Why Goofing Off Is Good for Business

Spending time away from work will make you more productive.
July 16, 2012

You already know that being successful in business is all about working smarter, not harder. But in an unpredictable economy, following this rule is easier said than done. A 2012 survey of small-business owners by the insurer Hiscox USA found that many report working longer hours, with 39 percent doing more to serve current clients.

The irony is that working too hard can lead to health problems that cause time away from work and lost productivity. Among those surveyed, 33 percent say they suffered from a lack of energy at work, 32 percent get headaches at the office and 30 percent experience back pain.

If you’re among them, it’s time to follow some expert advice and give yourself a break. Goofing off a little can be good for you—and, ultimately, keep you in fighting shape to grow your business.

Build breaks into your day. In a recent post on his blog for the Harvard Business Review, productivity guru Tony Schwartz, author of Be Excellent at Anything, says it’s easier to push yourself to new heights if you work to your maximum capacity for relatively short, pre-determined periods of time—and then leave your desk for a while. So, for instance, if you need to prepare a killer presentation for a customer, sit down at your desk from 9 to 10:30 am, write it, and then stop to take a break.

But don’t hit the coffee shop when you decide to step away from the desk. Recent research by Charlotte Fritz, an assistant professor at Portland State University, found that to stay energized, it’s better to use a small break at work to learn something new or use the time to have a positive conversation with a coworker.

Get moving. Several recent studies have showed that exercising during the workday boosts workers’ perceptions of their own productivity. You don’t have to do an intense workout to get the productivity benefits. Fritz’s recommendation in HBR: go outside for a walk and some sun. Just don’t completely disengage from work, or it could be hard to get back into it after your energetic stroll.

Break up your vacation time—and then use it. Fritz’s research bears out something that the well-known venture capitalist Brad Feld has suggested for years: take several vacations throughout the year, instead of one long vacation. Feld and his wife Amy take four quarterly, week-long jaunts, as he details in his blog. No one can accuse him of being unproductive because of the time away. Besides being managing director of the Foundry Group, which invests in early-stage IT firms, he’s co-founder of the TechStars startup accelerator.

There’s a reason these short vacation strategies work well, according to Fritz’s analysis for HBR. “Within two to three weeks after we’ve come back from vacation, all of the positive effects have pretty much faded out,” Fritz says. Can’t take several week-long vacations throughout the year? Fritz suggests several long weekends instead.

Practice radio silence. Unfortunately, even the occasional weekend away is a difficult goal for many entrepreneurs to achieve. But Feld has some other ideas for those who struggle with disconnecting. When he’s feeling spent, he opts for a “Go Dark Weekend” and turns off his mobile phone and computer at 6 pm on a Friday. He doesn’t turn them back on until 5 am Monday. “I cancel anything that is scheduled for the weekend and just do what I feel like doing,” he writes. Sounds like a great idea!

How do you recharge your small business batteries?

Elaine Pofeldt is an independent journalist and editorial consultant who specializes in small business, entrepreneurship and careers. A former editor at Fortune Small Business magazine, she has written recently for Fortune, Money, Crain’s New York Business, Working Mother and many other publications. She is co-founder of $200KFreelancer, a community for freelance professionals, and Endhousearrest.com, for homeowners looking to sell.

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