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Why Idleness Is the Best Investment You Can Make

If you want to adopt a new lifestyle that pays big returns, work less. Our idea that dogged labor produces the best results is relatively new and at odds with our knowledge of human performance.

What’s the Latest Development?

New revelations about human physiology and human psychology tell us that excessive hard work is vastly counterproductive, says Ed Smith at the New Statesman. Human performance occurs in cycles, with each cycle containing a peak and trough. Beginning with Bertrand Russell’s legendary essay “In Praise of Idleness,” in which the philosopher extols the virtues of being lazy, Smith says the ‘work less’ injunction should be embraced by managers, coaches and businessmen alike. By consolidating work into well-defined periods (Russell argued for a four-hour work day), we can simultaneously be more productive and more relaxed. 

What’s the Big Idea?

In today’s Western culture, we mistake productivity for the appearance of productivity. The frantic attentiveness to smartphones which characterizes corporate ambition, for example, is a display of how hard someone is working, not an actual measure of their productivity. “The idea that being good at something demands harried, exhausted martyrdom is a relatively new idea. ‘Only in recent history,’ as Nas­sim Nicholas Taleb puts it, ‘has ‘working hard’ signalled pride rather than shame for lack of talent, finesse and, mostly, sprezzatura.’ If we really want to be good at something, we should stop wasting time exhausting ourselves.”

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