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April 15, 2020 Last updated: April 29, 2020

Podcast #602: The Case for Being Unproductive

Decades ago, economists thought that thanks to advances in technology, in the 21st century we’d only work a few hours a week and enjoy loads of leisure time. Yet here we are in the modern age, still working long hours and feeling like we’re busier than ever. What happened?

My guest today argues that we’ve all been swept up into a cult of efficiency that started centuries ago and has only been strengthened by advances in technology. The remedy? Do nothing. At least nothing productive.

Her name is Celeste Headlee and she’s the author of Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving. We begin our conversation taking a look at what work was like before industrialization and how we moderns work more than medieval serfs. Celeste then explains how industrialization moved us from task-based work to hour-based work and how that helped change our perception of time and usher in “the cult of efficiency.” We discuss how we’ve taken this penchant towards over-optimization which prevails in work life, and applied it to our personal and family lives as well, adding stress and stripping us of hobbies and social connections. We then dig into how this current moment of being forced into doing less can be used as a time to reevaluate our relationship to work, and how we can reconnect with the idea of doing things for their own sake, especially cultivating relationships with others.

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Show Highlights

  • Why Celeste felt like she had less time and more overwhelm as her income went up
  • What was work/life like prior to 200 years ago?
  • What is the cult of efficiency? 
  • Task-based work vs. hour-based work
  • The idea of “wasting” time 
  • The religious origins of our nation’s work ethic 
  • Why don’t Americans use all their vacation time?
  • Why more work doesn’t equate to more productivity 
  • Do we have less time and energy than previous generations?
  • The insidious nature of our modern technology 
  • How has our home life gotten more stressful?
  • How the pandemic has impacted Celeste’s thinking in regards to her new book
  • The value of doing something that isn’t worth anything 
  • Focusing on ends rather than means
  • The case for talking to people on the phone 
  • The devastating effects of loneliness 

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

Connect With Celeste

Celeste’s website

Celeste on Twitter

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Read the Transcript

Coming soon!

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