It is impossible to be productive for your entire day. First off, you must sleep. But, even getting about 8 hours of sleep, you simply cannot be 100% productive the remaining 16 hours. The problem I see people often doing is stretching themselves thin. They believe they can work for 12-14 hours straight but end up getting into such a fatigue that their productivity is less than that of someone who simply worked 8 hours.
Our bodies and minds work best when they are in balance. To achieve balance, you need to sleep, eat, drink water, exercise your body, and exercise your mind. The same way your body gets fatigued after extended periods of exercise, so does your mind.
What is this post about? Oh yes – vices. I mention the above because there is something important to note. It is OK to be unproductive. If and only if that unproductive time is acting as a mental cool down for you.
This observation started for me when I worked for a large business and I noticed that employees that were smokers seemed to work better in the later hours (or put differently, they tended to remain productive into the late hours). Nicotine is a stimulant, but so is coffee, and those who drank coffee but did not smoke seemed not to fare as well. I decided to take “smoke breaks” with the smokers (I don’t smoke). While doing nothing for 45 minutes a day would be frowned upon, going outside for a “smoke” was perfectly acceptable. On these smoke breaks, I chatted with the smokers, had a snack, and simply took my mind off work for a few minutes. The results – I found that I felt less mentally fatigued by the end of the day. Another odd by-product, if I was stuck on something, I could ask the smokers for help, and often they could help me work through the issue.
What spurred this post is that sometimes I feel guilty about doing an activity that is “non-productive” such as playing a video game, reading a tech-news website, or watching a funny video on the internet. The reality is, while that singular event is unproductive, it is giving my mind the rest it needs to run at full capacity when it needs to.