Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Slave labour



The article “Work four hours, then rest” contains some interesting points that are worth highlighting.

- ‘Whoever has not two thirds of his day for him self is a slave,’’ declared Friedrich Nietzsche.

Take a step back and examine your days recently. Can you honestly say you had two thirds to pursue your own agenda? Unlikely I’ll bet. Welcome to the chain gang.

- We live in an age offering unprecedented opportunity for us all to lead the kind of flourishing, leisurely existence of which the ancients could only dream. Yet many work harder and longer than ever before.

This is a point I’ve been highlighting for a while. Look at all the technology we have today. Now tell me why we are working harder than ever? Why have we less and less leisure time? My contention is that we are not using technology correctly, we are merely accepting the defaults rather than customizing it to suit the way that we work. After a while, these bad practices become the ‘norm’ and we seem to continue meekly accepting it. How many dedicate time to actually determining whether there is a better way to do something or use technology to better automate repetitive tasks? Not many I’ve seen. It’s really driving a car constantly in first gear.

- However, for most people, working beyond a certain threshold (generally estimated to be between four to six hours a day), brings comparatively small real additional benefits; yet has substantial opportunity costs, including loss of leisure.

Here’s the real story. After a certain point the harder you work the less you actually achieve yet the opportunity costs increase inversely. It is again like the car in first gear analogy, more and more revs makes little difference because you are caught in the lowest gear, taking virtually no advantage of any leverage. However, the chances of blowing the engine increases as you increase the revs. The simplest thing is to change gear, so why don’t we?

- Long working hours may certainly increase overall gross domestic product, but the evidence suggests that it does not increase productivity per hour, and it generally makes us, and those around us, quite a bit less happy than we would otherwise be.

For me here’s the bottom like - ‘evidence suggests that it does not increase productivity per hour’. Why aren’t we working to improve our efficiency and doing more with less? Why aren’t we using the technology to reduce, rather than increase our workloads? I honestly can’t understand why we are doing this. We invented all this technology, surely we can’t be that stupid can we?

As my recent ‘Power on an hour’ document illustrates, becoming more productive with technology isn’t hard, however it is journey not a destination. You always need to be on your guard against time burglars like email, web browsing, meetings and so on. In an upcoming document ‘Enough time’ I examine some simple steps that you can use to understand to ensure your time is being used most effectively.

Every time I ask people whether they have enough time I have never yet had anyone tell me they have more time available than they need. It is always the converse - “I never have ENOUGH time”. However, when you examine how people allocate their time you find they are simply wasting so much. Why is that? Simple, they don’t value their time. In essence they are too cheap. Given that you can never create or obtain more time why do people value it so lowly? That’s one reason they work such long hours. They believe they will get more in return. Clearly the evidence indicates the complete opposite. Unfortunately, people appear oblivious to the obvious and allow technology to make it worse.

Until you start valuing your time more don’t complain that you don’t have enough. Surely you’re smarter than that? Until you start asking whether what you are doing is the BEST allocation of your time at the moment then you are destined to never have enough of life’s most precious resource.