Both Patrick and Morgan discuss the benefits of "working less"… mostly
(1) The need to signal that you’re a hard worker in terms of amassed hours is stupid
(2) Celebrate and build in times during your day to be curious and to just *think*
(3) Put your efforts to activities that actually make you more productive (and certainly don’t waste efforts when you’re not mentally ready to be productive)

However, I’d expand on this idea of being "a little underemployed" and "maximizing productivity." I think it can mean so much more than just # hours and density of productivity. When I first heard Morgan reference this idea on a podcast, I came up with my own interpretation: make sure you have enough mental flexibility, permeated throughout your days. I don’t mean this in terms of hours, but in terms of optionality— to have the excitement and interest and time to think and pursue things not necessarily related to your professional tasks at hand. (Or whatever kinds of tasks you measure time and productivity in.)

I have personally found this benefit of mental flexibility to be very true over my past year. Most of my recent intellectual effort... thinking, listening, reading, diagraming… has been tangentially related to my day-to-day, and yet wholly different. And still— I have found that the freedom to be able to spend this time on new ways of thinking has made me *better* in my day-to-day work activities. I’m also hopeful that these efforts contribute to a more foundational layer of how I think about the systems of the world, understandings that I can continue to draw upon moving forward.

To be honest, I think what has fueled this space-filling of non-work time with my own intellectual curiosity is a realization that with kids (sometime soon?) that time will quickly become much more compact. How do I take advantage of this space of time that I have currently, and make the most of it? Not just for the near term, but hopefully for a renewable harvest.



Encountered: Oct 2018
Excerpts
  • I have come to the conclusion, over the last three years, that working hard is overrated. […] The notion that working longer hours is correlated to better business results is a pernicious social pathology.
  • For the last five years, I’ve been a Japanese salaryman, and have often worked 70 hour weeks out of a sense of social obligation.  I understand, very well, the social pressures which could lead someone to write "If your nearest competitor or neighbour works X hours, you must work for X+1 hours."  It is just a terrible strategy.  Your competitor can adopt it as easily as you can, and then you’re playing a game of multiplayer endurance chicken against everyone else in your market.  You can’t win but you can certainly all lose, by ending up with an entire community where soul-crushing hours are normative.
  • He’ll work 82 hours and then find, oh shoot, over a million people are willing to work more.
  • Working long hours is near the perfect storm of meme spreadability. It flatters the sensibilities of many religions — Max Weber was putting the Industrial Revolution down to the Protestant Work Ethic a hundred years ago
  • Then again, programmers at most companies work on a schedule designed to maximize the productivity of illiterate 18th century water loom operators, so expecting rationality might be excessively optimistic.
  • There is also a sense that working less is somehow, you know, cheating or immoral.  
  • It is easy to fall into this trap of productivity being defined in terms of observed effort exerted because in the typical face to face organization it is easy to see who is "working hard" and very difficult to measure actual productivity.  
  • [Related to unproductive activity]: I was essentially engaged in a nervous habit, opening Analytics and drilling down through a million reports to feel productive when I wasn’t mentally ready to actually be productive.
  • Worker Smarter, Not Harder. Then Go Home.

Encountered: Jul 15, 2018
Excerpts
  • To realize how outdated the five-day, 40-hour workweek is, you have to know where it came from. Eighty years later this work schedule – originally designed for the endurance constraints of railroad depot workers – has become so ingrained that we rarely question it, regardless of profession. Since the constraints of physically exhausting jobs are visible, we took decisive action when things weren’t working, like the Adamson Act. But the limits of mentally exhausting jobs are nuanced and less visible, so we get trapped in a spot where most of us work a schedule that doesn’t maximize our productivity, yet we do nothing about it.
  • The irony is that people can get some of their most important work done outside of work, when they’re free to think and ponder. The struggle is that we take time off maybe once a year, without realizing that time to think is a key element of many jobs, and one that a traditional work schedule doesn’t accommodate very well.
  • David Leonhardt of the New York Times recently wrote about former Secretary of State George Shultz, who carved out time to sit and wonder: His hour of solitude was the only way he could find time to think about the strategic aspects of his job. Otherwise, he would be constantly pulled into moment-to-moment tactical issues, never able to focus on larger questions of the national interest. And the only way to do great work, in any field, is to find time to consider the larger questions.
  • That last sentence is crucial for anyone whose jobs involves strategy, analysis, creativity, innovation, managing people, non-structured decision-making, or really anything outside of repetitive tasks. The "larger questions" often can’t be tackled at work, because creativity and critical thinking require uninterrupted focus – like going for a walk or sitting quietly on a couch by yourself. Or a bike ride. Or talking to someone outside your field.
  • It’s not about working less. It’s the opposite: A lot of knowledge jobs basically never stop, and without structuring time to think and be curious you wind up less efficient during the hours that are devoted to sitting at your desk cranking out work.
  • The first step is realizing that taking time in the middle of your day to do stuff that doesn’t look like work is the most important part of your work day.