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Unproductively Yours

So, what did you accomplish today? Don’t answer that!

If a recent research study from a team of Harvard researchers is correct, there’s a very good chance that contemplating your accomplishments, or lack thereof, will leave you overcome with sadness and doubting your own self-worth.

That’s right. Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer believe that it’s damaging to your self-esteem to experience a workday, in which “as mid-afternoon races toward late afternoon, you realize you haven’t really gotten anything done.” As they so poignantly point out, “not only do unproductive days like this detract from the success of your projects, your team and your organization, they can endanger your own well-being.”


Imagine — one unproductive day and some people sink into a funk so profound that even the Harvard elites start to care. I know this level of concern sounds ridiculous to you — a person who has experienced months, years, decades of severe unproductivity, without ever once doubting your supreme wonderfulness. But then again, you’re you, and with your good looks and winning personality, any company would be lucky to have you as employee eye-candy.

For those misguided employees who actually expect to accomplish something between nine and five, the productivity of the Harvard team has resulted in a book, “The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work.” A catchy title, but you don’t have to worry about finding the time to read a whole book when you’re so busy trying to look busy. The authors recently published an executive summary of their theories in The Wall Street Journal under the title, “How to Save an Unproductive Day in 25 Minutes” and you know I’m not too busy to share.

“Carve out a time-oasis” is suggestion No. 1. This will take 20 of the 25 minutes you have set aside for the rescue effort. “Move something off your schedule for the remainder of the day,” the authors advise. “Protecting just 20 minutes to focus — uninterrupted — on that meaningful project.”

This period of contemplation is so important the authors suggest that you might have to stay late to get it done. Impossible! If you’re not down with a down elevator at 4:59 p.m., you may lose your place at the happy hour buffet at the Kit Kat Klub. Then you’ll never have time to power down that second dozen of Buffalo chicken wings before the cold, soggy buffet remains are donated to the local homeless shelter. And you know how it affects your sense of self-worth when you have to go down to the shelter and wrestle those wings out of the hands of the homeless.

After 20 minutes of contemplation, the Harvard researchers recommend that you use two of your remaining five minutes to “note your progress for the day.” Of course, you don’t want to be a negative Norbert as you scribble in the recommended “work diary.” As Amabile and Kramer write, “spend a minute taking stock of what you did accomplish. Even if you simply outlined next steps on that creative project, take note.”

This sounds like a good idea, but not because you’ll get a “boost of happiness and engagement.” The way I see it, if you actually, accidentally did accomplish something today, you definitely should take note because you’ll certainly want to reward yourself with some major goofing-off time tomorrow. (Yes, I know that you didn’t mean to be productive, but hey, anyone can make a mistake.)

You now have three minutes left, which the Harvard types most sensibly suggest you should use for doing exactly what your inner-slacker has been telling you to do since you staggered in that morning — stop working. Citing a technique endorsed by Ernest Hemingway, these authors recommend that you “leave off in the middle. When you have to stop work for the day on your most important project, end in mid-paragraph, mid-sentence, mid-routine, whatever.” Their theory is that by stopping in the middle, “you’ll be able to just slide back into the task the next day.”

Perhaps, but why stop at stopping in the middle? Why not stop in the beginning? Think about it — if you stop before even start, you’ll be able to just slide back into the supply closet the next morning, when you can slide into a restful nap from 9 a.m. until 4:59 p.m., when those scrawny, tasty chicken wings begin to beckon.

Now that’s what I call productivity.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at


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