You snooze, you lose. Really?

Idling can often bring benefits. Image: Bigstock

can’t remember how many times somebody said to me 'You snooze, you lose' over the years. Beaten by a family member to the last cookie in the char? You snooze, you lose. Missed out on your preferred parking spot, because somebody was a tad faster? You snooze, you lose.

People throwing this old proverb around always seem to imply that you’ve got to be switched on and acting quickly 24/7 and I have to admit that, all too often, I’ve fallen for their trickery.

The truth, of course, is that it’s often better to take a minute or two before embarking on a task, gather your thoughts, and relax a little. Mainly because constant rushing encourages multi-tasking – today’s business equivalent of one-size-fits-all clothing. Just like one-size-fits-all gloves, socks, or shirts don’t fit anybody properly, multi-tasking often doesn’t help to accomplish all tasks well leaving your efforts looking decidedly average.

Being a little more tortoise and less hare-like often also has other unexpected beneficial side effects. Have you deferred starting a task given to you by your boss or a client only to find that, miraculously, the matter or problem disappeared or seemingly fixed itself? Sure would have been a waste of time to have started right away, wouldn’t it?

I’m certainly not a fan of procrastination or putting off getting things done, but over the years I’ve developed an uncanny ability of spotting problems or tasks that merit a slower start (or no start at all), because – more likely than not – they’ll fix themselves if you just have a little patience. The key to deferring things successfully is to have a good excuse at hand in case a matter unexpectedly does not fix itself but foolhardily persists and keeps staring in your face.

The problem is that our society and today’s business world still doesn’t really encourage this sort of behaviour. Take open-plan offices, for example. I’m sure they were invented by a real efficiency aficionado, because they don’t really idleness. It takes a lot of self-esteem to idle in an open-plan office or shared workspace and yet, idling is often the starting point for many fabulous

I think it’s time that productive idleness (as opposed to sheer laziness) is re-evaluated by businesses and taken mainstream. Sure, Silicon Valley companies and many hip startups long ago realised that we can’t all be switched on 24/7 and that people work best at different times, but most 'mainstream' companies still have some way to go. Is it better to unproductively labour through a mid-morning or post-lunch slump than to take a quick power nap? I don’t think so and I’m certainly planning on adding an idling/power napping space to my next office. Yes, I’ll snooze, but I won’t automatically lose. Instead, I’ll be more productive the rest of the time I’m at work and, because I’ll be idling in an officially designated 'idle zone', I won’t even have to feel guilty.

From an environmental and health perspective, wouldn’t it be better if office buildings had 'snooze areas' rather than smoking areas?

A mentor once found me rushing around trying to get three tasks accomplished in a short time and he said to me 'Is your mind full or are you mindful?' – productivity-wise, that’s what it comes down to, doesn’t it? Rather than rushing around like a headless chicken or letting others rush you, it’s often faster to focus on one task at a time and to give it your active, open attention until it’s completed.

For bigger tasks, I often employ the popular and praised Pomodoro technique – work for 25 minutes, then have a five-minute break. Regular breaks give you time to (re)focus and can help you not to drown in the shallow end of the pool – all too often, we’ve got a hundred little tasks nibbling at our brains and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and a little lost. A short break or a bit of idle time can do you good. Remember to not sweat the small stuff. If you’re going to worry, worry about the big things, not the little ones.

Whatever you do, try your best not to snore while idling though, because you know the old saying: You snooze, you lose. You snore, you lose more. 

By Martin Kubler