In my Uncrapify Your Future! keynote, I talk about one of the biggest paradoxes of modern work – namely, that productivity doesn’t always look productive. We are accustomed to valuing things we can see, like typing on a computer or turning a wrench, and so we are often far less impressed by things that don’t look like anything at all. Thinking is the big one we undervalue, which looks an awful lot like wasting time, and it can be hard for us to justify “going on a walk” or “getting a drink with a colleague” as a legitimately useful part of our working day.
So let me give you an example of how valuable all this time-wasting stuff can actually be.
Over the last few years we have developed a line of online training courses on a broad variety of business development topics – customer service, ethics, leadership, conflict resolution, safety, and plenty more. Creating them has involved an enormous amount of traditionally productive work: writing scripts, filming scenes, editing videos, designing course materials, and so forth. In fact, the vast majority of the time we have spent on that part of our business has fallen squarely into the category of work that looks (and is) productive.
Last week, however, I spent two days in Washington, D.C. meeting with exhibitors at a conference. I didn’t create any new video scripts. We didn’t film any more products to sell. I didn’t even do the more mundane work of answering emails or responding to phone calls as they came in. Instead I wandered around and had conversation with dozens of people, most of whom I had never met or spoken to before, to see if they might be interested in learning more about what we do. With rare exception, the conversations I had with these people lasted no more than four minutes.
That afternoon I had a drink with somebody I met that day, and we talked about comedy and Brexit and basically anything except business.
That night I had dinner with several people I had not known six hours prior, and while we did talk a little business, we mostly talked about food and travel and everyone’s family. Oh, and somebody spent 20 minutes trying to explain to me the rules of cricket.
All in all, it was an unbelievably productive two days. We could create a million training products, but they won’t do us much good if nobody knows about them. The relationships I began to develop over those two days will help us find audiences for our training that we wouldn’t have found otherwise. Very little I did over those two days looked especially productive, but it was just as important to the success of our company as creating new products.
I’ve spoken at over 1,000 conferences, and most of the organizers say that the biggest benefit of attending one is the networking that happens while you’re there. Not the educational sessions, not even the amazing and incredibly handsome keynote speaker. The part of the conference where people go watch a baseball game or get together at the hotel bar.
There is a huge value to ‘not working.’ Don’t underestimate it.