Rethinking our relationship with productivity

Chris Griffiths and Caragh Medlicott introduce the idea of bare minimum Mondays when we allow time for daydreaming and reflection to improve our efficiency

Monday is more than a day, it’s a symbol. An idea. It represents the start of the working week, the furthest possible point from the weekend. For some people, Monday may be a matter of dread – for others it’s a chance to re-enter the working week newly refreshed after time off. Whatever the case, there’s good cause to rethink our relationship with this particular day of the week. So, if you’re starting your week already weighed down with work and stress, here’s the counter argument for embracing bare minimum Mondays.

You’re busy, but are you productive?

You know what it’s like, first thing Monday morning there’s a backlog of emails to sort through and various threads to pick up from the week prior. After a weekend away from your desk, it’s hard to remember exactly where you were with everything and there’s likely a few tasks you left undone from the week before. Add a few catch-up meetings into the mix, and suddenly Monday has slipped away in a busy, stressful blur.

Multiple studies have revealed the crucial role daydreaming plays in aiding creative thought, mood-management and overall improved cognition

But here’s the thing… Have you actually been productive? Busy fool syndrome (BFS) plagues workers and workplaces alike. BFS refers to people who allow a general sense of “being busy” to take precedence over real, strategic work. With so much digital noise filling up our working lives, it’s easy to get sucked into a reactive mindset – responding to tasks and firefighting problems as and when they crop up. But this is a disempowering way to work, removing personal autonomy and limiting opportunities for creativity.

Quantity versus quality

We’re all familiar with the concept of quantity versus quality. After all, one high quality idea is often worth a hundred rushed ones. While doing the “bare minimum” might sound lazy, focussing on doing less can also mean giving real, concentrated attention to the right things (rather than spreading yourself thin over a number of non-priority tasks). It also requires you spend time actually figuring out what the right things are. After all, if you’re producing a high quantity of work, but it’s not the right work, are you really performing at your best?

There are a number of factors which will help you decide what to focus on. These include typical considerations such as task urgency and the number of stakeholders with a look in – but don’t skimp when it comes to considering the overall value of the task, and the estimated effort it will take. You might assess these factors through a list, or – even better – through a visual technique such as a mind mapping. Assessing information in a visual format makes it more digestible, and also promotes lateral thinking. Doing this at the start of every Monday (and ideally every day!) will give you the opportunity to focus on quality work, rather than a high quantity of meaningless tasks.

Time out to think clearer

Another crucial element of bare minimum Mondays is making time to step away from your desk altogether. While this might sound like it’s taking things a little too far, it’s important to note that this time away isn’t to do nothing. It’s time to engage in an activity which is incredibly important and regularly underestimated: daydreaming. While it might sound unconventional on first encounter, those in the know will be aware of just how powerful daydreaming really is.

Multiple studies have revealed the crucial role daydreaming plays in aiding creative thought, mood-management and overall improved cognition. Crucially, the right kind of daydreaming involves free-moving thought where you jump from idea-to-idea (which means no dwelling on a single subject). Creativity is the best outcome of daydreaming and enables you to effectively prioritise tasks, resolve problems, and produce real work. So, the real question is, can you afford not to spend time daydreaming?

Making time to dream

Now you know that daydreaming is important, you need to make space to do it properly. That means carving out time to let your mind wander. If your Monday is usually packed full of meetings and catch-ups, why not try cancelling a few of these arrangements, and replacing them with a walk, a run, or even some chores? Whatever activity you pick, it should be something which leaves your mind free to roam (usually this is best achieved via mundane, repetitive tasks).

You can make your daydreaming sessions even more productive by spending some time beforehand fuelling up on useful, relevant information. For example, if you’re looking for ideas to increase sales, you might spend some time doing competitor research or auditing past sales campaigns. This knowledge then gives your subconscious, (the inner realm of creativity), something to chew on while you’re daydreaming about different things. After a month of scheduled daydreaming breaks, even sceptics will be converted! Because, sometimes, learning to do the minimum results in maximum achievement.

Chris Griffiths and Caragh Medlicott are the authors of The Creative Thinking Handbook

Chris Griffiths

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