If Wasting Time is Time Well Spent, My Time on Metafilter is All Worthwhile
June 1, 2007 2:01 PM   Subscribe

"Wasting time gets a bad rap", says Lisa Belkin in today's NYTimes, who argues that time often considered "unproductive" or "wasted" in today's workaholic culture is actually time well spent- "Over the years I have come to see that the hours away from the writing are the time when the real work gets done." Readers seem to agree.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero (25 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
posted by jonmc at 2:04 PM on June 1, 2007

I, of course, am totally against workers wasting time on the company's dime. And I will spend hours on Metafilter defending this point.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:05 PM on June 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

The one post that all Metafilter users can agree on.
posted by GuyZero at 2:05 PM on June 1, 2007

If it's well-spent, it's not wasted.

I have wasted a lot of time which was not well spent. And I have also spent some time well which was not all that 'productive'.
posted by MtDewd at 2:06 PM on June 1, 2007

I've spent a lot of time wasted.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:11 PM on June 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

Over the years I have come to see that the hours away from the writing are the time when the real work gets done. When a paragraph turns itself this way and that in a corner of my brain even while my fingers are buying books on Amazon.com.

Huh. I feel the same way when a paragraph turns itself this way and that in a corner of my brain even while my fingers are typing it into a box in the Blue--

Oh. I guess the author didn't mean the paragraphs in those corners of my brain. Dammit.
posted by Tehanu at 2:24 PM on June 1, 2007

Goldbrickers, layabouts, slugabeds...

My people!
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:25 PM on June 1, 2007

If hanging out on Metafilter is wasting time, then what does Mathowie do to waste time?
posted by TwelveTwo at 2:26 PM on June 1, 2007

I've wasted a lot of time spent.
posted by hojoki at 2:30 PM on June 1, 2007

time is just nature's way of preventing everything from happening all at once.
posted by bruce at 2:30 PM on June 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Amusement under late capitalism is the prolongation of work. It is sought after as an escape from the mechanized work process, and to recruit strength in order to be able to cope with it again. But at the same time mechanization has such a power over man's leisure and happiness, and so profoundly determines the manufacture of amusement goods, that his experiences are inevitably after-images of the work process itself. What happens at work, in the factory, or in the office can only be escaped from by approximation to it in one's leisure time.
- Adorno and Horkheimer [link]
posted by joe lisboa at 2:35 PM on June 1, 2007 [4 favorites]

Why do I think there is a bit of confusion over the word "wasted" here?
posted by MarshallPoe at 2:49 PM on June 1, 2007

This is funny --- I just wrote about this idea a few days ago. Obviously someone at the New York Times was wasting time reading my blog a few days ago and stole my idea. I guess that was some useful wasted time...
posted by mitsu at 2:56 PM on June 1, 2007

This reminds me of the ridiculous Challenger, Gray & Christmas press releases about productivity losses due to the Super Bowl. King Kaufman does a better job complaining than I can.
posted by mullacc at 3:10 PM on June 1, 2007

There's another reason to have spare capacity, that the article didn't cover: flexibility in the face of variable workload, or the "fireman principle". It is a good thing to have, at any given time, some workers basically idle, because if a heavy workload task comes up, those workers can be assigned to it. Firemen are the extreme example - there is very little for them to actually do when not fighting fires, but if there is a fire, they must be instantly able to respond in sufficient numbers to fight the fire.

This is something the typical MBAPHB, the sort of boss who is recruited as a manager and has never done a minute's worth of the work his or her staff do, cannot comprehend. They see "idle staff" and immediately think "there's wasted money! I must, right now, give that person work to do, or else fire them.". And then, the moment something big comes in, it becomes a genuine disaster, because no-one has any time or energy to do it. Furthermore, during slow periods no-one has any time or energy to actually think about ways what they do could be done more easily and more productively, because they're wasting their time with busywork to keep the MBAPHBs off their backs.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:19 PM on June 1, 2007 [3 favorites]

MBA PHBs I get MBA. What's PHB?

Anyway, blew the lid off this when I got my company to agree to let me do my job at home (I now spend about 5 hours at the office each week, mostly when I need files or database info not on line). Productivity went WAY UP (as measured by the amount of money I bring in), and my actual time at my desk went WAY DOWN (from 50-60 hours a week to about 20-25). Doing the same or more work, taking less time at it. Conclusion-- a good 40-50% of my time was spent justifying my existence, as opposed to actually doing the work needed to meet or even exceed goals.
posted by nax at 3:32 PM on June 1, 2007

Be smarter at work, slack off.
posted by weston at 3:37 PM on June 1, 2007

MBA PHBs I get MBA. What's PHB?

This guy.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:17 PM on June 1, 2007

Last week, I "worked from home" on Friday. In reality, I finally slunk into a coffee house with free wi-fi that afternoon.

And yet, in 4 hours I got more done than I had the previous four days.

The problem, I think, is that work is a naturally interruptive environment. Everyone wants something. In my case, it's 10 people with problems that must be dealt with right now constantly e-mailing, calling, or talking to me. And the meetings.

I really wish I could just ditch my office and work from home, or one of the 10^21 wi-fi hotspots somewhere in this town. But coming in is automatic JYE for me.
posted by dw at 5:02 PM on June 1, 2007

PHB == Pointy-Haired Boss
posted by blasdelf at 5:47 PM on June 1, 2007

posted by calhound at 7:56 PM on June 1, 2007

Most bosses still use the Butts in the Seats principle, as opposed to the Actual Work Being Done principle. If my work can get done on time at home, why not let me do it there, in comfy clothes, at the hours I prefer? This makes bosses uneasy---if I am not pinned in a cubicle in uncomfortable clothes squinting under florescent lights, then I am not miserable. And if I'm not miserable, I'm not really working.
posted by emjaybee at 8:51 PM on June 1, 2007

JYE == Justify Your Existence
posted by dw at 10:28 AM on June 2, 2007

"The fact is that moving matter about, while a certain amount of it is necessary to our existence, is emphatically not one of the ends of human life. If it were, we should have to consider every navvy superior to Shakespeare. We have been misled in this matter by two causes. One is the necessity of keeping the poor contented, which has led the rich, for thousands of years, to preach the dignity of labor, while taking care themselves to remain undignified in this respect."

From In Praise of Idleness, by Bertrand Russel
posted by Jakey at 10:51 AM on June 2, 2007

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