The Importance of Downtime

Apr 16, 2021 2:01 pm


Well, it took a few nights of staying up until midnight, but we got the house ready for showings in ten days. I should buy stock in Bayer.

There are a number of things I'd like to go into about how these ten days remind me a lot of what I see go on in a lot of groups—setting a deadline first, hurrying into work without alignment, and starting without a clear idea of what done or good is. This newsletter, however is about downtime.

You see, we needed our house ready for professional photos yesterday. A cleaner comes today, and the realtor will schedule showings this weekend. Our big push was for pictures, since the house had to be more or less in its final condition. We finished with a few hours to spare, and as we left the house for the photographer to work we had mixed feelings.

Instead of celebrating our success, we started talking about what we had to do next. We failed to stop and accept our victory. We mentally prepared for our next body of work, and we slept fitfully as the pressure of upcoming work built.

Too many groups I see experience the same problem. They start a big project, and before they finish they begin to ramp up to the idea of the next one. The bookends of meetings are used for congratulations, but the rest is back to work. For the people who started to burn out, they get no recovery.

The learning and recovery that a few day break offers is skipped. Imagine the start that a team who is fresh can have. Or how much smoother the project goes if the team fixes just one chronic issue from the last project.

Skeptical about how much something like that can give? One team's improvement added an entire day's worth of time back each week. Taking a 2 day break paid for itself in 2 weeks.

So here's my suggestion. As a project ends, intentionally take 2-3 days between projects. Some of that time needs to be unstructured so people can recover and rest. Some benefits from structure to align and improve. Skipping this break brings a fatigued group of people who are mostly doomed to repeat the same mistakes.

Have any of you seen something like this? Let me know if you have!


Ryan Latta