Slacking Off At Work? Here’s Someone Who Thinks You Should

“If you want work well done, select a busy man: the other kind has no time.” – Elbert Hubbard (The Note Book, 1927)

Tom Demarco, a high-tech consultant and author of “Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency,” believes that productivity is overrated. He says that if the recession has left you with some slack time, don’t panic, enjoy it. Use it to rethink your job, tune up your department, or even reinvent your business.

He talked Motorola into building “slack time” into its middle managers’ schedules. He believes it will boost their productivity in the long run by allowing them to step back and think things out in the short term.

The idea sounds plausible. Most of the best business ideas I have had came to me when I was in a relaxed and removed (from the quotidian) state — sitting on the beach, showering, or working out, for example.

Given this experience and considering the profits that some of these ideas have produced, I am very sympathetic to Demarco’s impulse to stimulate breakthrough ideas by simulating these relaxed/removed experiences.

But I don’t think it will work, either at Motorola or elsewhere.

Really good employees think about their jobs 24/7. They don’t need scheduled time between 9 and 5 to do that. Ordinary employees think about their work too, but usually only when they work. Give them slack time and they’ll use it to slack off. Poor employees don’t think about work at all — even when they’re working.

I’m all in favor of scheduling brainstorming time when there is a specific issue to be figured out. And I’m fine with giving yourself a short break once or twice a day. If you work as hard as you should, you probably need it.

But I don’t believe you will come up with any breakthrough ideas if you schedule time during your busy working day for that very purpose. The problem with the idea is twofold.

First, it is not removed enough. The fact that you are in the office environment creates a certain amount of pressure on you. It’s natural and unavoidable.

Second, it is not relaxed enough. Knowing that you have to get back to a bunch of pressing tasks after your break is over will make it virtually impossible to relax.

It may be possible to learn to feel removed and relaxed. It is certainly within the scope of human possibility. But I think it would be difficult.

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]