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A slacker's guide to productivity
6 research-backed ways to get more done... by goofing off
 
Take a cue from almost any male character in Judd Apatow's movies, really.
Take a cue from almost any male character in Judd Apatow's movies, really. (Screen shot)

I've posted about how people at the top of their field are relentlessly productive.

But you can't sprint for miles. There's plenty of research showing that being a touch lazy might be beneficial at times.

Here are six research-backed ways to get more done in less time by taking it easy.

1. Work less

Working too hard for too long makes you less productive.

Yes, pulling 60-hour weeks is impressive. But pull them for more than two months and you accomplish less than if you had only been working 40-hour weeks.

One study, on construction projects, found that "where a work schedule of 60 or more hours per week is continued longer than about two months, the cumulative effect of decreased productivity will cause a delay in the completion date beyond that which could have been realized with the same crew size on a 40-hour week." [Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much]

(The best system for time management is here.)

2. Go home

If you're doing creative work, research says you'll be more productive at home than in the office:

On the uncreative tasks, people were 6 percent to 10 percent less productive outside the lab… On the creative tasks, by contrast, people were 11 percent to 20 percent more productive outside the lab.

(More on what boosts creativity here.)

3. Take a nap

Naps rejuvenate you and increase learning. Some of the most successful people of all time were dedicated nappers.

Napping is common in talent hotbeds, and features both anecdotal and scientific justification.

The anecdotal: Albert Einstein was good at physics, and he was really good at his daily post-lunch twenty-minute snooze. Other famous nappers include Leonardo da Vinci, Napoleon Bonaparte, Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison, Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy, and John D. Rockefeller. Spend time with any professional athletic team, and you'll find that they're also professional nappers.

The science: Napping is good for the learning brain, because it helps strengthen the connections formed during practice and prepare the brain for the next session. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, found that napping for ninety minutes improved memory scores by 10 percent, while skipping a nap made them decline by 10 percent. "You need sleep before learning, to prepare your brain, like a dry sponge, to absorb new information," said the study's lead investigator, Dr. Matthew Walker. [The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills]

What you can learn about good sleep from astronauts is here.

4. Procrastinate

Yes, that's right, procrastination can be a good thing.

Dr. John Perry, author of The Art of Procrastination, explains a good method for leveraging your laziness:

The key to productivity, he argues in The Art of Procrastination, is to make more commitments — but to be methodical about it.

At the top of your to-do list, put a couple of daunting, if not impossible, tasks that are vaguely important-sounding (but really aren't) and seem to have deadlines (but really don't). Then, farther down the list, include some doable tasks that really matter.

"Doing these tasks becomes a way of not doing the things higher up on the list," Dr. Perry writes.

A similar tip is described by Piers Steel, author of The Procrastination Equation: "My best trick is to play my projects off against each other, procrastinating on one by working on another."

Dr. Steel says it's based on sound principles of behavioral psychology: "We are willing to pursue any vile task as long as it allows us to avoid something worse."

(Here's more on "positive procrastination.")

5. Go on vacation

For up to a month after a vacation you're more productive at work:

One hundred and thirty-one teachers completed questionnaires one time before and three times after vacationing. Results indicated that teachers' work engagement significantly increased and teachers' burnout significantly decreased after vacation. However, these beneficial effects faded out within one month.

(Here's how to improve your vacations.)

6. Hang out with friends

Easily distracted? Having friends around can make you more productive, even if they're not helping you.

Just having friends nearby can push you toward productivity. "There's a concept in ADHD treatment called the 'body double,' " says David Nowell, Ph.D., a clinical neuropsychologist from Worcester, Massachusetts. "Distractable people get more done when there is someone else there, even if he isn't coaching or assisting them." If you're facing a task that is dull or difficult, such as cleaning out your closets or pulling together your receipts for tax time, get a friend to be your body double. [Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are]

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