “Beware of being too busy. It dilutes you. It may feel good, but it’s not where genius lives. Genius needs space and time to reflect, different stimuli and free-wheeling interactions with interesting people.” So, shut off your phone, laptop or tablet and take the time to reflect on the day’s events. Sometimes you need a rest to get ahead.

  2. Improved relationships

    Sloane Davidson started a DinnerMode challenge for diners to shut off their phones and be “mindful of the present moment.” Davidson suggested that people who are out at dinner, at lunch with a coworker or sitting down to a meal with family try shutting off their phones and other technology to focus on the face-to-face relationship.

    Consider participating in this challenge at the Thanksgiving table as you find yourself beside family and friends who may have taken a backseat to work earlier in the year. Technology comes between us and our coworkers, friends and family. Challenge the status quo.

  3. Improved problem solving

    Good ideas come when you least expect them, but you have to be open to receiving them. This tip becomes more apparent as you try working through a problem or conflict without breaking concentration.

    Taking a walk in the middle of the day or going out for coffee instead of making it in the office frees up your brain to think and process experiences as they unfold. Your mental deftness and problem-solving abilities improve with downtime.

  4. Improved concentration and avoidance of burnout

    The Energy Project found that 69% of people have a difficult time focusing on one thing at a time and are easily distracted during the day, especially by email. In fact, the average attention span is going down. In 2000, the average attention span lasted 12 seconds, while in 2013, the average attention span lasted 8 seconds. (The average attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds!)

    On average, our brains maintain focus for 90 minutes, but they require 20 minutes of rest to reenergize and refocus afterward. Working longer than 90 minutes or working all day with only a 30-minute break is a fast track to burning out.

    Respect your natural attention span. This is the route to mental agility.


If you aim to increase employee productivity, you need to practice downtime habits. Make space for downtime and promote healthy work habits by managing priorities, having the right attitude and enjoying what you do. 58% of participants in The Energy Audit feel there’s a gap between what they say is important in life and how they actually live.

Are you promoting intermittent breaks to fuel your employees? Take the Urgency Test at the Energy Project. Where do you fall, and what are you going to do to close the gap?

Over the Thanksgiving weekend with your friends and family, be sure to take the time to unplug yourself from your work. It will be there once the weekend is over.

After you find the right path to carving out more personal downtime, it’s time to discuss the role that potential technology downtime plays in your business. Is your current technology setup designed to support future business growth, and what can you do to improve your chances at success?

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