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Wasting Time for Fun and Profit

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 “I like work; it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.” ~ Jerome K. Jerome, British writer

What are the biggest time wasters at work? According to they are:

  • Frequently checking emails
  • Spending too much time on social media
  • Building a too long to-do list without priorities
  • Multi-tasking and other sources of repeated breaks in focus and concentration
  • Perfectionism, which leads to too many hours being spent on a task that is good enough
  • Unnecessary or badly run meetings
  • An inability to refuse requests
  • Postponement of hard tasks.

But let’s consider for the moment that in some cases, wasting time has benefits. This attitude is not far-fetched; researchers have found that wasting time:

  • Reduces stress, by giving our bodies and our brains time to refresh
  • Inspires creativity, by allowing fresh impressions to enter
  • Increases productivity, as verified by numerous studies finding that fewer working hours lead to greater productivity
  • Improves quality, because quantity is often at odds with quality.

The mixed results from wasting time reflect our mixed feelings.

  • On the one hand, many of us suffer from mixing up activity with morality—we stay busy because we feel we ought to stay busy. We do not have time to waste because we are so busy doing. This is a recipe for stress.
  • On the other hand, many of us waste so much time so steadily (the compulsive phone checker, for example) that we do not have time to savor—to benefit from wasting time. Once again, this is a recipe for stress.

So how can you, in good conscience, stimulate creativity, increase productivity, and reduce stress in you and your team by wasting time? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Stop rewarding yourself and your team for working insane hours. The last person to leave their desk is proving their lack of time management, resources, or skills. Help them rectify the problem.
  • Keep meetings short, invite only the people who need to be there, and have a goal in mind.
  • Check your own and the team’s priorities. What can be delegated? What is out of the team’s control? What has been put off so long that it makes no sense to keep it on the to-do list?
  • Model the behavior you want. Learn how to decompress. Find out what type of work environment makes you comfortable and build it. Learn to rely on (and reward) others for skills you don’t have.
  • Stop equating stress with productivity. Stress is cumulative; the more stressed you are, the more stressed your team is, and the more stressed you are. It is also habit forming and can turn into a dubious way to measure success—the more stressed, the more successful. If you or your team cannot break the habit of stress, seek professional help.

There is a way to simultaneously stay productive and waste time: slow down. Not everything has to be done at a breakneck speed; actually enjoying a morning shower or a 5-minute walk from the parking lot to work or a phone call from a loved one takes no more time than speeding through it or trying to multi-task and failing at both. Breathe. Finish this article, lean back, close your eyes, and breathe. Congratulations! You wasted time and you accomplished something.

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