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5 time wasters that are actually highly productive

24 Mar 2014 | Clarity & Focus

I’ve been running a lot of Stress Less, Achieve More workshops lately, and one of the lightbulb moments we often have, is that what feels productive isn’t always the case, and what feels like time wasting, can actually be highly productive.

Here are five examples:

1. Thinking time – As one delegate put it recently: “I always feel like I’m wasting time when I stop and think. I feel like I should just get on with it.” But thinking is where we define the work, decide the what, when, why and how of work, and often makes the difference between us doing the work and the work doing us.

2. Recharge time – Whether it’s time to rest, have fun, indulge, or let your mind freewheel – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If it recharges you, it restores your capacity to do your best work, it could be the most productive thing you can make time for.

3. Asking silly questions – I used to hate asking questions, for fear of making a fool of myself and wasting someone else’s time. Now I’ve learnt to start with “can I ask a silly question?” and the answer is always yes. More often than not, it’s not a silly question at all. If nothing else, it gives me clarity instead of confusion. And once in a while, the blindingly obvious turns out to be brilliantly helpful.

4. Letting someone else do it slower… or even badly – My daughter is insisting on doing her own seatbelt at the moment and I have to admit there are times when we’re running late, I can’t bring myself to sit patiently for the longest 5 minutes and I have to take over. But the more I can give her time to do it for herself, the more she learns and the more independent she becomes.

The same goes for delegating. The early days of letting someone else learn the ropes are painful. It’s great when others can do what they can do, so you can do what only you can do, but getting there takes time.

5. Blank space in the diary – When time is limited, it’s tempting to cram something into every nook and cranny, the way a budget airline pack people in like sardines. It feels inefficient to leave gaps.

But gaps give us room to manoeuvre, and margin to adapt to the unexpected. Building margin into our day is precisely the thing that helps us to stay productive in a fast changing, unpredictable world. And if you’ve had the budget airline experience, you’ll know that breathing space itself adds massively to the quality of our day.

Over to you. What have you been denying yourself because it feels like a waste of time? What one thing could you choose to give yourself time and permission for this week? Let me know in the comments below.


  1. naomirichards

    Grace. I agree so much with what you are saying. It can be hard to make that mindshift set but so necessary to ‘not work’ – have just returned from the gym where I was mulling over a project!

    • Grace Marshall

      Well done Naomi, it almost goes against the grain of our normal work ethic to stop, but when we do it, it’s so helpful!

  2. Rebekah Harriman

    I have found my yoga class essential each week as it allows me both to recharge and be more productive when I get back to the office as I always feel much calmer. Although it is still hard to feel ok about it being part of my working week! It’s a good mind shift but a hard one to take i feel.

    • Grace Marshall

      It’s one of those areas where our feelings take time to catch up with us, as we’ve been ingrained to think of recharging as a ‘spare time’ luxury rather than fuel for our best work. Well done Rebekah!

  3. Lora Schafer

    Grace, I just found your blog and I find it refreshing and insightful! Thank you!
    I wish I could allow myself more time to exercise. I know exercise is good for the mind, but it also gives me a chance to brain storm, problem solve and let my imagination go down all the little rabbit trails it wants to.

    • Grace Marshall

      Welcome to the blog Lora, really pleased you’re enjoying it! I think we often make time for the things we believe we need or have to, and wait for time for the things we wish for. Perhaps you could start with looking ahead at what you have coming up in the calendar, and picking one week when some brainstorming/problem solving/imagination time would be really useful and scheduling some time for exercise then? Make it an experiment and see how that helps 🙂

      • Lora Schafer

        Thank you for the encouragement, I’ve actually been able to carve out some time in the last 2 months, its done wonders. Thanks!

        • Grace Marshall

          Brilliant! That’s great to hear – well done you!


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Image if author Grace Marshall

About Grace

I coach, train, write and speak on productivity. I help people adopt new ways of working and thinking about their work to replace stress, overwhelm and frustration with success, sanity and satisfaction.

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