What Some People Call Idleness Is Often the Best Investment
In his essay “In Praise of Idleness”, Bertrand Russell suggested that the working day should be reduced from eight hours to just four. Russell’s intention was not to boost productivity during those four hours (he distrusted efficiency). No, he wanted half as much work to be done and more leisure to be enjoyed. “There will be happiness and joy,” he suggested, “instead of frayed nerves, weariness and dyspepsia.”
Russell’s theory, ironically, holds much better as professional advice than as moral philosophy. He wanted people to work less because work was bad for them. I would argue we should work less because it will make us achieve more. He would be horrified at his idea being recast by the enemy, but his injunction “work less” should be embraced enthusiastically by managers, coaches and businessmen who are trying to get the best out of their charges.
The cult of busyness
Experience tells me that excessive hard work is counterproductive. When I was a professional cricketer, before each season - just before the team got together as a group - I would block out a few consecutive days and dedicate them entirely to practising batting. My only goal was to become a better player, to develop new skills. This wasn’t the humdrum practice that happens throughout the season. This was my selfish time: it was as close as my cricket practice got to a creative exercise.
Which days ended with me batting significantly better than I started out? The best days followed the same pattern - an intense morning session, around two and a half hours long, followed by a shorter, lighter afternoon session, perhaps lasting an hour or 90 minutes. In total, then, I would do about four hours, just as Russell wanted.