Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Get Back to Your Best with Intentional Inefficiency

Allow yourself to be unproductive when you are away from work.

You are a productive person. You’re results-oriented, responsible, and resourceful. You establish priorities, create project plans, and stick to them. You meet your deadlines. People can count on you to get work done and do it well because you are highly organized and efficient.

Do you implement these same qualities into your leisure time? Maybe you shouldn’t.

The productivity and efficiency you demonstrate at work draw on resources that get used up during the week. If you continue to mine these resources in your leisure time you won’t recharge your batteries and will cause yourself to feel depleted and burned out. Instead of being regulated and deliberate in your time away from work, try carving out some time to practice intentional inefficiency.

Intentional inefficiency is when we purposefully choose to let ourselves be disorganized instead of structured, unproductive instead of industrious, and improvisational instead of methodical. Intentional inefficiency is a conscious attempt to balance the state of being goal-oriented and focused on achievement, with the opposite state of being playful and focused on enjoyment. When we practice intentional inefficiency, we give ourselves a mental and physical boost by relinquishing the standards and constraints of our obligations and acting in whatever way feels natural, spontaneous, and free.

When we resist the temptation to check the time, we are being intentionally inefficient. When we avoid the habit of establishing a deadline to finish a task, we are being intentionally inefficient. And when we venture into an activity with no idea of what we will do once we start, or where we will end up when we finish, we are being intentionally inefficient.

There are countless ways to practice intentional inefficiency. Take a drive to a nearby town on your day off and leisurely stroll through the streets letting whatever catches your eye direct you. Brew a cup of tea and sit on your front porch with no thought of what you’ll do next. Or practice a hobby paying attention to nothing other than your enjoyment of it.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
Source: Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Hobbies give us room to leisurely float through activities, paying no mind to work-related metrics, outcomes, or standards. Like a feather in the wind, hobbies allow our interests and passions to take us in whatever direction they want, oblivious to time or external demands. Although hobbies are often goal-directed activities, they paradoxically give us free space within which to figuratively do nothing, while doing something. When we’re sitting in a boat patiently waiting for a fish to bite our lure, we can enjoy the warm sun on our face and the gentle bobbing of the waves beneath us as we essentially do nothing while outwardly engaged in a respectable pursuit. When we walk through the woods looking for birds that we haven’t yet photographed, we can allow our minds to wander or shoot the breeze with fellow bird-watchers, casually filling time within the larger context of a shared activity. Although many hobbies involve effort, concentration, and discipline, they also often give us the freedom to drift, letting our momentary fascinations direct our attention, thoughts, and actions.

The years of practice we get focusing our attention and effort in school and then cultivating our ability to plan, organize, and perform at work leaves us with a well-developed capacity to achieve but can weaken our ability to unwind. We get too practiced at “going” and have trouble “stopping”. Many of us have learned how to strive, but forgotten how to bask. Intentional inefficiency acts as a counterbalance to this tendency, allowing us to feel replenished, recharged, and reinvigorated. To live well, we need to know how to perform, but we must also remember to refuel. If during the week you are results-oriented and resourceful, in your leisure time allow yourself the luxury of being playful and inefficient. Not only will you feel better, but it will also make you more productive when you get back to work.

More from Jamie Gruman Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today