(CAREERBUILDER) -- On a recent flight I sat next to a businessman who told me that, even at that young age, his children were exhibiting very different personalities.
He saw signs of his wife's overachieving tendencies in their son. In his daughter, he saw himself. In the first grade she was getting lectured for not applying herself enough. She, too, was a slacker.
He was frustrated by her slacking ways, but he also sympathized because she showed traits of his business mindset.
"She does her own little cost-benefit analysis," he said. "She realizes that she can do just enough to get by and use the rest of that time for playing and having fun."
I had never thought of slacking off in those terms, but he was right. I've known my share of slackers, and most of them are intelligent people who could easily upstage everyone else's efforts if they applied themselves a bit more. They knew that. Yet, while everyone was in panic mode trying to get ahead, the slackers knew how to fulfill their obligations, get decent marks and enjoy a relatively stress-free existence.
I'm not saying we should all strive to be slackers. The balance between laid back and high strung workers is probably beneficial to everyone. But in this culture where we're constantly being told to be better than everyone at everything, slacking off can be the right way to go for your health and your career.
Once upon a time work was a busy place. You showed up, worked hard, stayed late during your busiest periods and then went home.
Today, many people don't escape work. Before they even arrive at the office, they've already sent a dozen e-mails from their phones and held teleconferences with people all over the country. Once you're actually at work, things are even crazier.
The workplace is different today than it was 10, 20 and 30 years ago, but you should be able to pull back in some areas. You don't need to overextend yourself to the point that you never relax.
Here are some ways you can be a "slacker" at work and benefit from it:
E-mail can wait. No, really, it can. You don't have to answer an e-mail the moment it pops up on your screen. Unless you're waiting for that one message that could make or break your career, you should designate time to check e-mails so that you don't get distracted while doing other tasks. You can even disable the new message icon and noise alert to help with this.
Saying 'no' won't get you fired. If the boss or someone comes to you with a task that's part of your core job duties, by all means accept it. If you're drowning in work, however, telling co-workers that you just can't get to their request right now won't necessarily hurt you. If you tactfully explain that you'd like to help them but you've got too much on your plate shows you care about the quality and promptness of your work.
Don't multitask. The ability to simultaneously talk on the phone, send an e-mail and heat up the meatballs for the monthly potluck is an admirable quality but not necessarily the most beneficial. Multitasking has become the de facto approach to daily operations in many workplaces. The problem is that we often end up doing a little of everything and never making much progress on any one task.
Give yourself a break. Literally, just get away from work for five minutes. Take a walk around the floor or step outside for some fresh air. Without Saturday and Sunday off, you'd probably go a little stir-crazy. Think of brief breaks throughout the day as small-scale versions of weekends. You'll return with a clear head and produce better quality work.
Don't eat lunch at your desk. Eating at your desk can be an occasional necessity, either because you're close to a deadline or you're in a productive zone that you don't want to interrupt. Having your lunch in front of a computer every day, however, doesn't give your eyes or your mind time to relax. You might feel like a slacker if you're the only one taking your sandwich outside for 30 minutes, but your mental health is worth it.
Schedule some "me" time. Go into your calendar and block off a period of time for whatever work you need to do without interruption. Treat that time as if it were an important appointment with your boss and consider it non-negotiable. If someone tries to schedule a meeting with you, tell him or her that you're busy but can try for another time. If possible, book a conference room so you won't be interrupted by a chatty co-worker or a phone call.
Editor's Note: CNN.com has a business partnership with CareerBuilder.com, which serves as the exclusive provider of job listings and services to CNN.com.
© CareerBuilder.com 2011. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority.