Want to be more Productive? Cut Yourself Some Slack!

Productivity is a common theme to talk about. One Google search, and we will get hundreds and thousands of results about it. From books, to articles, to videos and reels, we shall find tips and tricks to be productive all the time. We are told that perspiration beats inspiration- ideas come to those who work towards them. But what if one of the ‘productivity hacks’ was to actually get yourself some slack time? Slack time is when, to put is plainly, one is zero percent productive, and one is actually not working. Slack time is the time between agendas, tasks when one just seems to be ‘sitting around’. 

The book Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency, Tom DeMarco seems to say that!

Let us quickly take a look at how having some slack time might actually be useful and the need to be productive all the time might actually be proving counter-productive.

Less Slack, More Build-Up:

An article on the blog Farnam Street, while talking about the book, gives a hypothetical example of the workings of the office of a business tycoon named Tony. One look at his office, and it is everything opposite to what one expects in the office of a business tycoon- the office doesn’t look ‘busy’, buzzing with activity. Tony’s secretary Gloria seems to be just quietly sitting on her desk, and not really seems to be working…she seems to be slacking off!

But one phone call, and Gloria gets up on her feet, schedules the required appointment and Tony now knows what his next agenda is.

Here in this hypothetical office, the task is not look busy all the time, and not find work to do all the time. Of the agenda says so, the work shall be done quickly, but there won’t be a compulsion to have a long to-do list. If there’s work to do, great, finish it off; if there’s not much to do, great, take a little break! Slack time is not a bad time here.

Less slack time implies built-up work, and thus, here for example, if Gloria had already built-up work, she wouldn’t have been able to fix that quick appointment.

The Space to Respond:

Slack time gives one the much-needed space to breathe, which obviously gives one the rest and motivation to move on to the next task with more energy and enthusiasm to do the task well. But slack time also gives one the time and flexibility to respond in the face of unpredictable changes. Demarco gives the example of those puzzle-like tiles.

Think of a square with eight tiles, with one empty space that allows you to slide them into place. The empty space is the equivalent of the slack as the article points out. If you fill up that space,

‘…there is no further possibility of moving tiles at all. The layout is optimal as it is, but if time proves otherwise, there is no way to change it.

Slack time thus adds into the organisation, processes or tasks a much-needed dynamism.

Slack time is When Reinvention Happens:

Slack time actually gives one time to pause and look at the bigger perspective. It is when introspection and reinvention happen. It is when ideas take shape. As the article points out:

‘Only when we are 0 percent busy can we step back and look at the bigger picture of what we’re doing. Slack allows us to think ahead. To consider whether we’re on the right trajectory. To contemplate unseen problems. To mull over information. To decide if we’re making the right trade-offs. To do things that aren’t scalable or that might not have a chance to prove profitable for a while. To walk away from bad deals.

…..This is in contrast to grabbing the first task we see so no one thinks we’re lazy.’

The pressure to look constantly busy actually might also make us work slower. We want to look busy all the time, and hence we end up finishing the task ‘not on time’, so that we wouldn’t have to find a ‘buffer task’ to look busy. Kabir’s doha of ‘kal kare so aaj, aaj kare so ab..’ might actually have some relevance here. While on one hand the doha might look like it is talking about being productive, it actually can have a different perspective: we finished the work that had to be done, on time, “ab“, effectively without procrastinating and now we have some spare time at hand to take a step back and look at the big picture, set new agendas and recollect ideas.

Obvious Insights for Better Productivity

In our earlier article we talked about the power of the ideas that sound obvious. In a culture where innovative, out of the box thinking is encouraged to the extent of ignoring the basics, the simple, effortless obvious ideas are often the ones which actually push discussions and brainstorming sessions further. Building up on it and continuing on this line of thinking about the obvious, we dug up two other insights, backed by research of course, which remind us about the power of obvious and seemingly counterintuitive ideas.

Such ideas seem like they might not work well, and might hinder productivity and motivation. But ‘countering the intuitive’, sometimes, these are the kind of ideas that might give the necessary push needed to get things done.

So, let us take a look at them quickly!

Complaining can (sometimes) be Productive:

As suggested in one of our earlier articles, suppressing negative emotions can actually lead one to be demotivated and unproductive. Picking on it and narrowing it down further, complaining can actually lead one to think in the right direction.

Generally, the work culture doesn’t encourage complaining. Whenever we find ourselves complaining, we tend to catch our thoughts and remind ourselves to be grateful about all the other possibilities. Research by Harvard Business Review, and as quoted by an article by Growth Partners Consulting suggests how teams which engage in complaining once in a while actually perform better. They often engage in complaining, or as the article puts it ‘visiting Pity City’ and that actually helps them because of,

‘…the safety they feel with each other and how these behaviours build relatedness within the team, an important psychological need for motivation.’

Sometimes, you just need to get the complaints out of the way, out of system to move on to finding solutions, instead of letting those thoughts become unwanted pieces of furniture in your mind. Venting a little might let the others who might be feeling similarly know that they aren’t alone, enhancing the sense of relatedness, teamwork and team-chemistry.

So obvious when we think about it, but that is the thing with these ideas- they hide in plain sight. Just like the next one.

Working Endlessly Doesn’t (Necessarily) Lead to Getting More Work Done:

It is almost as if we take pride in ourselves when we think we have been working endlessly. We clock in the number of hours and we feel the kick of being productive. Some of us even blame others for not working hard enough when they don’t get the desired results, and hard work equals to long hours, right? Long hours equal to getting more work done, right? Well, not always.

Research by Human Performance Institute shows that taking frequent breaks- not working endlessly for long hours- can lead to more productivity. In fact, they have also named the phenomenon; they call it ‘oscillation’, the time we spend strategically to recover from stress. Oscillation is done to ‘shift between energy expenditure (stress) and restoring energy (recovery).’ The article cited above tells us further,

‘It sounds elementary but the research is undeniable. Taking short, intermitted breaks throughout the day enables our body and mind to recover from this energy expenditure. As a result, we make better decisions, think more critically, and prioritize effectively. We are more productive when we take breaks.’

Be it the Pomodoro technique which tells us to work with intense focus for 25 minutes, and then take a break, or the 80/20 rule, which says how 80 percent of output can come from only 20 percent of causes, suggesting that we work smarter and not harder, there are multiple examples of models which show that oscillating between periods of intense focus and refreshing breaks can work better instead of toiling endlessly.

Be it the surprising power of the obvious, or the quiet sense of relatedness that complaining leads to, or the underrated activity of taking rest, the seemingly counterintuitive insights are often the ones that can lead to more motivation, productivity and work satisfaction, countering the notions that entrench the contemporary work culture.

Want a Productive Meeting ? Ask these Productive Questions

Picture this. A team-meeting where just one person is speaking, setting the agenda, explaining the tasks, and the others just nod their way through the meeting, only to realise much later that they aren’t clear about a key concern.

Take this other scenario. Again, a team-meeting, and someone who isn’t in a habit of conducting meetings is doing so now. A barrage of questions would overwhelm this new person, but just the right amount could potentially help them get a cue about how they are doing the job thus helping them ease into the meeting. It can also tell them how effectively have they communicated and what they can keep in mind in future meetings.

Asking questions is almost like an art. When asked at the right time, to the right person, in the right manner can lead to fruitful discussions, integration of unique perspectives leading to innovation, filling gaps and loopholes leading to the outcomes actually desired.

This art is seen in interviews, but it can also be utilised in meetings, brainstorming sessions and important decision-making discussions.

Let us take a look at some strategies to ask better questions so that team-meetings can actually include perspectives of team-members, and brainstorming sessions don’t end up becoming storms to run away from!

The Nuance of ‘Why’:

Contrary to what is obvious, ‘why’ is actually not a question that can lead to many fruitful discussions; at least not always. Have we not had times when a sudden ‘why’ rendered us questioning the whole point of our agenda? It could often shut us down and demoralise.

As Amy Drader writes in a blog for growthpartnersconsulting.com, ‘why’ can actually make the person asked get defensive. It often requires them to look into the past and justify a key decision. Necessary at certain times, at other times, it can drive the discussion away from the solution and more to the problem itself.

So, asking a ‘why’ demands a lot more prudence about how one frames or phrases it.


The key then is to ask questions which elicit answers that lead one to think in a direction they might not have. To lead one to offer their perspective. To clarify, to specify. Because let us face it, speakers could forget key details in the rush to get done with the meeting, and thus the onus lies on the others listening to ask the right questions and get all the details clearly laid out.

Open-ended questions, generally but not always begin with a ‘what’, ‘how’ and sometimes ‘who’. Some examples provided by the blog cited above include questions like:

  • How do we move forward?
  • What is the important thing to do here, and what is that can wait for later?
  • What do you think is the best option?
  • What are some things expected from us?
  • What can we expect this to achieve?
  • What are we trying to accomplish here?
  • What seems to be the best practice/alternative/strategy?
  • How has this been done in the past and how can we do it better?
  • Who are the key persons with what sort of roles in this?
  • What impact is this likely make?

And so on.

Note how most of these questions are likely to elicit a discussion, invite some perspectives, clarify a few things and provide the specifics. For the speaker too, it is not a bad idea to ask questions like these to individual members. A question as simple as ‘what do you think about…’ followed by questions on a similar tangent as mentioned above can encourage the listeners put their point forward.

Listening Skills:

However, great questions will not mean anything if we don’t listen to the responses and not help taking the meeting in the right direction. While asking questions should be an important part of any meeting, it should not become a hindrance to the agenda.

Thus, it is important that the questions are asked with an intention to:

  • Get clarity about the agenda
  • To prevent taking unnecessary long detours
  • Avoiding potential loopholes and filling gaps
  • Make sure the speaker isn’t missing out on any key detail

And not with an intention to:

  • Provide opinions that don’t directly concern the agenda
  • Waste time
  • Assert power to fuel in office politics

While open-ended questions work great, there will be times when a simple yes or no shall be enough to provide the necessary clarity. At such times, it is best to let the meeting move forward and not try to come up with further questions just for the sake of coming up questions. The key is to ask questions that facilitate the movement of the meeting.  

Be the Perfect Manager…In One Minute


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The One Minute Manager is a very popular book Ken Blanchard. In the book, we have the journey of a young man who is looking for and willing to work for the “perfect manager”. He finds autocratic managers, the ones who only care about results and not people, and democratic ones who only care about people and not results: two extremes. He finally comes across someone who calls himself a ‘one minute manager’. The one minute manager delivers big results in a span of one minute.

Now, you need to read the book to actually discover the tips he offers, but there are some brief takeaways which we would like to list out.

Whether you are an actual manager or just good co-worker trying to motivate his or her colleagues, we offer some ‘one minute manager’ hacks!

Remember those ‘one minute games’ we all have played at some point? Those competitions where you must finish a task in just one minute, whether it is eating as many gol-gappas as you can or lighting as many candles as you can! Remember the thrill that comes with those games? The sudden gust of motivation and energy?

Well, the following one minute tasks can provide equal, if not more, motivation and energy in the office environment to get things done.


  • One Minute Goals: These ‘goals’ have to be ones which could be completed in around a minute. We often delay smaller things for later, piling them up, and ending up with a big pile of smaller tasks. Setting one minute goals is great way to get work done quickly. They end quickly, so there you have a quick dose of motivation too!

Think of all the smaller tasks which could be completed in one minute and set out to finish them. It could be anything from writing out a to-do list to making a quick call to that client.

  • One Minute Praises: Sometimes, all one needs is a quick “good job!” to feel motivated and actually get to work. Instead of waiting to include something in appraisals or weekly meetings, sometimes it’s a good idea to deliver praise just by-the-way.
  • One Minute Feedback: Similarly, sometimes, people want to know how they are doing at the moment. They need to know what wrong they are doing in terms of action, outcomes or decisions, and what they could do undo that wrong, immediately, instead of hearing about the problem in some meeting when they have already forgotten what the problem was in the first place.

This brings us to the next one minute hack.

  • One Minute Catch ups: Little one minute catch ups, where there’s a quick briefing of how a team is going on with a task are a quick way to ensure there’s an equally quick course correction. One minute catch ups allow one to figure out smaller problems which could be stopped from turning into bigger problems there and then.
  • One Minute Connection: Setting aside a special day to “connect” with employees and colleagues is great, to give them space to talk about their life beyond work, but sometimes a quick personal catch up is not a bad idea. It gives one the feeling that people do remember about their life, that people do care, which can be a great booster of motivation.


So, being a one minute manager, or to make it more general, one minute action taker is a great way to ensure a steady momentum of work. But make sure to not lose the bigger picture! One minute managing needs a fine balance (like all other things). We need to be tactful:

We take out a minute to deliver bigger results with ease. We don’t take out a minute to delay bigger results. Make sure the one minute managing adds to the flow of work, and doesn’t act as an interruption.



The Pomodoro Technique: How to Use it To Optimise Productivity

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Are you the kind of person who needs a deadline to finish a task? We have all been there, when we waited for the night before the due date to start working on our homework, when we started studying the night before an exam, when we added a finishing touch to a slide just a few hours before the presentation. Do you like to work under that “pressure“, which is not really pressure per se but a thing that peps you up? The Pomodoro Technique might work for you!


What is the Pomodoro technique?

It is a time management technique devised by an Italian man named Francesco Cirillo, in the 1980s.

It works along the following lines:

  • Decide upon the task.
  • Set up a timer for 25 minutes.
  • Work on the task with as much focus as you can for those 25 minutes.
  • When the timer ends, take a break for 2-3 minutes, and also make a note about that chunk of task you did.
  • If the task remains unfinished, reset the timer to 25 minutes, and repeat the process for three more times before taking a longer break of 15-20 minutes.

Basically, you work with full concentration for approximately 25 minutes, take a 2-3 minutes break, and repeat. If the task is likely to go on, take a 15-20 minute break after 4 such rounds.


The name of the technique has a somewhat idiosyncratic, but interesting origin story. The word “pomodoro” is Italian for “tomato”. Cirillo worked using a tomato shaped timer, and hence the name. One set of 25 minutes is called one pomodoro.

A timer is thus an important requirement. Of course, you don’t need to work with a tomato shaped timer. Any timer would do. (Although, working with a tomato shaped timer does sound fun…)



  • As it is evident, the Pomodoro Technique is the way to go for people who love to work with deadlines, and those who would otherwise procrastinate until the last minute.
  • The constant ticking of the timer can boost you to actually finish the task. Haven’t we all worked almost miraculously fast when we have a flight to catch?
  • The division in chunks, and the 2-3 minute break can help us work mindfully. The small breather is just what one needs to not over-work.
  • Plus, there is the longer 15-20 break which can aid you to refresh your mind in between your “work” time. This can boost creativity, problem solving and strategising.
  • The Pomodoro Technique is great if you want to add a sense of rhythm to your to-do list or an overall bigger task
  • Due to the timer and the chunking, the technique can help one accomplish a seemingly humongous task, the kind of task when we aren’t sure where we should begin from.


Not that there aren’t any problems…

  • For people who like to work at their own pace, this method can put unnecessary pressure. It can actually divert the attention from the task to the ticking timer. The pro becomes the con.
  • The method is pretty good for administrative and managerial tasks, and tasks involving paperwork. It might not work too well where there is a need for undivided attention, like research, analyses, mathematical tasks, etc.
  • The 25 minutes should ideally be uninterrupted. But in a much more realistic sense, can we expect that? Phones, emails, faxes are common “interruptions” in an office. Imagine you have just got into the “zone” and as you are beginning to catch your rhythm, you get an important client’s phone call.

The method thus isn’t too ideal for multi-tasking.


As many critics of the method  point out, does one really need a timer to pay attention to a task one is trained to do? Of course, the answer could be that it depends from person to person. The debate goes on.

But, the Pomodoro Technique can come in handy when you are looking for the pace to pick up. So, are you ready to compete…with the timer?