While we tend to focus on work/life balance, perhaps the better question is: how effective are we at using the time we use for work? From a recent study (which you may have already seen):
- Workers average just 2 hours and 48 minutes of productive device time a day
- 21% of working hours are spent on entertainment, news, and social media
- 28% of workers start their day before 8:30 AM (and 5% start before 7 AM)
- 40% of people use their computers after 10 PM
- 26% of work is done outside of normal working hours
- Workers average at least 1 hour of work outside of working hours on 89 days/year (and on ~50% of all weekend days)
- We check email and IM, on average, every 6 minutes
This is odd—we are starting work earlier, finishing later, and working over weekends, but we still only “work” less than three hours a day.
The first question must be: is this right? How are they measuring productive versus unproductive device time? What is “work time,” really? I know I don’t keep any sort of recognizable “office hours,’ so it seems like it would be hard to measure how much time I spend on the weekend versus during the “work day.”
On the other hand, no matter how flawed they might be, these numbers are still interesting. They do not, it seems to me, necessarily tell of “overwork.” Instead, they tell a tale of spending a lot of time work while not actually getting anything done.
Here is the thing: we already all know the strategies we could use to help bring the productive time up, the nonproductive time down, and “personal time” up. I try to macrotask as much as possible—take on one job for as long as it takes to reach either my limit of being able to focus on it or a point where I need to stop to do something else. During this time, I try not to look at social media, email, etc. There are commercial solutions to help you focus, as well.
So if we know there is a problem, and we know there are solutions, why don’t we fix this?
The first option—we don’t think this is really a problem. For instance, it could be that we don’t understand our own behaviors well enough to realize we are killing our own productivity by checking email constantly.
A second option—We are more afraid of missing out than we are of not getting anything done. Or perhaps we are replacing actual productivity with having an empty inbox, or a caught up news feed. Maybe we are afraid to just delete all the email we’ve not read, or mark the entire slack channel read without actually reading it.
A third option—these technologies are addictive.
Any of these will do, of course, and they are all probably partly. But I think there is another problem at the root of all of these, a problem we don’t want to talk about because it isn’t something you say in polite company. Perhaps—just maybe—the problem goes back to a spiritual ailment. Maybe we are trying to build the meaning of our lives around work.Maybe we need to realize just how much workism has infected our lives—our attachment work as the primary means through which we gain meaning in life.
And that problem, I think, is a bit harder to solve than just installing an application to rule the other applications, forcing you to focus.