Time-wasting in the office can be good for you

My un-resolution for the new year was seeded by the sheer joy of ... relaxation

There’s  a strong  case for giving up busyness and indulging in rest – different to sleep – to recharge batteries and nurture creativity.

There’s a strong case for giving up busyness and indulging in rest – different to sleep – to recharge batteries and nurture creativity.

 

On New Year’s Eve, I did not experience the usual feverish cream/chocolate/wine-induced self-loathing. I was not being ascetic – far from it. This year, mindlessly stuffing mince pies into my mouth while slumped in front of A Christmas Carol didn’t trigger a resolution to increase my productivity, keep a bullet journal or optimise myself in any way.

In fact, I resolved to maintain some element of my Christmas stupor for as long as possible.

Such pledges are easy to make in elasticated trousers while sipping Baileys with so little care for timekeeping that you no longer know what day it is. They are far harder to maintain when back at the office, meeting deadlines, projecting a veneer of professionalism, doing the school-run and paying bills.

Before you point out some areas I could definitely optimise – relax, I know my flaws. Rather, my un-resolution was seeded by the joy of relaxing as well as by a book, Claudia Hammond’s. It makes a case for giving up busyness and indulging in rest – different to sleep – to recharge batteries and nurture creativity.

Social media crystallised my resolve. While digital detoxes have become popular, so too has “hustle porn” – the lionisation of working hard – once decried by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian as the “idea that unless you are suffering, grinding, working every hour of every day, you’re not working hard enough”, which he denounced as “one of the most toxic, dangerous things in tech”.

Hammond’s book draws on research surveying 18,000 people in 135 countries about rest. The top favourite restful activities, she discovered, included daydreaming, walking, listening to music, doing nothing, watching television and reading. She makes a case for their benefits, dispelling any guilt.

The most common riposte to her campaign to encourage rest is that people have no time to do it. To which she has two responses – first, most people overestimate the amount of time they actually work and second, she proposes accepting that your to-do list will never get done.

Time-wasting

Hammond gives time-management techniques short shrift and suggests we rebrand time-wasting. “Maybe it’s true,” she writes, “that you waste some time at work chatting and you could concentrate harder all day and leave work a little earlier, but perhaps it’s having some fun with colleagues and checking Instagram every now and then that makes your job enjoyable, or bearable.”

The book reinforced my feeling of growing revulsion at the tyranny of self-optimisation, personal productivity and life hacks such as early morning routines. Some take it to extremes, like the man I met who monitors all his resolutions, via a spreadsheet (subdivided into health, work, personal, spiritual) across months, years and decades.

As the rate of economic growth has slowed, so we fetishise personal productivity, argues André Spicer, co-author of Desperately Seeking Self-Improvement: A Year Inside the Optimization Movement, telling me we have become “obsessed with small interventions which make us feel a little more productive in taking up the slack of an unproductive system”.

Time management and life hacks are attractive to the great mass of what he describes as “unled” professionals – employees who have a job but no useful management. “This means they need to become their own managers, and direct their own work. One way to solve this problem is to fall back on the advice of the personal productivity industry.” In the future, he predicts a rent-a-boss service for freelancers and other unled professionals – a kind of work dominatrix, if you will.

For some employers, the solution to improving personal productivity is not better management or redesigning jobs but wellness programmes. Yet these do nothing if they simply paper over stressful work conditions.

They might even add to the workload. A friend told me about a team at his workplace that monitored its members’ sleep patterns. One employee was given the additional responsibility of compiling a sleep spreadsheet, which ate into his free time and was the opposite of restful. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.