Oliver Burkeman from The Guardian has a piece about how trying to work smart can backfire:
When it comes to “working smarter”, the same kind of problem arises: what if doing things more “efficiently”, in a superficial sense, results in doing them worse? There’s evidence to suggest that we need to daydream; perhaps we also need those moments of afternoon lassitude and aimless conversations by the office microwave. Creative work, especially, depends on a kind of inefficiency. Inevitably, the scandal and schadenfreude surrounding Jonah Lehrer’s book Imagine has all but drowned out its fundamental insight, but it’s a good one: creative breakthroughs depend on being stumped and feeling frustrated. Make the path to them too smooth, and you get lower-quality breakthroughs.
It relates to the studies showing about how we don’t multitask like we think we multitask.
This is something I have been struggling with. With my smartphone and audiobooks, I have cut down on downtime considerably. When I am in line, or moving stuff, or whatever, I am listening to an audiobook. It makes the time fly by. There does seem to be a price being paid here, however. My mind doesn’t get as much time “to itself” as it used to. It’s hurt me creatively, I think. It’s made me more scatterbrained than I used to be. During the times of boredom, I have come to the conclusion that the boredom was serving a purpose. Sort of like how our mind defragments in our sleep, there is something going on during the day, too.
Google is famous for allowing its employees 20% “do what you want” time. Rather than being a loss for the company, they see it as a gain because idle minds are where good ideas are developed. Bumper-to-bumper work may be good by some productivity metrics, but something is lost along the way.
Knowing all of this, though, I can’t seem to act on it. Boredom sucks. Downtime feels non-productive when there is always something to be done. While ideas are maybe lost when I am listening to John Sandford rather than thinking vaguely about things as I am taking care of some brainless task, it makes the brainless task go by so much quicker.
And yet I find myself enjoying my shower as the only time that I can’t be doing anything else. It also contributes to my smoking, since I bar myself from listening to anything while I smoke, it is an escape for “me time.” Why can’t I just do that at various other points, when I am so intent on maximizing my time by consuming stories rather than just moving the dang box?