Your Guide to Anti-Productivity: Why You Need To Do Less Not More

When was the last time you sat quietly in a room? Just alone with your thoughts, perhaps examining your fingernails, day-dreaming about the weekend?


Can’t remember?

How about this then: When was the last time you read a click-baity article about improving your productivity for a better life? Yesterday? This morning?

You know the ones:

  • 8 Ways To Get Through Your To-Do List Like A Machine! – (Without the cool go-go gadget bits, is this possible?)
  • 5 Successful People Share How They Do it All On Little to No Sleep – (Vampires! Zombies! But with perfect hair).
  • Optimise Your Toilet Time To Get More Shit Done – (Really bad pun. Sorry/not sorry).  


Oscar Wilde was right, “Doing nothing is hard.” As well as our news feeds, magazines and newspapers flooded with productivity articles, research shows that our obsession is not just media-driven. Keeping busy seems to be hard-wired into our brains.

A series of studies led by psychologist Timothy Wilson showed that people preferred receiving an electric shock then spending 15 minutes in an empty room without their belongings, and only their thoughts for entertainment.


Danger of to-do lists

While there is nothing more satisfying than ticking something off your to-do list (“bought oranges” – see you later scurvy!) but to what extent will you go to get things done? Work late into the late? Forgo eating a good square meal to meet another deadline? Millennials are attempting superhuman productivity and working more than any other age group. This productivity comes at a high-price, the cost of their mental health.

Millennial burn-out syndrome – a coin termed by Forbes, is the result for when the shit hits the fan. The Black Dog Institute stats support this. Australian youth 18-24 years old have the highest prevalence of mental illness than any other age group.

The productivity articles probably aren’t helping.

We don’t need to do more, we need to do less.

Tom Hodgkinson encourages you to embrace faffing about and lounging around. In his book How To Be Idle he writes, “Being idle is about being free … It is about being free to live the lives we want to lead, free from bosses, wages, commuting, consuming and debt. Being idle is about fun, pleasure and joy.”

Science supports that doing less is good for you – yay science! When we are rushing around doing things our bodies are switched on to give us the energy we need through the stress hormone adrenaline. Which is great, but if we’re too switched on for too long and don’t find a way to relax or be idle, you can feel pretty awful. Awfulness can lead to stress, anxiety and other things you’d prefer not to have.

This neat little graph shows how we need stress to be productive but not too much.


We don’t need more stress, so let’s find a way to keep it right in the middle for peak performance.

Anti-productivity practices to kick burn-out in the face


Hit the snooze button a few times

Why not? You deserve the extra sleep. The belief that early risers who hit the gym at 5am, go to work by 7.30am are highly productive workers (created by some sadist) has no evidence. Creative types start later and still get shit done but feel better with the extra z’s and are nicer, well-rounded citizens. Not to mention that it’s better for young people to start work and school later, according to this study.

Put down the phone

We are addicted to our phones, it makes us feel useful and we don’t like to put them down. But it’s OK, you can put down the phone. Here’s a novel thought, watch a whole TV show without looking at your phone, get on a train and don’t pull out your pocket-sized computer. Have a conversation with your friend IRL. Make a game of it and call it ‘ET No Phone Home’. Crazy!

Forget FOMO – watch Harry Potter instead

Yes there’s a lot going on, but you don’t need to do everything, do you? If you’ve worked a super long week or just feeling tired you don’t need to go to the pub/movie/trendy art gallery show thing just because your mates are all going. Sometimes the best thing you need to do is not go out at all and have some quality HP time.

Treat your free time with respect

Free time is not doing work at home, updating your LinkedIn profile, doing the washing or house-chores. Free time is time to stare out the window, go shopping, listen to music or go to a yoga class, making chocolate brownies. All without guilt. Treat your free time with the respect it deserves.

Next time you see another article on productivity instead of clicking on it, reading it and making yourself feel bad because your to-do list is out of control (but hey at least you bought the oranges!) remember productivity isn’t always a good thing for you or your mental health.

Now, watch this pug video.