Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Why "Goofing Off" Is Good to Do

How to really work smarter.

Gerry and Lionel were in the same graduate study group. Lionel put in at an extra five or six hours of study a day, while Gerry spent much of his free time relaxing. In terms of intelligence, nobody would dispute the fact that Lionel was smarter, but in the end, Gerry received an “A,” Lionel a “B.” When it came to the exam, could it be that Lionel had overdone it and burned out, while Gerry remained fresh and alert?

Everyone knows that hard and diligent work often pays off, but many believe that the harder one works the more he or she will achieve.

We are told: “Keep your nose to the grindstone! ” Frankly, I've never believed this expression - unless someone wanted to whittle down or saw off his or her nose!

Of course, behind this awkward metaphor lies the notion that one should not "goof off." But psychological studies show that a certain degree of goofing off is good for you and will make you more, not less, productive.

Studies conducted on what is called “massed practice” versus “distributed practice” almost always show that people who use massed practice accomplish less than those who use distributed practice.

Massed practice refers to a method of learning or working wherein a large amount of material is covered, or is attempted to be produced, over a relatively short period of time with only brief intervals of rest. In other words, sticking to a task without taking enough breaks; virtually working around the clock. Such hard workers usually find that after a while fatigue builds up and their mental focus declines so that they have to exert more and more effort to achieve worthwhile results. Thus, they reach "the point of diminishing returns," but continue to grind out more and more work, nevertheless.

Distributed practice refers to a strategy wherein periods of learning or working are broken up with frequent and sometimes lengthy periods of rest. You stop what you are doing and take a ten-minute walk, or call a friend, or do some relaxation exercises, or carry out some other activity that differs from the task you are working on. Those who use distributed practice are able to break the monotony, replenish their energy levels, and keep working at a faster and more productive pace, all while staying well above the point of diminishing returns.

Distributed practice allows you to get rid of the metaphorical cobwebs, and feel more energetic and alert when you return to the task. Also, you accomplish more in the long run and will be likely to make fewer mistakes along the way. Hence, the formula for successful and productive learning or work is:

• Don’t keep on going hour after hour without taking rest breaks.

• Goof off a little every now and then and get rid of the lactic acid and other fatigue products that build up in your bloodstream.

Indeed, as it is often said:

• Work smarter—not harder or longer!

Remember: Think well, act well, feel well, be well!

Copyright 2017 Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D.

Dear reader,

The advertisements contained in this post do not necessarily reflect my opinions nor are they endorsed by me.


This post is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional assistance or personal mental health treatment by a qualified clinician.