Intriguing goal to work much less

Mastering active recreation is harder than it seems, but there are good reasons for trying to do this.

When I moved from Washington, DC to Rome, one of the sights struck me more than any ancient columns or basilicas: lounging people.

I often noticed old women leaning against the window sills, watching people walk downstairs, families on evening walks, constantly stopping to greet friends. Even office life was different. No buter intercepted at work. At lunchtime, restaurants are filled with workers who absorb normal meals.

Of course, since then, when the 17th century aristocrats traveling around the gran tour began to take notes, the visitors turned the Italian “idleness” into a stereotype. But this is not an exhaustive description. The same friends, that slowly drove home on their scooters to quietly dine there, often returned to work and worked until 20:00.

By law, in each EU country, a person is entitled to four weeks of paid vacation, and in Italy there are another 10 additional holidays

And yet I was always amazed by the obvious belief in the balance between hard work and il dolce far niente, the sweetness of doing nothing. After all, doing nothing is sort of the opposite of productivity. And productivity — creative, intellectual, industrial — is the best use of our time.

But the more we fill our days with “doing,” the more people discover that non-stop activity is not an apotheosis, but an enemy of productivity.

Researchers find that the point is not only that the results of work done 14 hours a day are worse in terms of the quality of the results we achieve with a fresh mind. Such a work pattern undermines our creative and cognitive abilities. Over time, this may even result in a physical illness and, ironically, a sense of purposelessness in life.

Sweden, in a six-hour work experiment, found that workers had improved health and productivity

Imagine mental work in the form of push-ups, says Josh Davis, the author of Two Awesome Hours. Suppose you want to push 10,000 times. The most effective way to do this would be to do them all without interruption. But instinctively we know that this is impossible. Instead, if we do them little by little, alternating with other occupations, stretching them for several weeks, the goal of wringing out 10,000 will become more achievable.

“In this sense, the brain is very much like a muscle,” writes Davis. - If we organize permanent and incorrect working conditions for it, little will be achieved. Organize the right conditions and you will not have anything impossible. ”

Do or die

Many of us consider our brain not a muscle, but a computer: a machine capable of permanent work. This is not just wrong: some experts believe that by forcing yourself to work for hours without a break, you can hurt yourself.

“The idea that you can infinitely stretch the state of concentration and productive time for arbitrary time periods is completely wrong. It is doomed to failure, ”says researcher Andrew Smart, author of the book Autopilot [Andrew Smart, Autopilot]. "If you constantly drive yourself into this state of cognitive duty, where your physiology tells you:" I need a break, "and you keep pushing yourself, you will get a stress response that has grown into a chronic one - and over time it will become extremely dangerous."

In one meta-analysis, it was found that a long daily working time increases the risk of coronary insufficiency by 40% - comparable to smoking (50%). In another study, it turned out that people who work long hours every day seriously increase the risk of stroke, and people who work more than 11 hours a day are 2.5 times more likely to develop clinical depression than those who work 7-8 hours. .

In Japan, this resulted in a trend called “ caros, ” or death from recycling .

If you are thinking, does this mean that it is time for you to think about using a long-awaited vacation, then the answer may be positive. One of the studies of businessmen in Helsinki found that for a period of 26 years, those directors and entrepreneurs who took less days off in middle age, died earlier and experienced more health problems in old age.

The death from recycling is so common in Japan that the family of the deceased receives compensation from the government around $ 20,000 / year.

Weekends can literally pay for themselves. In one study that studied 5,000 full-time Americans, it was found that people who took less than 10 paid weekends a year received 1 chance out of 3 to get an increase in salary or increase. People who took more than 10 days off had 2 chances out of 3.

Productivity Source

It is easy to imagine that efficiency and productivity are modern obsessions. But philosopher Bertrand Russell would not agree with that.

“They will say that although a short rest is pleasant, people would not find something to fill the days if only four hours out of twenty-four worked. Since this is true in the modern world, this is a reproach of our civilization. This was not so in any earlier period. Formerly there was an opportunity for carelessness and play, to some extent suppressed by the cult of efficiency. Today's man thinks that everything must be done for the sake of something else, and never for nothing, ” wrote Russell in 1932.

However, some of the most creative and productive people understood the importance of doing less. They had not only strict work ethic, but also a commitment to rest and play.

“Work on one thing until you finish,” wrote artist and writer Henry Miller in his “ 11 Commandments of the Writer .” “Stop at the appointed time! Stay human! Meet people, visit different places, drink if you want. ”

Even the founding father of the United States, Benjamin Franklin, a model of hard work, spent a great deal of time doing nothing. Every day he had a two-hour break for lunch, a free evening and a good night’s sleep. Instead of continuously working on his career, he spent “a lot of time” after the hobby and socialization. “And many of the interests that distracted him from his main activity led to a huge number of amazing things that made him known — for example, the invention of the Franklin stove or the lightning rod,” writes Davis [ lightning rods were known before Franklin - approx. trans. ].

Philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote: “Americans need rest, but they don’t know about it.”

Even at the global level, there is no correlation between the productivity of a country and the average number of working hours. For a work week of 38.6 hours , the average US worker works 4.6 hours more than a resident of Norway. But the Norwegian workers add to GDP at $ 78.7 per hour - and in the US only at $ 69.6.

And what about Italy, the birthplace of il dolce far niente? With an average work week of 35.5 hours, it increases GDP by almost 40% more than Turkey, where people, on average, work 47.9 hours a week. She wins even from Britain, where people work for 36.5 hours.

So all these coffee breaks should be good.

Brain waves

Eight-hour working days basically came about because companies found that shortening the working day leads to the opposite of the expected effect: it increases productivity.

During the industrial revolution were considered normal working days lasting from 10 to 16 hours. Ford became the first company to conduct an experiment with an eight-hour working day, and found that its employees had become more productive, both for one hour of work, and in general [ Again, no; in fact, the first in 1888, the eight-hour working day was established by the owner of the Zeiss plant, Ernst Karl Abbe . After the Socialist Revolution in 1917, the Decree of the Council of People's Commissars on an eight-hour working day was adopted in Russia. In the United States, such a principle took root under the pressure of trade union workers organized under the impression of what is happening in Russia. For more on this, see, for example: Upton Sinclair, “ Oil! ” / Approx. trans. ].

If an eight-hour working day is better than a 10-hour, is it possible that even shorter working hours will be even better? Maybe. The study found that for people over 40, a 25-hour work week may be optimal for a cognitive system. In a recent Swedish experiment with six-hour working days, it was found that workers had improved health and productivity.

Inventor and scientist Benjamin Franklin conducted experiments discovering unknown facts about the nature of lightning and electricity.

This is confirmed by the way people behave during the work day. In one survey of 2,000 full-time office workers, it was found that people work productively in just about 2 hours and 53 minutes during an 8-hour work day. The rest of the time is devoted to checking social networks, reading news, non-working conversations with colleagues, food — even searching for a new job.

Trying to work on the edge of our capabilities, we are able to concentrate for an even shorter time. Psychology researcher K. Anders Eriksson from the University of Stockholm found that when performing “intentional training” [ deliberate practice - a term coined by him / approx. trans. ], in order to train a particular skill, we need to take more breaks than it seems. Most people can train for an hour without rest. Many professionals, like the best musicians and athletes, never devote more than five hours a day to their craft.

What do they have in common? “The increase in the tendency to a short restoring sleep,” writes Eriksson, is one of the ways to rest the body and the brain.

In other studies, it was found that a short rest while completing the tasks helped the participants to maintain concentration and continue activities at a high level. The absence of interruptions worsened their results. \

Virginia Wolfe wrote: “She didn’t want to move or speak. She wanted to rest, lie down, fall asleep. She felt extremely tired. ”


But, as some researchers point out, “rest” is not always the best description of what we do when it seems to us that we are not doing anything.

As we already wrote, the part of the brain that is activated when you are “not doing anything”, known as the network of the passive mode of the brain (SPR), plays a key role in memory consolidation and future planning . Also, this area of ​​the brain is activated when a person watches other people , thinks about himself , gives a moral assessment, or processes the emotions of other people .

That is, if this network is disabled, we may experience problems with memory, anticipation of the future, social interaction, self-understanding, ethical actions or empathy towards others - with everything that helps us to function not only in the workplace, but also in general .

“It helps you recognize the deep importance of situations and find meaning in events. When you don’t find such a sense, you simply react and act momentarily, causing you to undergo various cognitive and emotional behaviors and a view that doesn’t contribute to adaptation, ”says Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, neurobiologist and researcher at the Institute of the Brain and Creativity of the University of Southern California.

We also could not give out new ideas or invent new connections. AB, the source of creativity, begins to work when you draw a connection between seemingly unrelated things or come up with original ideas . This is where your insight lies - that is, if the last time a good idea occurred to you when you were walking or bathing, like Archimedes, then you need your biology for that.

And, perhaps most importantly, without devoting time to self-contemplation, we lose a key element in achieving happiness.

“Most of the time, we are doing something without giving it meaning,” says Immordino-Jan. - When you do not know how to build your actions into a more general process of achieving a goal, over time they seem meaningless and empty to you, not connected with your sense of self. And we know that the long-term lack of a goal leads to the fact that a person does not achieve optimal physiological and psychological health. ”

Even knitting can help your brain recover from regular work.

Monkey brain

But, like everyone who has tried meditation, they know that doing nothing is surprisingly difficult. How many people after 30 seconds of inactivity reflexively pull over the phone?

It becomes so unpleasant that we are even ready to hurt ourselves. In 11 different studies, it was found that participants agreed to do anything - even beat themselves with electricity - only to do at least something. And they were asked to stay idle for not so long - from six to fifteen minutes.

The good news is that you don’t have to be completely idle to get the benefits of your holiday. Rest is important - but active thinking, chewing on a problem or thinking about an idea is also important.

Anything that requires visualization of hypothetical results or inventing scenarios — for example, discussing a problem with friends, or a passion for a good book — also helps, as Immordino-Jan says. If you have a specific goal, you can even activate the AB when watching social networks.

“If you just look at a beautiful photo, it doesn't work. But if you linger and allow yourself to think about why a person feels certain emotions in a photo, come up with a related story, then you can easily activate these networks, ”she says.

Also, to eliminate the harmful effects of a permanent job does not take much time. Adults and children, who went into nature for four days without their gadgets, increased the performance of tasks that measured creativity and the ability to solve problems by 50% . It is proved that even a single walk in the fresh air increases creativity.

Another highly effective method of repairing damage is meditation. Only a week of classes for people who have never practiced it, or one lesson for people practicing it, can improve creativity, mood, memory and ability to concentrate .

Other activities that do not require 100% concentration can help, such as knitting or scribbling. As Virginia Wolfe wrote in her room essay: “Drawing pictures is, of course, an idle way to sum up. But it happens, it is in the moment of idleness, the half-sleep that the truth comes out. ”


Whether we plan to leave the desktop for 15 minutes or close the “inbox” folder for the night, partly our fears are associated with loss of control - if we relax a little bit, then everything will fly to hell.

But this is not the case, says poet, entrepreneur, and life coach Jane Robinson [Janne Robinson]. “I love to use the metaphor of fire. We start our own business, and then, somewhere in a year, when we can take a week off, or hire a person to help, most of us do not trust someone to take our place. We fear that "the fire will go out," she says.

"And what if we just trusted that the coals are so hot that we can move away from them, and someone else will throw wood and they will catch fire again?"

It is difficult for those of us who feel that we must constantly do something. But to do more, apparently, it is necessary to come to terms with the ability to do less.


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