For managers: doing more with less

Managers are professionals who work a lot. We often think they work a lot. In fact, there are managers who achieve more with less effort.

When I moved to Rome from Washington, what impressed me most was not the ancient columns of the majestic basilica, but the fact that people were doing nothing.

I often saw old women leaning out of the windows and watching the passers-by, and families on their evening walk occasionally stopping to greet friends. Even office life was different. I had to forget about hurriedly eating a sandwich at the desk. In the middle of the day, the restaurants are full of employees who are used to eating well.

Already in the 17th century, when wealthy Europeans began to keep travel notes during their educational trips (the so-called grand tours), the idea of ​​Italian “idleness” became a stereotype. But those same colleagues who rode scooters home to have a leisurely lunch at home often returned to the office and worked until 8 p.m.

I’ve always been struck by this balance between hard work and il dolce far niente – the sweetness of doing nothing. After all, inactivity turns out to be the opposite of productivity. And productivity – creative, intellectual, or industrial – is the ultimate goal of our time.

But as we “do” more and more, many find that non-stop activity is not the apotheosis of productivity, but an obstacle to it.

According to the researchers, it’s not just that the work we do at the end of a 14-hour day is of poorer quality than that done with fresh energy. This model of work generally undermines our creativity and cognition. Over time, we can feel physically ill – and even, oddly enough, look and feel like we have no purpose. The author of the book “Two amazing hours” Josh Davis advises thinking of mental work as push-ups. Let’s say you want to do 10,000 push-ups. The most “productive” way would be to do them all at once, without interruption. But we know instinctively that this is impossible. And if you do small sets between other activities for several weeks, then reaching 10 thousand will be more realistic. Reference: “The certified project manager carefully plans all activities“,

“In this respect, the brain is a lot like a muscle,” Davis writes. “Put in the wrong conditions of incessant work we can achieve little. But once we create the right conditions, almost anything will be within our power.

Managers need breaks

However, many of us think of the brain not as a muscle, but as a computer – a machine capable of continuous operation. Some experts say that this approach is not only wrong but can cause significant harm if you work for hours without a break.

“The idea that your concentration and productive time are unlimited is wrong. It’s a suicide, says researcher Andrew Smart, author of The Benefits of Laziness. “If your body says, ‘I need a rest,’ and you keep pushing yourself, you get mild stress that turns out to be chronic — and over time, extremely dangerous,” he adds.

One meta-analysis, which pooled the results of several studies, found that working long hours increased the risk of coronary heart disease by 40% – almost as much as smoking (50%). People who work too long have a significantly higher risk of stroke, according to another analysis. People who work more than 11 hours a day are almost 2.5 times more likely to develop major depression than those who work seven or eight hours.

In Japan, this has led to a disturbing trend called karoshi – death from overwork.

If you’re wondering if this means it’s time to take that long-awaited vacation, the answer is yes. A study conducted 26 years ago in Helsinki found that executives and businessmen who had less rest in middle age were more likely to die early and suffer from poor health in old age. A vacation can pay off. A survey of more than 5,000 full-time Americans found that people who took fewer than 10 days of paid vacation a year had a little more than a one-in-three chance of getting a raise over three years. And for those who have used more than 10 days, the ratio is two out of three.

The origin of the performance

We often think that efficiency and productivity are a whole new craze. But philosopher Bertrand Russell would disagree. “Although a little leisure is nice, men would not know what to do if they had to work only four hours out of 24,” Russell wrote in 1932, adding that “this was not the case in an earlier period. There used to be an opportunity for carefreeness and play, somewhat stifled by the cult of efficiency. Today’s man thinks that everything should be done for something specific and never just like that,” writes the philosopher

However, some of the most creative and productive people in the world have realized the importance of working less. They have a strong work ethic but don’t forget about recreation and entertainment.

“Work on a task until you’re done,” advises writer Henry Miller in his 11 Commandments of Writing. – “Stop at the appointed hour!… Be human!” Meet people, travel, drink if you want.”

Even the founding father of the United States, Benjamin Franklin, a model of hard work, took a lot of time to rest. Every day he had a two-hour break for lunch, free evenings, and a good night’s sleep. Instead of devoting all his time to making a living as a publisher, he spends “an enormous amount of time” pursuing his hobbies and socializing. “It was the interests that took him away from his primary occupation that led to many of the great ideas for which he is famous, such as the Franklin stove and the lightning rod,” Davis wrote. During the industrial revolution, it was normal to work 10-16 hour days. Even at the global level, there is no clear relationship between productivity and average working hours in a country. For example, the average employee in the US works 4.6 hours more per week than the Norwegian. But in terms of GDP, Norwegian workers make $78.70 an hour, while American workers make $69.60. And what about Italy, the homeland of il dolce far niente? With an average work week of 35.5 hours, it produces almost 40% more per hour than in Turkey, where people work an average of 47.9 hours per week. And even ahead of the UK, where people work 36.5 hours. Looks like all those coffee breaks aren’t so bad after all.

Ford was the first company to experiment with an eight-hour workday, and it turned out that its employees became more productive not only for the hour but also in general. Within two years, the company’s profitability doubled. If an 8-hour workday is better than a 10-hour workday, could a shorter workday be even better? Perhaps. The study showed that for people over 40, a 25-hour work week would be optimal. And in Sweden, they recently experimented with the introduction of a 6-hour working day, and it turned out that employees, in this case, had better health and productivity.

This is confirmed by the behavior of people during the working day. A survey of nearly 2,000 full-time office workers in the UK found that people were only productive for 2 hours and 53 minutes of an 8-hour working day. The rest of the time is spent checking social media, reading the news, socializing with colleagues outside the office, eating, and even looking for a new job.

And when we strive to make the most of our capabilities, the time for high concentration decreases even more. Stockholm University psychologist K. Anders Eriksson has found that we need more breaks than we think during the “conscious practice” required to truly master a skill. Most people can only go an hour without a break. And elite musicians, authors, and athletes never devote more than five hours a day to their work. Other research also shows that short breaks help you stay focused and continue to perform at a high level. Lack of breaks, on the other hand, impairs productivity.

Active recreation

But “rest,” as some researchers point out, isn’t the best word for what we’re doing when we think we’re doing nothing. The part of the brain that is activated when you are doing nothing, known as the brain’s passive mode network, plays a critical role in memory consolidation and predicting the future. This area of ​​the brain is also activated when people observe others, think about themselves, make moral judgments, or process other people’s emotions.

In other words, if this network were disabled, we would struggle to remember things, predict consequences, understand social interactions, understand ourselves, act ethically, or empathize with others—all the things that make us functional. not only in the workplace but in life. Reference: “Cross-cultural differences in the perception of ethical and unethical leadership”,

“It helps you realize the deeper importance of situations. Find meaning. When you don’t see meaning in something, you’re just reacting and acting within the current moment, and you’re subject to many types of cognitive and emotional maladaptive behavior,” says Mary Helen Immordino-Young, a neuroscientist and researcher at the Institute for Brain and Creativity, University of Southern California. California.

Also, we wouldn’t be able to come up with new ideas or relationships. The creativity zone is activated when you make associations between seemingly unrelated elements or come up with original ideas. There are also moments of insight – if like Archimedes, your last good idea was born while you were in the bath or on a walk, you have biology to thank for that. Perhaps most importantly, by not paying attention to our inner world, we lose an important element of happiness.

“We just do things without thinking about them most of the time,” says Immordino-Young. If you can’t fit your actions into a larger ideology, they end up being meaningless, empty, and unrelated to your larger perception of yourself. And we know that a lack of purpose leads over time to a lack of optimal psychological and physiological health.


Anyone who has tried to meditate knows how surprisingly difficult it is to do nothing. Who among us does not reach for the phone after 30 seconds of inactivity?

Doing nothing is so uncomfortable that we’re more likely to get hurt. Literally. In 11 different studies, it was found that participants preferred to undergo anything – even electric shocks – just to not be idle. And they were asked to sit quietly for not very long – only from 6 to 15 minutes. The good news is that you don’t have to be lazy to relax. You can engage in active reflection, reflect on a problem, or consider an idea.

Anything that requires visualizing hypothetical outcomes or imaginary scenarios — like discussing a problem with friends or immersing yourself in a good book — also helps, says Immordino-Yang.

“If you just look at a beautiful picture, you perceive it passively. But if you pause and allow yourself to internally reflect on the larger question of why that person in the picture feels that way, building a narrative around it, then you may very well activate those brain networks,” she says.

Moreover, it does not take long to reverse the harmful effects of constant employment. When adults and children were sent for 4 days without mobile devices, their productivity increased by 50%. Even a walk, preferably outdoors, has been shown to significantly increase creativity.

Another very effective method for repairing damage is meditation. Just one week of practice for those who have never meditated before, or one session for experienced meditators, can improve creativity, mood, memory, and concentration.

Any other task that doesn’t require 100% concentration – like knitting or drawing – can also help. As Virginia Woolf wrote in “A Room of One’s Own” – “Painting was a solemn way to finish your useless morning’s work. And yet it is in this idleness, in our dreams, that the hidden truth sometimes comes to the surface.

Time out

We are afraid of losing control. We fear that if we loosen our grip even for a moment—like stepping away from the desk for 15 minutes or leaving our post office for the night—everything will collapse.

It’s wrong, says poet, entrepreneur, and coaching coach Jen Robinson. “A metaphor I like to use is fire. We start a business and after a year, when we can take a week off or hire someone, most of us don’t trust an outsider to take our place. We say, ‘The fire will go out,'” she says. “And you just have to believe that these coals are so hot that we can walk away, and somebody else is going to throw a log and it’s going to catch fire?” she adds. It’s not easy for those of us who feel like we constantly have to “do” something. But it seems that to achieve more, we may have to learn to do less.

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