How to be Unproductive: The Answer May Help Your Productivity


how to be unproductive - inverted sunglasses

Have you ever had an a-ha moment? Maybe it's been something that you do (or don't do) and a slight shift in perspective or someone says something that brings new awareness (or the a-ha moment). I recently listened to a book summary of how to think about things in a new way: The Great Mental Models, by Shane Parrish. Listening to this summary gave me the a-ha moment about how much I've been sitting at my desk. My sweet little dog, Sassy, passed away in October. Since the pandemic, I've been working from home, so I would take her out 3 or 4 times during the course of a day. It was usually a quick 2 or 3-minute walk outside, but it got me out of my office and outside! Since she is no longer here, I no longer have her as a reason to get up periodically.


One of the mental models the author describes is using an inversion model. I applied this thinking to one of my own research passions from this past year: productivity. Rather than asking "how can I be super productive", invert the question to "how can I be as unproductive as absolutely possible." By asking this question, you can uncover blind spots about your productivity gaps. Never leaving my desk doesn't enhance my productivity; in fact, it helps contribute to my afternoon energy slump that I sometimes get!


So I asked myself the question: how can I be unproductive? There are so many ways! While this is meant to be somewhat lighthearted, it also is a look at things that I do, things that I used to do, and things that I have seen others do.


How can I be unproductive?

  • scroll through news feeds (and feel virtuous for keeping up on the news)

  • keep my phone with me at all times, keep all alerts on, and check (even in the middle of the night) when something dings

  • keep my email notifications on so that I can open every email the second it appears in my inbox

  • keep piles of stuff on my desk that I need to do later

  • work in a job that I don't like

  • equate activity with action

  • never leave the desk

  • never take time off

  • multitask

  • replay my to-do list in my head over and over

What are antidotes to unproductivity?

  • keep my phone charger and phone across the room at night

  • refrain from checking my phone until after my morning routine

  • creating a morning routine

  • take a 5 or 10-minute walk outside several times a day

  • clean off desk every night after work

  • write down (or type) my to-do list


The point of this exercise to help uncover your own productivity blindspots so that you can uncover your own gaps!

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