Skip to main content

Experts: Goof off at work, read a book, ignore e-mail

  • Story Highlights
  • Experts: Goofing off at work can relieve stress, improve morale
  • Lower your standards, says one adviser: "Learn to let things be good enough."
  • Blow off low-priority tasks, says an expert, "see if anyone notices"
  • Check voice mail and e-mail less often -- twice a day -- to reduce distractions
  • Next Article in Living »
By Patrick Erwin writer
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font

Editor's note: has a business partnership with, which serves as the exclusive provider of job listings and services to

We've all heard the conventional wisdom about good work habits. Many of us have attended time management classes, participated in workshops and have been advised to "work smarter, not harder."

Work habits that might seem less productive will make you more effective, say experts.

Work habits that might seem less productive will make you more effective, say experts.

Some ideas, however, appear at first glance to be unusual or even counterintuitive. But for some employees, these habits keep them productive and motivated. More importantly, these habits help them get the job done.

Here are some surprising work habits that might seem to contradict conventional wisdom, but have helped these workers achieve their goals.

1. Read a book at work

Gail Hernandez, a marketing coordinator in New Hampshire, faced a challenge. "I had to learn several software programs without attending classes," she explains.

Her solution was to press the "pause" button on her regular work so she could read the instruction materials at her desk.

"I received some kidding from co-workers, but I am now able to use Illustrator and Dreamweaver," Hernandez says.

Whether it's a textbook, newspaper or white paper, it's beneficial to be informed. Learning and training is always an ongoing process.

2. Take frequent breaks -- or longer ones

Many workplaces have designated break times, but several experts suggest that employees follow their instincts instead of schedules and unplug for a moment when your mind or body are on overload.

"Humans can only concentrate for 45 minutes at a time," declares Doris Jeanette, a psychologist with the Center for New Psychology in Philadelphia. Jeanette suggests that employees work for 50 minutes of the hour and use the other 10 minutes to change focus or shift gears.

Sue Painter, a marketing consultant and president of The Confident Marketer, proposes an even longer break. When things are hectic, Painter leaves the office.

"I absolutely force myself to leave for at least an hour. I gain perspective, get refreshed and go back to the office in a much calmer and more effective state of mind," Painter remarks.

3. Blow off low-priority tasks

Author and speaker Allan Bacon insists that blowing off work -- the most unimportant work -- can be beneficial.

"See if anyone notices or complains," Bacon says. Why? In addition to making your "to do" list less cluttered, Bacon believes this tactic gives you more time. "With the extra time, put more thought and effort into your top priorities."

4. Ignore e-mails and voice mail

Most of us respond to e-mails and voice mail as soon as we have a message. But Kate Rawlings, a trainer for talent acquisition firm SearchPath, recommends limited interaction with voice mail and e-mail.

"I check my e-mail twice a day, once in the morning and again at the end of the day," she reveals. "I'll check voice mail at lunch and at the end of the day."

Even if your responsibilities preclude you from completely ignoring e-mails, you can often minimize the distractions of a steady stream of incoming messages. Programs like Outlook allow you to turn off any pop-up messages that alert you to a new message.

5. Set aside time to clear away the cobwebs

Health economist Patti Peeples suggests that workers set aside one day every month to wrap up any unfinished projects or address incomplete tasks. "This means no e-mail and no phone for one full workday," she says.

When workers spend most of their time on high-priority projects, it's important to designate a time to clear away the cobwebs and resolve any old issues.

6. Goof off

Setting aside time to goof off at work can relieve stress, improve morale and even help with team building efforts. Most importantly, it can recharge workers who are in the midst of a long, stressful workday.

"It makes a huge difference," reveals consultant Deborah Grayson Riegel, president of Elevated Training. "Surf the Internet, play solitaire, close your eyes. Check out, rest and repair," she suggests.

7. Lower your standards

Riegel says that many people "procrastinate because they are perfectionists. They put off getting started on projects because they want all the conditions to be perfect."

Workers need to remember that perfection isn't always possible and to do the best they can without getting bogged down in unrealistic expectations. Trista Harris, executive director of the Headwaters Foundation for Justice, has a simple suggestion: "Learn to let things be good enough."

Patrick Erwin is a writer and blogger for He researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority

All About Jobs and Labor

  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print