As the first-born child of immigrants, I remember my parents’ busy schedules, especially my dad who owned a retail business. He worked six days a week including weekends. Summers were his busiest season, so we could only manage a family vacation for a few days each year. As a joke, he would say that his watch stopped working when he wasn’t working. His humorous quips about the watch not working stuck with me, and to this day I often feel like I need to work hard in order to deserve a break.
On a recent Saturday, I was sitting on the sofa watching TV. My husband came back from running an errand and I immediately jumped up and started tidying up our messy living room. He just looked at me and said, “Just sit and take a break. It’s OK.” Something about that phrase hit me hard. I know we all need rest, but if you haven’t exerted yourself, aren’t you just being lazy?
I’ve been mulling this over for a while – the idea of “laziness” and its counterpart “productivity.” Even on my weekends, I want to be productive. For example, I often feel compelled to fill my time with something productive such as exercising or cleaning, in order to feel like I have “earned” a break. But why do I feel guilty for not being productive if I enjoy my downtime? Is the pressure to be productive coming from within me or from the outside world (or both)? These are questions I need to answer in order to better understand my relationship with productivity and laziness.
Turns out I’m not alone in both these thoughts and this exploration. Devon Price, Ph.D., dives deep into the origin story of laziness in his book, Laziness Does Not Exist. The book explores Americans’ relationship with laziness starting with life with the Puritans, who saw laziness as a sin. Price travels down our collective history by citing economic systems that benefitted from hyper productivity (i.e. slavery and industrialism). Years removed from these systems, the idea that laziness is a moral failure still permeates our culture today. As we push ourselves to do more, he argues that we may actually be less productive, and more stressed.
While logically I know that rest is valuable, I couldn’t seem to wrap my mind around the idea that rest was just as important as work. I’ve always seen rest as a reward. As my task list increases, could proactively scheduling rest increase my productivity? I watched an interview with author Marilyn Paul as she discussed her book, An Oasis in Time: How a Day of Rest Can Save Your Life. While Devon Price traced laziness back to the Puritan Christians, Paul harkened back to the 10 Commandments citing the Sabbath, or “day of rest.” As a self-proclaimed workaholic, Paul explained that she felt that she was simply too busy to rest. As she started studying productivity, she noticed that the more time she spent working late her work quality suffered. I feel like someone’s been reading my diary! Paul talked about the ancient wisdom that required people to stop, slow down, and have a scheduled rest day. Later, she even talked about the benefit of one hour a day of rest.
Many of us in the AEC industry are still wading through a post-pandemic economic boom. As we search for new talent, many of us are juggling several projects and despite the hopes of “quiet quitting” we work past 5 p.m. Resting for an hour a day seems like an impossible task. The first hurdle could be acknowledging the “laziness lie” that Devon Price talked about. Laziness isn’t a thing! Rest does not need to be earned, nor is it only required to avoid burn out. No matter what your firm culture, you can embrace the self-talk of the “lazy lie” mindset.
Next, this may sound silly, but scheduling rest is vital. Many religions do this naturally on a specific day each week. If this isn’t your practice, find a time where rest is on the books versus shoehorned into your schedule. During this time, you can connect with nature, enjoy solitude, or bond with your family. Seems that every expert agrees that two hours of mindless screen time doesn’t count.
I can’t end my exploration without looking upward at our management. Can you help employees create boundaries to prevent burnout and ultimately raise productivity? For starters, you can practice what you preach by eliminating any off-hours communications (even if that is your time to work). Set that delayed delivery for emails! If you are receiving emails late at night and on the weekends, refrain from responding. The “volley” that happens can be hard to stop. Finally, as managers, you can identify who is at risk of overwork. Like the antithesis of the boss in Office Space, you can help schedule “down time” for your overworked employees. Help them by reminding them that if they worked a long week due to a deadline or a conference, they must schedule rest to recharge their minds and spirit. Even discussing this concept of laziness can be a great starting point.
I am the first to admit that it’s hard to shake off the feeling of being lazy. In the spirit of honesty, I’m sharing what I will be working on. One, remembering the laziness lie. There is no moral failure to rest. And rest can happen before, during, and after activity. Next is to model that to my own family. My sons are finishing milestone academic years (first year of middle school and senior year of high school). I encourage them to embrace downtime, sleep, and play with friends. My task now is to practice what I preach. I’m starting by scheduling rest this weekend, even with a pile of laundry staring me in the face.
Janki DePalma, LEED AP, CPSM, is a senior associate and director of business development at Kirksey Architecture. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.