Wasting time at work turns out to be a good thing



Let's confess: We all waste time at work. I just wasted time getting up from my desk to get myself a little snack — and then I got distracted by all my choices. Have you wasted time in the last hour? Maybe you chatted with a co-worker about the election or possibly peeked at Facebook?

I get kind of upset when I realize I have wasted time. I have oodles of tasks I want to accomplish each day, which is why I'm always hunting down new time management tips.  

Now, new research says time wasting can be beneficial. Yes, you read that right.

Columnist Lucy Kellaway at the Financial Times asserted this to be true this morning on NPR's Marketplace. Lucy recently wrote a column about research  by Jane McGonigal, a woman who designs computer games. McGonigal published research in the Harvard Business Review and says a small amount of time wasting, such as time playing Angry Birds, can make us more resilient. 

McGonigal immersed herself in research and says engaging in some activities we assume are nonproductive—as tiny exercises—may actually be a smart way to spend time, especially at work. These practices can make people more-resourceful problem solvers, more collaborative, and less likely to give up when the going gets tough. In other words, they can make people more resilient, more capable.

She found that time-wasting can be good when it boosts us in one of four ways – physically, mentally, emotionally or socially. An example of physical time wasting might be going for a walk around the office. An example of good mental time wasting would be an arbitrary task such as snapping our fingers exactly 50 times, which apparently increases willpower. An emotional time waster might be looking at photos of babies or puppies (or playing Angry Birds). When it comes to time-wasting that boosts us socially, the best way, she says, is to shake hands with someone for a full six second, which raises oxytocin levels associated with trust.

So, do you buy into this notion that some time wasters actually make us sharper? What's your favorite way to waste time at work?


The Work/Life Balancing Act

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  1. Michael Castilla November 12, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    There’s no better way to learn how to code, than to waste time experimenting with code examples. The same concept for learning design; it’s important to waste time lots of time in Photoshop.

    I’ve been really enjoying working at Pipeline Brickell for this exact reason. Just being at the office presents new opportunities for networking and business. You can’t really put a price on the spontaneous conversations over lunch and in the elevator.

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