Saturday, September 15, 2007

It's Saturday; Go Ahead, Relax.

On a weekend with a busy start (judging Region Jazz auditions this morning), I was happy to read in the paper today that author Eric Weiner has given us permission to slack off:
I bet you're reading this at work – and feeling guilty about it.

Rest easy. You are not alone. A recent survey found that the typical American worker wastes slightly more than two hours a day, not including lunch and scheduled breaks. The insurance industry is particularly rife with time wasters (can you blame them?), and Missouri, for reasons not entirely clear, is the state with the highest percentage of slackers.

The No. 1 time-wasting activity is surfing the Internet and sending personal e-mails (a finding perhaps skewed by the fact that the survey, conducted by AOL and, was Web-based), followed by socializing with co-workers, conducting personal business and just plain "spacing out." All of this loafing is supposedly costing employers $759 billion a year in lost productivity.

The findings were greeted, predictably, with much hand-wringing about the declining American work ethic. I find the survey disturbing, too, but for a different reason. American workers, it turns out, are wasting less time than they did just a couple of years ago – 19 percent less. We must stop this dangerous trend.
I can relate to this. I tend to teach 12 to 14 hours a day during the school year, and when I get home, the first thing I often do is get on the computer. But even if I have 20 emails in my inbox, I might not answer them right away; a lot of them are related to work, and the last thing that I want to do when I get home is more work. And as a musician, it's easy to feel guilty about not practicing enough, so that's hanging over my head as well.

But there's no doubt that we all need some downtime. Perhaps we should all back off on the guilt a little bit and learn to embrace our inner slacker. Weiner says this is a good idea:
Despite all of this fretting, we are no slacker nation. The U.N.'s International Labor Organization recently issued a report that found that the U.S. leads the world in worker productivity – and by a wide margin.

So why do we feel like such slackers? For one thing, we are a nation ambivalent about work. We cherish it and resent it. I suspect that some of this loafing is a subtle form of revenge. With work now sloshing over into personal time (think Blackberry), it seems only natural that personal time should slosh back into work. Technology is fast rendering distinctions between "work" and "leisure" meaningless. This is a problem. If the U.S. is to stay strong, we need to goof off more at work, not less.

Thus the recent Web survey gets to the heart of the paradox. We are a nation of doers, hard workers, yet we are also a nation of ideas, big ideas. These two aspects of the American personality constantly rub against each other; great ideas require idleness, but idleness makes us uncomfortable.
So let's all pledge that, assuming we actually get things done this week, we'll slack a little more and not feel guilty about it. I'm In.

Fido meets file cabinet: In this country, "Take Your Daughter to Work Day" has been popular in some circles. But in the U.K., it was dogs who were visiting the office on Friday, as part of a fundraiser for an animal charity.

Schoolyard brawl, bizarro-world edition: It's bad enough when a student and teacher get into an argument and the student hits the teacher; it's even worse when the teacher hits back.

Don't fear the reaper, but fear the low clearance: Massachusetts authorities, growing tired of having trucks smash into low-clearance bridges in their state, are considering reviving a novel solution: More cowbell.

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