Consider just for a moment how painful and labor intensive it was for our big ancestors to make a living back then. They worked so hard and fought so hard to secure fewer working hours for themselves and their offspring. Today, less than a hundred years later, we’ve given up that ground our ancestors fought so hard for. We ‘chose’ to work long hours and answer emails because we think it’s the only way to keep our jobs or do them well.
How did we get from hunger strikes and fistfights to voluntarily answering emails on Sunday nights and choosing to stay in the office to finish up?
Do hours really increase productivity?
Simple answer: No. This data dates back to the 1800s, at the time when unions force employers to cut hours, factory owners were surprised to find that productivity increased while accidents decreased. As it turned out, overwork was counterproductive from the days of the sweatshop to the age of the knowledge worker.
Today, it’s no surprise employers try to get as many hours as they can from their employees. In fact, the overwork has become a norm that most often put in extra time voluntarily to earn promotions and raises.
Is time really money?
“When I was a kid, my father was in the golf club. You had to wait ten years to get in. Today, you can get in instantly because people are spending their time working and shopping. Hobbies have disappeared for the same reason. People don’t have time to golf anymore.” – Graeme Maxton
Impatience shows up in all kinds of industries. We listen to podcasts and audiobooks at double or even triple speed in order to get through quickly. But here’s the irony. We skimp on personal lives in order to have more time for careers but we don’t get the ROI we expect. One solution to this is to take up a hobby that requires a lot of time. As Celeste said,
“I’ve started doing cross-stitch again, even though my friends warned that I could never sell my finished work because people aren’t willing to pay for all the hours it takes to make. I don’t care. I’ll continue making my beautiful embroidery that takes ungodly hours, and adamantly refuse to put a price on it. It makes me happy.”
Is work coming home?
Leisure is not a synonym for inactive. Idleness offers an opportunity for play, something people rarely indulge in these days. We endless engage in busyness that is mostly goal-oriented and designed to create a public persona, rather than hobbies that enrich our lives.
Our attention is now nearly always divided, because we seem to be always working on something. Our homes have become offices and our free time is not really free anymore. Remember we’re not born this way. We’ve created this change over the past two hundred years. That doesn’t necessarily mean all changes are harmful. The question we must answer is this.
“Where’s the line? How are we helping ourselves, and how are we hurting?”
Is work killing boredom?
One of the tragic consequences of smartphone revolution is the death of boredom. In our hours of leisure, we used to experience some measures of ‘ennui’ from time to time. This is rarely the case nowadays. The younger generation doesn’t even know the meaning of the word (it’s true, I had to Google it up).
It’s true that we don’t appreciate boredom. But when we feel bored, our brains are strongly motivated to find a meaningful occupation. Thoughts are not directed or controlled and are therefore free to roam freely in any directions. As the psychologist Sandi Mann said,
“Once you start daydreaming and allow your mind to wander, you start thinking beyond the conscious and into the subconscious.”
Again, don’t take boredom for inactivity. When the mind is at rest, it’s still active. In fact, it uses only 5 percent less energy than it does when it’s focused on a task. Focus is required for directed work but rest is required for reflection.
Is work destroying relationships?
Play, not work, helps us develop social, physical and cognitive bonds. It teaches us how to handle unexpected events. Think about when you were young. Playing games taught you about social rules and established bounds within a community. It created trust and managed stress. When we are playing, we are most fully human.
We’re like a patient who’s been diagnosed with lung cancer but still increases the number of cigarettes we smoke. Yes, it’s that dire. Instead of spending time in clubs or hobby-focused groups, we’re staying late at our cubicles and pouring time into self-improvement schemes. Work is not a fundamental need. Community is.