From Melanie Curtin over at Inc: the average amount of productive work that happens at work is lower than you think.
Research suggests that in an eight-hour day, the average worker is only productive for two hours and 53 minutes.
That’s right–you’re probably only productive for around three hours a day.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American works 8.8 hours every day. Yet a study of nearly 2,000 full-time office workers revealed that most people aren’t working for most of the time they’re at work.Melanie Curtin
What really made me laugh is that when the “missing” time is broken down, it’s not even including stuff that is unproductive but still technically work, like being stuck in often endless meetings that often don’t really matter for half the people in them. It’s literally just other random cruft like socializing, reading news sites, et cetera. (This article reminded me of a conversation I had with an old boss. During a 1:1, I was lamenting that I felt like I should be making better use of my time. He pointed out that if you were productive for even 5.5 hours on average, you were frankly a top performer. Something I continue to try and bear in mind when I’m feeling bad about the occasional unproductive day.)
Obviously, you should make the most of the productive time you actually manage to get! But also, maybe don’t beat yourself up too much when you end up having an off day.
Sara Wachter-Boettcher has an article on how “Work needs to stay in its place.” Good read, and not a long one (by Medium’s estimate, you’ll be done in 9 minutes). It discusses how our relationship with work is shifting (or at least, many of us want it to shift), at least in some small part caused by the pandemic.
The loss of routines and norms caused tech and design workers to reflect on their lives — and many didn’t like what they saw: 11pm Slack messages. DEI lip service. Calls for “self-care” followed by reminders that even though the team was understaffed, the Q2 roadmap wouldn’t be changing.
People told us how their eyes felt open for the first time to how bad things really were — and it led many to reassess everything. They might not have the answers figured out yet, but one thing feels clear: they’re never going back to “business as usual.”
The post also links to a longer report, if you’re so inclined.
I’ve got a lot of feelings about work and careers and the “rat race.” To be clear, I like my job, I like my colleagues, I still put in the time and the effort when I’m working. But I still find myself looking forward to every Friday and if not dreading, at least feeling resigned to having to go to work on Monday. It’s not the work, it’s the structures of work that wear me the hell out. To paraphrase Fry Pan Jack, handing your brain over to others for 8 hours a day on the presumption that they’ll return it in an unmutilated condition feels like a sucker’s bet.
Over at The Atlantic, Derek Thompson has a piece on how Workism Is Making Americans Miserable. He’s not wrong.
What is workism? It is the belief that work is not only necessary to economic production, but also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose; and the belief that any policy to promote human welfare must always encourage more work.
Homo industrious is not new to the American landscape. The American dream—that hoary mythology that hard work always guarantees upward mobility—has for more than a century made the U.S. obsessed with material success and the exhaustive striving required to earn it.
No large country in the world as productive as the United States averages more hours of work a year. And the gap between the U.S. and other countries is growing. Between 1950 and 2012, annual hours worked per employee fell by about 40 percent in Germany and the Netherlands—but by only 10 percent in the United States. Americans “work longer hours, have shorter vacations, get less in unemployment, disability, and retirement benefits, and retire later, than people in comparably rich societies,” wrote Samuel P. Huntington in his 2005 book Who Are We?: The Challenges to America’s National Identity.Derek Thompson
Over at The Hedgehog Review, Charlie Tyson writes about the Virtuosos of Idleness, and the nature of leisure (and its loss in modern society). It’s an interesting read. There are a number of articles about the coming work-pocalypse of increased automation and the massive inequalities introduced by the “gig economy,” but it’s also worthwhile to look at how we spend our off-time. One choice bit that struck a chord:
Most Americans today find work drudgery and leisure anxiously vacant. In our hours off work, we rarely achieve thrilling adventure, deliberate self-education, or engage in Whitmanian loafing. At the same time, faith is eroding in the idea that paid work can offer pleasure, self-discovery, a means for improving the world, or anything more than material subsistence.Charlie Tyson
I mean, they’re not wrong. I’m lucky enough to have a decent job with some flexibility to learn and grow, but jobs like that are decidedly not the majority of jobs out there. And while the work side might not be terrible at the moment, the “vacant leisure” is real. The author continues:
Recreational pursuits more demanding than fleeting digital absorption are, increasingly, acts of consumption. Leisure is not something you “do” but something you “buy,” whether in the form of hotels and cruises or Arianna Huffington–vetted mindfulness materials. The leisure industry provides work for some while promising relaxation to others, for a fee.
The sorry state of leisure is partly a consequence of an economy in which we are never fully detached from the demands of work. The category of “free” time is not only defined by its opposite (time “free” of work); it is subordinated to it. Free time, Theodor Adorno warns, “is nothing more than a shadowy continuation of labor.” Free time is mere recovery time. Spells of lethargy between periods of labor do little but prepare us for the resumption of work. Workers depleted by their jobs and in need of recuperation turn to escapist entertainment and vacuous hobbies. And the problem of figuring out when work is “over,” in an economy in which knowledge workers spend their job hours tweeting and their evening hours doing unpaid housework and child care, has never seemed more perplexing.Charlie Tyson
Yep. The conversation continues from there, and is worth the time to read.
Over at Medium, Melody Wilding has a piece on the United States of Workaholics, which is worth a read.
A few notable things: turns out statistics show the trope about millennials being being lazy/not working is bullshit, which I find entirely unsurprising for a variety of reasons. Also, we’re doing this to ourselves, fostering a culture where taking time off is frowned upon (though rarely explicitly), and things like unlimited-time-off policies end up causing people to take less time off than they would otherwise. We already have less time off than many developed countries, and then we culturally place pressure to not even use what we have. (This came up again in a recent Verge article about toxic management practices in the game industry, also worth a read.)
One fascinating study found that many top performers fake long hours to meet expectations. They simulated work martyrdom to preserve their reputation as a model employee. Those who chose honesty and instead formally requested lighter workloads were denied or punished for it, according to the study.
But how do we deal with it? How do we overcome decades of systemic cultural mentality that one must always be busy, and that more hours means more productivity? (Not even getting into the notion that we must always be producing more, which is itself problematic.) I don’t blame the folks who faked how long they worked, but I don’t think lying about it is a real solution.
Jason Fried speaks Truth about the tech industry’s love affair with overwork over on Signal v. Noise. This has been a perennial issue in games (where terms like “crunch” and “death march” are used often), but is definitely happening in general software as well. It’s a demonstrably stupid and abusive idea with repeated studies showing it is, and yet it’s still prevalent. When an industry is attractive (like games, like the current 2.0 Dot Com gold rush), it’s easy for investors and management to adopt a “burn and churn” mentality about their workers.