Rethinking busy life

The Work Culture

My twitter time-line was busy bashing Rahul Yadav, former CEO of recently when he mentioned (implied) that he generally wants to avoid married people as employees as they want to go home as early as they can, while single techies want to work even on Sundays! Likewise, there were lot of discussions going on after Amazon’s corporate work culture was exposed in the newspapers few months ago. In a brilliant article ‘Is Overwork Killing You?‘ that appeared in Harvard Business Review, Gianpiero Petriglieri explains that the pressure to work more exists not only from the organizations, but talented individuals as well. Executives often see overwork as essential expression of their talent and purpose. As a result, they push themselves to work more and achieve more. However, overwork erodes productivity and as he mentions, “The parts of us that die, symbolically, are those not tied to work.”

Cody Delistraty in an interesting article titled ‘To Work Better, Work Less‘, asserts that “Toiling away for more hours diminishes productivity”. There have been lot of studies clearly concluding that long hours are harmful, for individuals as well as organizations! Yet, many organizations in America, India and many other countries (France is a loveable exception) continue to encourage culture of excess work in the name of productivity. The laws in most countries restrict work hours to 40 hours per week, yet I have seen many organizations in India having work schedule that stretches up to 50-60 hours a week and more. Especially in the software industry, many of us end up working for long hours for that important release/milestone that takes place every now and then, as one can infer from Rahul Yadav’s talk as well! Friends & acquaintances tell me that it also applies to many other service-based organizations.

It is saddening that even at senior level most talented individuals negotiate hard to get that raise and better pay-package, but I don’t know many individuals who assert that they would prefer to have work-life balance and being senior and responsible does not necessarily mean being committed to long hours at work. Rather, many of them take pride in those long hours, late night work and tend to associate it with their importance, seniority and indispensability mirage.

In another article ‘The Busy Trap‘, Tim Kreider ponders if our busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, just as a hedge against emptiness. He in fact suggests that “the crazy-busy” existence so many of us complain about is almost entirely self-imposed”. Omid Safi of Duke University says that being busy is a dis-ease, something that does not put you at ease. I couldn’t agree more with him when he cites an example of a kid from North Carolina who couldn’t find 45 minutes free slot to play with another kid.

In yet another thought-provoking article ‘Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed‘, David Cain discusses a compelling perspective about the real reason for 40 hours work-week. He suggests that by keeping employees working for (at least) 40 hours a week, the industries primarily make it difficult for their employees to get enough free time and as a result, it becomes almost impossible to carry out activities that require little or no money but take time – such as leisurely walk, exercising, reading, writing, meditating etc. Essentially, 40 hours work-week leads to more money and less time, and inevitably catapults into consumerism and brainless entertainment that TV throws at us.

It is crucial to realize that spare time or free time is not a wasted time, it is as necessary as sleep in the night. We all deserve our own free time. Not once in a while, or monthly, or weekly, but daily!

Can we work lesser and enjoy more?

At a personal level I am keeping this question alive within myself. Though not many, there have been few insightful individuals from Thoreau to Mohit Satyanand who have taken this road less travelled and chose to work lesser to lead more fulfilling life. I understand, you need enough money to lead life that way, but at the same time it is important to ask yourself – How much is enough? As Mohit Satyanand puts it aptly –

Material progress gives us the choice to trade our earning ability for more consumption, or more time.

That’s what I am trying to get at! Enough money is a relative term and you have to decide it for yourself. I had written a long article about it earlier on this website. You don’t have to be very rich to afford the luxury of free time. You may however, need to decide what you love more – you free, leisurely time or that latest, expensive gadget or car! You don’t need lot of money to be happy. You don’t have to take my word for this, there is a research that proves that money can increase happiness (subjective well-being or SWB for short) only up to a certain extent, beyond that additional money can’t buy you happiness. It may increase your ability to consume more, but not necessarily make you happier!

It would be great if you could spend some time and read through various resources that I have referred above. They all discuss the time that our work consumes. I have read these articles in the past few years as I was also reconsidering my work, the time it consumed and my lifestyle. I have tried to present the gist of those articles so that even if you don’t read through all (or any) of them, you’d know what they talk about.

Calvin & Hobbes from Pinterest
Calvin & Hobbes from Pinterest

Let’s keep all those theories aside and spend few minutes to ponder about this: what do you enjoy/love? Do you love long walks? Do you enjoy playing with your kids? Do you enjoy listening to music? Do you enjoy reading your favourite book at home in a cozy corner with a cup of coffee? Do you enjoy watching cinema? Do you enjoy painting? Do you enjoy visiting art galleries? Do you enjoy playing a musical instrument? Or attending musical concerts? Do you enjoy watching theatre? Do you enjoy treks? Do you enjoy travel? Do you enjoy writing? Do you enjoy cooking, baking, creating your own cocktails/mockltails? Do you enjoy knitting, embroidery, paper quilling or any such thing? If you have answered a resounding yes to any one or more of these, when was the last time you did any one or more of these? Think…….! Would you love to do more of these?

We all need time away from our work no matter how much we love our work. You cannot visit an art gallery in 15-20 minutes, you need to give enough time so that those paintings could talk to you. You need to spend enough time so that you realize how wonderful Van Gogh’s Starry Night is. You need time to understand his yellow. You need to spend enough time to appreciate the skin tones, body language & facial expressions in Amrita Shergil’s  Three Girls to know about their adversity. You are not doing enough justice to Hariprasad Chaurasia’s flute or Amir Khan’s Marwa or Mozart’s symphony if it is playing while you’re doing mundane daily chores. If you love music, just try listening to it for 20-30 minutes with your eyes closed without doing anything else. Music is a transcendental experience that can take you beyond your conscious mind.  It can reveal so much more than what we think we know.

It is not only about spending time appreciating art and creative pursuits, but many of us do not even give enough time to explore and figure out what we really want to do in life. Sitting still and slowing down can result in some incredible insights. Likewise, exploring your own interests seriously is extremely useful as well. If you’re experiencing saturation/stagnation in your career, I would highly recommend taking a sabbatical to explore other possibilities. I have done it myself and found it immensely enriching. Try it, we hardly get any summer vacation once we grow up, taking a longer break might help in many ways! 🙂

Over the years I have come to believe that the real opulence is more about time and not money. You can recover monetary loss but you cannot recover lost time…. ever! So if you can spend your time doing what you want, I think you’re really fortunate!

Is there a way out?

Well, I think we can look at this problem at two levels:

  • Corporate/Organization
  • Individual

Organizations can actually consider shrinking flexible work hours. More organizations can offer flexible work and their employees should be allowed to choose lesser work hours per week if they desire so. This would not be counter-productive, in fact people might work better by working lesser. Not only individuals with multiple interests, but I am sure many moms and dads would love to have this option as well. Moreover, I think many of them would happily take lesser payment for lesser work.  If organizations are willing, I am sure there would be many talented individuals interested in such opportunities. I really wish some large organization could try this as an experiment and see if they could find some outstanding talent and how productive these people could be. I would love to help any organization to build one such project where work would be meaningful and people could work for lesser hours.  My hunch says that results would be exceptional. It’s certainly worth trying!

If not corporates,  you can always do this as an individual. If you really believe that you don’t want to suffer from this dis-ease of being busy, see how you can rearrange your work to offer you more time to pursue your other interests, which may not be tied to your work but nevertheless put a twinkle in your eyes. I know many startups that offer consultant positions where you can propose your own work schedule. Moreover, if you are really enterprising you can create your own work with some creativity and efforts. There are many such possibilities that are just waiting to be explored!

Who knows what song you would sing once you slow down? Wouldn’t you at least to give it a try?


One thought on “Rethinking busy life

  1. Time and again I come across such news, saddening indeed! 🙁

    The head of the Japanese advertising giant Dentsu has resigned after the suicide of a junior employee was linked to a company culture that required staffers to work huge amounts of overtime.
    Japan is known for the brutal work hours demanded of its “salarymen,” or office workers. Considered by many to be the backbone of Japan’s economy, these employees are expected to always put the company first. Working days are often followed by marathon drinking sessions with colleagues and clients.

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