Book Reviews and Highlights

Do Nothing

Celeste Headlee

  • Business & Economics
  • Customs & Traditions
  • Self-Help
  • Self-Management
  • Social Science
  • Time Management
  • We are overworked and overstressed, constantly dissatisfied, and reaching for a bar that keeps rising higher and higher. We are members of the cult of efficiency, and we’re killing ourselves with productivity.
  • Introduction | Page: ix
  • While I’d always been driven, I’d also been exhausted, stressed, and overwhelmed.
  • Introduction | Page: xi
  • I realized it was not my circumstances that caused my stress but my habits.
  • Introduction | Page: xii
  • What is the cult of efficiency? It’s a group whose members believe fervently in the virtue of constant activity, in finding the most efficient way to accomplish just about anything and everything. They are busy all the time and they take it on faith that all their effort is saving time and making their lives better.
  • Introduction | Page: xiii
  • But they’re wrong. The efficiency is an illusion. They believe they’re being efficient when they’re actually wasting time.
  • Introduction | Page: xiii
  • As the nineteenth- century economist Henry George wrote, a human is “the only animal whose desires increase as they are fed; the only animal that is never satisfied.”
  • Introduction | Page: xiv
  • The key to well- being is shared humanity, even though we are pushing further and further toward separation.
  • Introduction | Page: xv
  • Still, there are a few things that all humans can learn to do well without training: play, think, connect socially, react emotionally, count, and think about ourselves.
  • Introduction | Page: xvi
  • Part of the problem is that we’re cutting out expressions of our basic humanity because they’re “inefficient”: boredom, long phone conversations, hobbies, neighborhood barbecues, membership in social clubs.
  • Introduction | Page: xvii
  • Why are we so efficient and yet so overwhelmed? Why are we so productive with so little to show for it?
  • Introduction | Page: xviii
  • We work best when we allow for flexibility in our habits. Instead of gritting your teeth and forcing your body and mind to work punishing hours and “lean in” until you reach your goals, the counterintuitive solution might be to walk away. Pushing harder isn’t helping us anymore.
  • Introduction | Page: xix
  • Everything we think we know about work and efficiency and leisure is relatively recent and very possibly wrong.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 13
  • Here’s the awful takeaway for me: It wasn’t moral outrage that finally ended child labor, but the extreme rates of mortality among the young. Leaders were worried about the “physical preservation of the race.”
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 28
  • Remember this: The fight over working hours has, from the start, been about returning to the kind of life we had for millennia.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 28
  • The push for an eight- hour workday was spearheaded by textile manufacturer Robert Owen, who wanted to create better conditions for his own factory employees. Owen created the now familiar motto: “Eight hours’ labour, eight hours’ recreation, eight hours’ rest.”
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 29
  • Tens of thousands marched in the first Labor Day parade in New York in September 1882. What were they marching for? Limits to working hours.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 29
  • The response to these efforts among the upper class was mostly derisive and sometimes dangerously aggressive. Strikes were quelled with force by police and the military.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 30
  • Consider for just a moment how painfully our ancestors suffered and how hard they worked to secure fewer working hours for themselves and their children. Today, less than a hundred years later, we’ve ceded that ground almost without a fight. We choose to work long hours and answer work texts because we think it’s the only way to keep our jobs or do them well. But it has not always been like this.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 31
  • In the book The Jobless Future, Stanley Aronowitz and William DiFazio bemoan this trend, writing, “An alarming number of workers, both intellectual and manual, surrender nearly all their waking and even dreaming hours to labor…. The notion of free time is as distant from most people’s everyday experience as open space.”
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 31
  • But we are where we are now because of what happened after the victory over working hours. When employers lost the political fight, they moved to a new field of battle: culture.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 32
  • Idleness so called, which does not consist in doing nothing, but in doing a great deal not recognized in the dogmatic formularies of the ruling class, has as good a right to state its position as industry itself.—ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON, “An Apology for Idlers,” 1877
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 33
  • Weber argued that the Protestant work ethic was largely responsible for the growth of capitalism and the success of northern Europe.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 34
  • The idolization of hardworking people began in the United States with good old Ben Franklin and the like- minded. It grew in strength during the nineteenth century.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 35
  • This vision of a man (let’s be honest: it was almost always a man at that time) who achieved great things solely through toil and grit became an essential part of the American Dream, and some version of it took hold in many parts of Europe as well.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 35
  • Even today, despite the income gap being higher in the United States than in almost any other nation, many Americans believe they can rise to riches through honest labor, and that belief fuels a willingness to work too much, even when we’re not reaping the profits of our labor.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 36
  • A separate study from Princeton revealed that the stronger your belief that you can rise through the income ranks, the more likely you are to defend the status quo. If you think your life could be a Horatio Alger story, you’re more likely to support the existing economic and political policies instead of pushing for change.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 37
  • This belief in hard work as a virtue and a life philosophy started on the door of a church in Germany. Over the course of a couple hundred years, the religious notion that working long and hard makes you deserving while taking time off makes you lazy was adopted as an economic policy, a way to motivate employees and get the most out of them.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 38
  • When time is money, idle hours are a waste of money. This is the philosophical underpinning of all our modern stress: that time is too valuable to waste. We don’t pass time, we spend it. It’s no wonder that we don’t really have pastimes anymore.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 40
  • “Our society measures personal worth in terms of productivity, efficiency, and the maximization of our potential,” the Calvin College philosophy professor Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung writes. “So we’d better get busy or we’ll be good for nothing.”
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 40
  • The evolutionary biologist Julian Huxley believed people would get five days off “when we reach the point when the world produces all the goods that it needs in two days.” At that point, Huxley said, “We must curtail our production of goods and turn our attention to the great problem of what to do with our new leisure.”
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 43
  • In 1965, a Senate subcommittee predicted that by the year 2000, Americans would work fourteen- hour weeks and take nearly two months of vacation time. Instead, the average American gets ten days of paid vacation and nearly one in four gets no paid holidays at all.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 43
  • Sadly, two things occurred that prevented a drop in working hours: a rise in consumerism and a steep rise in income inequality.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 43
  • The United States has more private wealth than any other nation in the world, for example, but the fourth highest gap between rich and poor of any country studied by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 44
  • This is partly why so many people feel they are working an incredible number of hours without making progress financially: The benefits of their hard work are accruing in someone else’s account.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 44
  • So, after the industrial age took hold, workers put in more hours, became less likely to own their tools, and were less invested in the end product than they had been at the dawn of the nineteenth century. Also, the Calvinistic belief that work is virtuous and idleness is sin had been transformed into a faith in capitalism to reward those who worked the hardest and the longest.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 45
  • Honestly, it feels like the more money I earn, the less time I have. As it turns out, that is not just my problem. Over the past twenty or thirty years, the people who used to work all the time (the lower earners) are now the ones with more time to spare, while upper income brackets are overscheduled.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 48
  • Once hours are financially quantified, people worry more about wasting, saving or using them profitably. When economies grow and incomes rise, everyone’s time becomes more valuable.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 49
  • Research from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health shows that about 40 percent of workers feel “overworked, pressured, and squeezed to the point of anxiety, depression, and disease.”
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 51
  • With work intruding on our home life and home life encroaching on work hours, many people now never have a sense of being completely separate from their jobs. It’s as though we are now on twenty- four- hour call. That can be incredibly hard on the both the body and the mind and it explains why people feel they’re working more hours.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 53
  • This was also the era during which the belief in constant growth really took hold. The health of national economies was measured in terms of GDP (gross domestic product), and the value of a stock was often heavily based on forecasts of profit growth instead of stability or resilience. It was not enough for corporations to meet expectations. Investors wanted companies to beat projections.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 56
  • According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, had the average income risen at the same rate as the overall economy, most households in the United States would bring in about $ 92,000 right now, not $ 50,000.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 58
  • Stop for just a moment and imagine what life might look like if you worked every other year. What would you do with your time? If you could spend 365 days in a row not getting up to go to work or answering emails, and not worry about losing your position or opportunities for advancement, how would you spend your days?
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 60
  • So society was already fully committed to the worship of hard work during the 1980s and ’90s, when a revolution occurred that really cemented the dominance of the myth of the self- made man: the rise of the tech billionaire.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 60
  • Hansson, the founder of Basecamp and the bestselling author of Rework, says, “Don’t tell me that there’s something uniquely demanding about building yet another fucking startup that dwarfs the accomplishments of The Origin of Species or winning five championship rings. It’s bullshit. Extractive, counterproductive bullshit peddled by people who either need a narrative to explain their personal sacrifices and regrets or who are in a position to treat the lives and well- being of others like cannon fodder.”
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 64
  • “Workaholism is a disease. We need treatment and coping advice for those afflicted, not cheerleaders for their misery.” If it is a disease, it’s the worst kind: the kind we won’t admit we have and therefore don’t seek to treat. Workaholic should not be a compliment or a humblebrag— it should be a cry for help.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 65
  • “Leisure,” Ford told the magazine World’s Work, “is an indispensable ingredient in a growing consumer market, because working people need to have enough free time to find uses for consumer products, including automobiles.”
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 68
  • People stopped bragging about their flat- screen TVs and started “complaining” about their packed schedules. Status was awarded not because you had an iPhone; everyone seemed to have an iPhone. Instead, people earned respect according to how little free time they had.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 71
  • Instead, people may continue buying in order to experience, again and again, that flush of pleasure that accompanies the acquisition of something new. We get a shot of dopamine in our brains when we purchase something, and we can become literally addicted to acquisition.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 74
  • “When people are paid more, they work longer hours because work is so much more profitable than leisure.” This remains true for even the top earners.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 75
  • Now college- educated workers are twice as likely as their blue- collar counterparts to work more than forty hours a week.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 75
  • One solution is to take up a hobby that requires a lot of time.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 77
  • We have sacrificed quite a bit at the altar of hard work and long hours. We have traded our privacy, our communities, our hobbies, and our peace of mind for habits that are more commercially profitable. The overriding question is this: Is it worth it? For the past few decades, our answer has been yes, but it may be time to think again.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 77
  • The quest for achieving peak productivity is now akin to a religion, one consisting of high priests (time management gurus, life hack specialists, productivity coaches, headlining management professionals), various teachings (apps, tools, approaches, methods, reminders, workstation re- designs, forms of discipline), and millions of willing aspirants (early adopters, workshop participants, testifiers, devotees). A search for “how to be more productive” yields, at present count, 40,900,000 results.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 78
  • —ANDREW TAGGART
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 78
  • We now believe it’s possible and even laudable to be constantly improving and tweaking and changing. Not in the long term, mind you, but on a daily basis. We make checklists for our eating and our exercise and our meditation. We create digital reminders to write in our journals or read a book.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 81
  • But, as with technology, the problem is not in the tool but in its overuse. Improvement is healthy, but not every moment of your day should be leveraged in an attempt to make you a better person. If you’re searching for the fastest way to learn guitar because you also have to squeeze in yoga and keto cooking recipes and homemade charcoal facial peels, you have left no time to simply be the person you are. You are leaving no space for rest and contentment.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 81
  • In 2016, the self- help industry was worth nearly $ 10 billion in the United States alone. By 2022, it’s expected to be worth more than $ 13 billion. Many people believe their lives, minds, and bodies can be hacked, tinkered with, and improved in a never- ending search for peak productivity.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 82
  • We want the fastest, most efficient method for reaching our goals, hopefully guaranteed by as many five- star reviews as possible.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 82
  • A study out of Princeton and UCLA also found that even when the computer is used only to take notes, it’s still inferior to writing in longhand when it comes to comprehension and retention.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 83
  • But we have been convinced through more than two hundred years of propaganda that inactivity is the same as laziness, and that leisure is a shameful waste of time.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 85
  • There seems to have been a realization among employers that they couldn’t win a direct fight, so they used more subtle tactics learned during World War I. Employers realized they could borrow strategies from the War Department in order to motivate the production line.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 85
  • Edward Bernays would later say he learned an invaluable lesson while at the CPI office: The tactics he’d used during war “could be applied with equal facility to peacetime pursuits. In other words, what could be done for a nation at war could be done for organizations and people in a nation at peace.” This slight man with his dark, sunken eyes, high forehead, and generous mustache is probably not familiar to most people today, but he changed our lives irrevocably.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 85
  • “Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country,” Bernays wrote. “In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons… who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses.”
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 86
  • One time- use expert told Juliet Schor, “We have become walking résumés. If you’re not doing something, you’re not creating and defining who you are.”
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 87
  • Social media has fed this obsession with performative busyness. I say “performative” because sometimes the purpose of an activity seems to be solely to take pictures and post them or write about the experience in a blog post.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 88
  • The point is, we engage in busyness that is mostly goal- oriented and designed to create a public persona, rather than hobbies that are merely intended to enrich our lives.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 91
  • The social psychologist Harry Triandis points out that when a culture is focused on individuals and not on communities, people tend to emphasize achievement over affiliation.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 91
  • Speed and efficiency are, by their nature, antithetical to introspection and intimacy.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 91
  • Scientists have found that in order to understand and empathize with other people, you must be capable of introspection.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 91
  • We are looking for faster and faster ways to reach our goals, and so the skills that require time and patience— the social skills— are eroding.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 91
  • Computers and smartphones added information overload to the mix, and a constant pressure to respond to others followed.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 92
  • In study after study, we’ve found that we are slower at completing tasks when we switch from one activity to another than we are when we simply repeat the same activity.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 95
  • The “latchkey crisis” became a national scandal in the United States. Voices in politics and the media shamed women who held full- time jobs, claiming their selfishness was endangering the well- being of an entire generation. Many workers responded by cutting back their hours or leaving their jobs entirely, and most of those workers were mothers.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 99
  • Women are expected to multitask, a habit that increases stress and is ultimately damaging to a person’s cognitive abilities.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 108
  • It’s not that our habits and strategies and “leaning in” are wrong, but that we tend to lose sight of what we’re trying to achieve and simply focus on getting through our to- do lists. We are proud not of the ultimate goals we attain, but of how hard we are on ourselves and how many tasks we can accomplish in a single day.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 109
  • So, my advice to women is this: Be kinder to yourself. Working longer hours is not likely to bring you significant bumps in pay, but it will take a toll on your well- being.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 110
  • No, no, I quickly responded, laziness is not the same as idleness. We’ve simply become too attached to work, I explained, too addicted to working, and we need to balance our lives out with a little idle activity like sitting on porches or chatting with neighbors.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 111
  • Emerson said that “beauty is its own excuse for being,” but that’s not true of labor. Labor needs a reason.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 121
  • Similarly, studies of brain activity show that face- to- face interaction is more likely to activate the part of the brain associated with mentalizing, or imagining the thoughts and emotions of another person. Mentalizing is the neural basis for empathy, and it’s an ability that scientists believe is fairly unique to humankind.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 138
  • Translation: If you think you’re hearing someone speak to you, the part of your brain associated with empathy perks up, and you are more likely to feel compassionate toward that person.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 138
  • Humans communicate best through the voice, so cutting back on emails and texts will help reduce stress.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 139
  • We are a social species and we need each other. The primatologist Frans de Waal told me this: “Without a group, survival is hard, which is why belonging to a group is such a priority for all animals. They will do anything to fit in and not be ostracized, which is about as bad as getting killed.” To our animal brains, social isolation equates to increased risk of death.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 140
  • Empathy in service of belonging may be the underpinning of our basic moral code. You’ll find a version of the golden rule in almost every major religion in history: Do unto others as you’d have them do to you.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 143
  • Remember that our empathy is not stirred by emails and text messages as strongly as it is by hearing another voice.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 145
  • It certainly makes sense that a species that survives through cooperation would need rules in order to govern behavior.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 146
  • We have centuries of evolution urging us to follow social norms. Some people resist that urge, but most don’t.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 146
  • This is clearly practical knowledge, since it means that it is both natural and healthy to establish boundaries and limits and to create structures.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 146
  • These are the essential qualities of a human being: social skills and language, a need to belong that fosters empathy, rule-making, music, and play. We excel at these things, and we need them in order to be healthy.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 147
  • Current teenagers are spending significantly less time with friends than teens in the twentieth century.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 148
  • We have already received warnings that this trend is connected to a rise in loneliness and depression.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 148
  • Loneliness and social isolation increase a person’s risk of death by 25 to 30 percent.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 149
  • years, we have stepped far away from human nature and tried to push ourselves further toward digital existence and isolation. This will hurt us in the long run if we can’t learn to limit our use of these tools. Not eliminate them, but accept reasonable limits.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 149
  • As for all those time-saving gizmos, many people grumble that these bits of wizardry chew up far too much of their days, whether they are mouldering in traffic, navigating robotic voice-messaging systems or scything away at email—sometimes all at once. —“WHY IS EVERYONE SO BUSY?” The Economist, December 2014
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 151
  • Perhaps the most significant cause of our overuse of technology is an underlying belief that digital methods are always superior to analog options.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 155
  • “The computer introduces a time frame in which the nanosecond is the primary temporal measurement,” writes the social theorist Jeremy Rifkin. “The nanosecond is a billionth of a second, and though it is possible to conceive theoretically of a nanosecond…it is not possible to experience it. Never before has time been organized at a speed beyond the realm of consciousness.”
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 156
  • The psychologist Daniel Kahneman has written extensively about the benefits of slowing our thought processes in order to access not just our intuitive and automatic conclusions, but our more reflective reasoning capacities. The more we understand about the brain, the more we realize that a slower pace can be beneficial.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 156
  • It turns out that slower breathing can improve your attention span, your decision making, and your cognitive function.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 156
  • Business communication sped up exponentially, and while that brought many benefits, it also altered our social expectations. Researchers at USC analyzed 16 billion emails and found that once you’ve hit send, you’re likely to get a response within two minutes, and most people reply in less than an hour.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 157
  • The message here is that if you’re looking at your device within two to three hours before bedtime, you could be screwing up your sleep cycle. Millions of years of evolution have trained our bodies to react to the rise and fall of the sun, and adapting away from that will not be a rapid process.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 158
  • Digital devices are having a massive effect on our social interaction. This is, to me, the most troubling and dangerous side effect of smartphone addiction.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 162
  • I was struck by a string of tweets sent by the author Joe Hill in 2018. He wrote: “The promise of social media is that it would connect people, but I think eleven years in, to me anyway, it’s clear it’s actually much better at dividing us and making us feel sad….I have made some great friends here and had some good—some amazing—conversations. But I’ve gradually become convinced that the net effect of social media isn’t much good for me.”
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 164
  • The former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris writes often and eloquently about the ways tech “hijacks our psychological vulnerabilities.” Among other things, many designers follow the slot machine model of driving interaction with apps. They create a system of variable rewards in which you sometimes get a reward for pulling the lever (refreshing your inbox or Twitter feed) and sometimes get nothing.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 166
  • “When we pull our phones out of our pocket, we’re playing a slot machine to see what notifications we got,” Harris writes. “When we swipe down our finger to scroll the Instagram feed, we’re playing a slot machine to see what photo comes next.” Experts have shown that people become addicted to slot machines three to four times faster than to other types of gambling, partly because of the uncertainty involved. It’s no wonder software designers would emulate that model.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 166
  • The addiction to tech is also driven by FOMO: the fear of missing out. FOMO combines widespread social anxiety with inherent human competitiveness and an existing addiction to social media. The final cocktail is a heady mix.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 167
  • In centuries past, our ability to remain alert to potential threats was often the difference between life and death. The urge to have the most current information is primal.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 168
  • As the clinical psychologist Anita Sanz wrote on Quora, there is a region in the brain that’s responsible for warning us when we’re not getting all the information we need or are being excluded from our community.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 168
  • “That specialized part of the brain,” she writes, “is a part of the limbic system, the amygdala, whose job it is to detect whether something could be a threat to our survival. Not having vital information or getting the impression that one is not a part of the ‘in’ group is enough for many individuals’ amygdalas to engage the stress or activation response or the ‘fight or flight’ response.”
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 168
  • As I alluded to earlier, though, taking in information rapidly is not conducive to reflection or reasoning. When we’re skimming through tiny tidbits of news while scanning social media, we’re only able to access our automatic and instinctive thought processes.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 168
  • But none of this—the addictive apps and the fear of missing out—would be quite as successful were it not for the existing emphasis on productivity and efficiency that started dominating lives in the nineteenth century.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 169
  • Your interactions take place at the workplace and are often about the workplace. If you’re laid off, you probably won’t see that person again. It’s rare that a work relationship gives you the same stability and acceptance as a connection you might make with someone who will still talk to you even when you take a new job.
  • Part I: The Cult of Efficiency | Page: 171
  • I was doing what I was told would make my life better: finding strategies to streamline my chores, using productivity journals, following a guaranteed exercise regime, and working very, very hard. I became more successful in my career, but that success was not accompanied by less stress and increased well-being. Instead, the more success I had, the more anxious I became.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 175
  • As we have become more efficient, we have also become more fragile. Consider the difference between the goal of efficiency—adaptation to an existing environment—and the goal of resilience—the ability to adapt to changes in one’s environment.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 176
  • An understanding of how our hours are spent is known as “time perception.” People who have little time perception spend more time watching TV or lingering on social media sites, and they often report feeling overwhelmed.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 178
  • On the other hand, people who have high time perception scores, who are very aware of their schedules, actually tend to set aside more time for leisure. These people allow for time to contemplate and reflect, and that gives them the sense that they have more time.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 179
  • Once you have a clear idea of how much you’re working, how many hours are devoted to social media, and how much time you spend on leisure, you can begin to ask yourself some important questions. For example, How much time do I want to spend on social media or email? Do I want to exercise every day? How much time should it take to eat dinner? Use the answers to these questions to create guidelines for yourself.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 181
  • The answer is, of course, peer pressure. I wanted to prove I was as important as my friends were. I wanted to demonstrate that I was in demand and I wanted to be part of the group. So I fell into some old habits. That’s why the next step to breaking the efficiency addiction is to stop comparing yourself to the other people in your life.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 186
  • In decades past, “keeping up with the Joneses” meant maintaining a standard of living that was comparable to your immediate community. That community was mostly made up of people who were making about the same salary you were and enjoying a relatively similar standard of living.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 187
  • Since we have quit having those barbecues and stopped attending Rotary Club meetings, we don’t compare ourselves to our neighbors and colleagues anymore. Instead, we measure ourselves against the Real Housewives of whatever city and the other people we see on TV or Instagram. As the sociologist Juliet Schor explains, we are now trying to keep up not with the Joneses but with the Kardashians.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 187
  • Comparing ourselves to the highest earners in the country has made us all feel poor and might be driving us to work harder and put in more hours in a futile attempt to create the lifestyle we think others have.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 188
  • To be fair, the human compulsion to compare ourselves to others is deeply ingrained and not unhelpful. It’s a by-product of our evolutionary need to fit into a group, to make sure we are not outsiders.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 188
  • All in all, this results in the creation of two types of unattainable ideals: one based on the lives of celebrities and public figures, the other based on distorted reality, incorrect assumptions, and misperceptions about the people we know. Striving to live up to these impossible ideals has led to a widespread crisis of perfectionism, especially among young people.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 189
  • Research shows that perfectionism has been increasing among college students since the 1980s. An emphasis on competitive individualism has driven this, especially in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada. Now, twenty-somethings are more demanding of themselves than ever and more demanding of others. They expect perfection and are far less forgiving of mistakes than previous generations.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 190
  • This perfectionism is a by-product of a society that is outwardly focused and constantly making comparisons. You might feel good about the dinner you make until you look on Instagram, or you may love a certain TV show until you see it being dragged by people on Twitter who claim that only an idiot would enjoy that show. Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, tells me that perfectionism has risen because “the home has been turned into part of the market.”
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 190
  • This self-inflicted pressure has a very high cost on the human mind and body. Unreasonably high standards and severe self-criticism are linked to high blood pressure, depression, eating disorders, and suicidal ideation. Therapists will tell you that you cannot both strive to be perfect and enjoy good mental health. They are mutually exclusive.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 191
  • That should be the new measure in most things: Is it good? Forget how it looks in photographs and ask yourself if you like it. Does it work? Instead of worrying about whether you stayed at the office longer than anyone else, focus on what tasks you accomplished and how well you completed them. Don’t look at your friends’ vacation photos and juxtapose them with your own. Instead, ask whether they enjoyed their time off.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 193
  • If you’re going to compare yourself to others, look only as far as your friends, family, and neighbors. Pardon the TLC quote, but don’t search for a waterfall, “stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to.”
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 194
  • Many people work extra hours in order to cover medical expenses or to pay high rent or inflated car insurance bills. Those are not issues that any individual can solve on their own. Therefore, part of the solution must be political.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 197
  • According to data from MIT, a living wage in my neighborhood is more than $22 an hour. The average salary for a restaurant worker, landscaper, or salesperson is half that, and they generally get no sick days or paid vacation time. Do we think that’s the kind of life our neighbors should lead? Is that the kind of life we want to lead? This is all part of a broader conversation we must have if we are to address the societal ills of overwork.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 198
  • If your goal is less stress and more happiness, years of scientific research have proven that rather than trading your time for money, it’s best to trade your money for time. In a study that gathered data from the United States, Canada, Denmark, and the Netherlands, researchers concluded that “buying time promotes happiness.” In other words, paying others to mow your lawn, clean your car or house, or do your laundry is a great use of your money, even if it means you can’t afford a bigger TV or an expensive vacation.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 198
  • Buying time leads to much higher levels of life satisfaction, whereas feeling short on time leads to poor sleep patterns, anxiety, and less happiness, and is even linked to obesity, because people who feel they’re too busy are less likely to exercise or eat well.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 199
  • Back in the 1920s, Henry Ford noticed that when his employees worked too much, their productivity sank and the number of errors skyrocketed. That’s why Ford decided to mandate an eight-hour day and a five-day week. “We know from our experience in changing from six to five days and back again that we can get at least as great production in five days as we can in six,” he said. “Just as the eight-hour day opened our way to prosperity, so the five-day week will open our way to a still greater prosperity.”
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 200
  • The human brain can accomplish incredible things when we give it the right environment in which to work. More and more, it’s clear that the ideal schedule is short bursts of very focused work, followed by regular breaks. Research shows that if you work without interruption for fifty to fifty-seven minutes, then take a short break, you’ll get much more done, and because you’re more likely to engage the executive part of your brain while using this schedule, your work may be more insightful and creative.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 202
  • When you have fewer hours available to you, you automatically focus on the task at hand and ignore what’s irrelevant.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 203
  • Test this for yourself, like I did. Simply note the time when you start working, focus on one task at a time, and stop working when you become distracted or restless. Note that time down and keep track of your hours for a couple weeks. This process was illuminating for me and followed the current research on human attention spans almost perfectly.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 203
  • The best students were not just hyperaware of how much time they spent in the practice room, though. They were also very accurate when estimating how much time they spent relaxing or socializing. They were mindful of how they spent their time overall, and they balanced work with regular periods of rest. They were intentional in their practice and in their idleness.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 206
  • ONCE I REALIZED THAT I’d modeled my life after my workplace, I was dismayed to see how many of my choices were influenced by the corporate emphasis on efficiency. I saw it everywhere I looked.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 209
  • For me, the next step was to address my addiction to multitasking. Not just address it, but end it. Trying to do several things at once instead of taking advantage of the brain’s natural inclination to pulse between focus and rest is a waste of fertile brainpower.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 209
  • If you silence your phone, close your inbox, and really focus on getting a report done, research shows you’ll finish 40 percent faster, have fewer errors, and have plenty of time to take a short walk around the building and let your brain relax.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 210
  • The default mode network, or DMN, becomes active when we allow our minds to wander. When the DMN is engaged, it works on our memories, putting past events into context and making moral evaluations about things that have happened. It also imagines the future, tries to understand the emotions of others, and reflects on our own emotions and decisions. The default network is crucial for empathy, for self-reflection, and for Theory of Mind, the ability to imagine what others may be thinking.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 211
  • The work calls can, and do, wait. I have even started setting aside one day per week as an “untouchable day,” when I don’t look at my email inbox or social media and simply go about my day without interruption.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 212
  • We are, however, designed to relate with other people and form intimate bonds with friends and family. While work is a tool used to gain other necessary things, belongingness is a fundamental need. That’s why it’s important to also set aside time to be social.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 215
  • IT’S OKAY TO FOCUS on yourself, to reflect on what you need, to invest in your future. It’s equally important to spend time strengthening your community.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 216
  • “The more power you give a single individual in the face of complexity and uncertainty, the more likely it is that bad decisions will get made.”
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 222
  • Here’s the bottom line: The average of answers from a large, independent, and diverse group of people will often be more accurate than the answer arrived at by a smart individual or a small group of smart people. In our culture, which focuses on personal achievement and sometimes worships charismatic individuals like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, this advice can seem counterintuitive, but it’s backed by decades and decades of evidence from a wide variety of industries.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 223
  • It turns out, we are most likely to be unkind when we overthink things and get wrapped up in our own thoughts, our own issues. Since self-absorption is a global phenomenon at this point, it can be useful to intentionally break that pattern and reestablish habitual kindness.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 224
  • Imagine this: You’re in the drive-through getting lunch and you decide to pay for the person behind you as well. That means they are more likely to pay for the person behind them. It also means that you’re all helping each other to break away from a cultural emphasis on individual needs and ultimately reengage your instinctive (and kind) human nature. That’s a pretty big bang for your buck.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 226
  • The truth is, productivity is a by-product of a functional system, not a goal in and of itself. The question is not whether you are productive but what you are producing.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 228
  • It’s important to ensure your choices are really helping you progress as you want them to. Will your promotion bring you the power you need or not? Before you invest a lot of hours in pursuing that new position, make sure it’s worth it.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 229
  • Many of us become obsessed with means goals and completely lose sight of the more important end goal that should motivate all our efforts: living a good life. Why sacrifice your mental and physical health for something that may not help you and, in fact, takes you further from your ultimate ambition?
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 229
  • As I said, end goals are often directions instead of destinations. They are not usually items you can include in a checklist or bullet journal.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 231
  • Focusing on ends rather than means is helpful because it leads us to find creative solutions to problems (if not this way, then another way). It also can reduce stress, because it embraces failure and welcomes flexibility.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 231
  • If you fail to meet a means goal, there are usually dozens of other methods to reach your overriding objective. Failing is itself a productive method to reach your broader aim through a process of elimination. Thomas Edison famously said that he never failed but “found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 231
  • So your challenge is to articulate your end goals, knowing that they may change as time passes. Why are you going to college? To earn a degree, but why do you want a degree? In order to get a good job, and why do you want that? You can use a version of Sakichi Toyota’s “Five Whys.” Keep asking yourself why until you ultimately arrive at your fundamental objective.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 231
  • Choosing means goals in haste can waste a vast amount of time. You solve this problem by starting on the other end of the spectrum. Articulate your end goals and then choose smaller, specific goals that you are reasonably sure will bring you closer to the bigger objective. Check in frequently to make sure your habits truly are helping you make progress.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 232
  • So here is the complete list of solutions, all designed to break your addiction to efficiency without purpose and productivity with production. Increase time perception. Create your ideal schedule. Stop comparing at a distance. Work fewer hours. Schedule leisure.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 233
  • Schedule social time. Work in teams. Commit small, selfless acts. Focus on ends, not means.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 233
  • Most things are good for you only up to the point where they become oppressive and overwhelming. I certainly don’t recommend that you turn this list into another productivity hack that causes further stress.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 233
  • Stop trading time for money. The simple act of placing a value on an hour has made us loath to waste even a minute, and the more money you have, the more expensive your time is and the more you feel you don’t have enough time to spare. Our perception of time is now horribly warped.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 234
  • Do not let corporate values determine how you spend your days and what your priorities are. You are a big-brained, social animal who’s currently constrained by unrealistic demands and expectations. Your vision has been narrowly focused for too long on your work and your marketability, but your intrinsic value as a human is more related to your position in your community than to your earning power as a laborer.
  • Part II: Leaving the Cult—How to Go from Life Hack to Life Back | Page: 234
  • However, we have stagnated in many areas and even lost ground in measures like infant mortality, income equality, and environmental safety. Our effort to institutionalize progress, to turn it into a metric and measure it, is now interfering with our ability to create it. Human innovation and invention, it turns out, can’t be weighed and dissected and forced.
  • Conclusion | Page: 238
  • Historians have noted that the specter of the “self-made man” served an important capitalist purpose: It allowed those in power to control the narrative that motivated workers.
  • Conclusion | Page: 240
  • Therefore, fear of judgment compelled many people to put in more and more hours so they might be deemed “deserving.” The self-made-man fairy tale is part of a shaming culture.
  • Conclusion | Page: 240
  • While it may feel that the forces that have brought us to this era of distraction—time pressure, intense productivity, and obsessive efficiency—are too strong and pervasive to be countered, the truth is that the demand for long hours and forced productivity is relatively recent. The past two hundred years are a mere blink in the long stare of our species’ evolution. We can choose to return to a style of living that’s more likely to help us thrive.
  • Conclusion | Page: 241
  • We can develop new habits that better suit our innate need to belong, our thirst for companionship, and our ability to imagine incredible things through a focused mind.
  • Conclusion | Page: 242
  • Human beings are social animals who are at their best when they connect with one another. Collaboration is our superpower. Perhaps we can create a culture in which relationships are prioritized instead of productivity. Human beings have a great capacity for joy. I would love to see us make joy a goal.
  • Conclusion | Page: 242
  • But in the end, this isn’t really about me. It wasn’t my choices, ultimately, that overloaded my schedule. It was the hard-work culture that made me believe I was lazy if I stopped working for even short periods of time. So the solution cannot come from my choices but from a collective choice to change the paradigm.
  • Conclusion | Page: 243