What Is The Value Of Inefficiency?

Everyone wants to be productive. Our jobs demand it, our busy lives require it, and our brains crave constant stimulation. But is there a value to wasting time? Of inefficiency?

Generally, different people use different methods to maximize their time spent on things. To-do lists. Productivity software. Comprehensive calendars.

If we feel overworked, that might stress us out, so our solution is to try and maximize our daily routine. Perhaps you can shave a few minutes off of making breakfast. Showering at the gym might save some time. Listening to audio books or podcasts during your commute allows you to make better use of wasted time.

However, there is some value to unstructured time. Having a tightly-packed schedule where every minute is accounted for is subject to disruption. An unexpected event can throw an entire day into chaos.

Beyond that, there is some indication that proper functioning of the brain requires some down time. After all, what is our need for sleep if it is not inefficient? For roughly eight hours each night we lie still in the dark, as our brains, through dreams, process events from the day or worries we might have. That’s not very good use of time!

Our higher-level, strategic thinking is not something that can be done while running errands or performing routine tasks. For that, you need to devote time to thinking. And sitting and thinking doesn’t appear, from the outside, to be very productive.

In addition, people need to have some time that is spent just relaxing. Just as a muscle can only work for so long before it needs to rest, our brains need breaks occasionally to function properly.

What is the proper balance between thinking and doing? Between productivity and relaxation? What is the value of inefficiency?

Related questions: Why do people like games? How important is the repetition in our lives? How do you set priorities? Are we too busy?

Are We Too Busy?

This question is inspired by some of the feedback we got to last week’s question How Can You Help? Several people commented on how busy they are, and how time spent thinking about our questions and/or composing a thoughtful response is time that is taken away from other activities.

This is certainly a valid point. But it brings to mind another question: Why are we so busy? Over the last century or so, a growing number of devices have been introduced into our society that are supposedly “labor-saving” devices, like the electric vacuum cleaner or the automated dishwasher. But as we have access to more and more of these labor-saving devices, what is happening to all the hours the supposedly being saved?

Moreover, the Internet, and our ability to communicate much more easily with people all around the world, has shortened the day. 24-hour news channels have increased the amount of news available to us, while providing less and less time to process and make sense of that information.

But it may be possible to become accustomed to a world swamped with information and expectations. Our brains may be flexible enough to adapt to whatever demands our modern world places upon them.

So which is it? Are we too busy? Or are we just busy enough? Can we handle even more? If we are too busy, what can we do about it?

Related questions: What is time? What are our responsibilities to others? What is important? How have we changed?