Productive Downtime is a Startup Leader’s Secret Weapon

How I learned to innovate thanks to company-sponsored partying

Joe Procopio
5 min readJan 17, 2022


I’ve been perfecting a leadership practice over the last 20 years that has produced some surprising gains in both productivity and innovation. I call it “productive downtime.”

At first, the concept might seem counterintuitive. But once you figure out how to do it right, the results can be game changing.

As a leader, your primary responsibility is to maximize your team’s productivity. You need them to be efficient, you need them to be motivated, but most of all you need them to be working on tasks and projects that will produce the most impactful results to your business’s bottom line.

Getting everyone on your team to work a little bit harder doesn’t do the trick. You have to think outside the box.

And to be clear, I dislike that turn of phrase as much as you probably do. What exactly is in that box? Why are we going outside of it? What do we do when we get there? In a vacuum, “think outside the box” evokes images of a clown show, and the fear is that you end up wasting time doing trust falls and not sharpening your focus on what’s going to produce quality results for the business.

Thinking Outside of the Box Means Resetting Goals and Milestones

The best leaders constantly strive to maximize time, because it’s usually their most scarce resource. But every single CEO and founder I talk to will tell you that the most wasted time comes from chasing the wrong goals and milestones. No matter how efficient and motivated your team is, the harder they chase the wrong goals, the more time they waste.

I’d rather have a single productive hour every day focused on the right goals and milestones than 12 hours a day focused on the wrong ones.

So how do you get that clarity?

On their own, teams usually stay in a cycle of diminishing efficiency. The work they’re doing isn’t producing the right results, but it is producing some results. And since no one wants to give up those gains, they push harder and harder to achieve diminishing returns.



Joe Procopio

I'm a multi-exit, multi-failure entrepreneur. NLG pioneer. Building & GROWERS. Write at and More at