Book Review: Do Nothing by Celeste Headlee

We are members of the cult of efficiency, and we’re killing ourselves with productivity. … Far too many of us have been lured into the cult of efficiency. We are driven, but we long ago lost sight of what we were driving toward. We judge our days based on how efficient they are, not how fulfilling. … 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. But they’re wrong. The efficiency is an illusion. They believe they’re being efficient when they’re actually wasting time.

Celeste Headlee, Do Nothing
Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving

For years, I often wondered why I was required to be in the office for 40 hours when I really only needed 20-30 because I built in automation within my workflow to spend less time doing things. I often wondered if this was the result of the old time bosses and leaders in my local area. Another thing I always wondered was why people would want to work more and more hours when studies show that extra hours do not translate into more productive work. Good news, it’s not just my local area. Bad news, is across the country and in may parts of the world.

While it’s true in theory that employers appreciate getting things done quickly, they often do not in practice. Keep in mind the “time is money” principle. It’s incredibly difficult to evaluate a worker based on subjective measures like quality, innovation, or creative problem-solving. But it’s simple and easy to record how many hours a worker spends on the job and whether tasks are completed on time. Quality of work is rarely measurable, but hours of work are.

Celeste Headlee, Do Nothing

Often times I see promotions given to the person with the most grass growing under their seat rather than the person who completes more work in less time. Rather than completely work ASAP, I instituted a new personal rule/response to requests. I simply say, “Sure I can get that done for you either later today or tomorrow.” Nobody has yelled, screamed, or questioned. Try it!

We don’t seem to trust our human instincts. When we’re faced with a difficult problem, we search for the right tech, the right tool, and the right system that will solve the issue: bulletproof coffee, punishing exercise, paleo diets, goal-tracking journals, productivity apps. We think our carefully designed strategies and gadgets will make us better.

Celeste Headlee, Do Nothing

With a kind but firm tone, Celeste outlines how the modern day work schedule evolved and our current standard of being ” so busy” is basically a bunch of BS topped with BS with a side of supersized BS. Often we find ourselves around others trying to flex that “I’m so busy” muscle as though it’s some badge of honor. I got sucked into that way too. At an early age I was told work hard, work a lot, and you will be successful. But nobody defines successful as becoming diabetic because you did not care enough to fuel your body properly. Nobody defines successful as living in a huge house with nobody to enjoy it with you because you are “too busy” to have friends. Nobody defines successful as developing high blood pressure. Nobody defines successful as having a massive amount of consumer debt. If nobody defines success as developing high blood pressure or diabetes, then why are we a culture of using busy as benchmark for success?

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. Our habits can change because it hasn’t been all that long since we started following them.

Celeste Headlee, Do Nothing

If you haven’t started to question everything in life after living through the first half of 2020, then maybe you need to start with Mark Manson‘s Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope. Because after reading that book you would have started to question why and who in society is telling you to keep on being busy without rest.

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.

Celeste Headlee, Do Nothing

There are many nuggets of wisdom and advice. If I read this book before I started my minimalist, decluttered, no shopping, 2020 Slow Theme journey, I probably would have said what on earth does Celeste Headlee know. With a response that she doesn’t know anything. Yet here is the proof that we as a society are working too much.

In an op-ed that protests against the unhealthy work ethic of Silicon Valley, Daniel Heinemeier Hansson points out that Charles Darwin worked only four hours a day and Kobe Bryant put in only six hours a day during the off-season. 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.”

Celeste Headlee, Do Nothing

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Do Nothing by Celeste Headlee

  1. I will have to check out this book. Too often the business world focuses on input instead of output. I read a book years ago that talked about “corporate braggers” – the people who constantly brag about how many hours they put in. I would always think that I got as much done in 8 hours as they did in 12 because I didn’t waste time telling everyone how hard I was working.

    Liked by 1 person

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