We can’t track knowledge work the way we did factory work.
Production-line metrics aren’t useful for a lot of the work that requires only your mind. The language is wrong. The whole paradigm is wrong. Knowledge work is much more about the quality of the thinking than the quantity of the output.
Professional runners have to rest their leg muscles. Carpenters have to rest the muscles in their hands. If the primary muscle you use to do your job is your brain, you need to learn how to rest it, too. For the knowledge worker, that means large chunks of unstructured time spent doing nothing.
That’s right, nothing. Not reading Twitter, listening to a podcast or texting with your customers. I’m talking about the kind of nothing where the brain finally gets to relax. Sitting still, taking a nap, riding a bike. That kind of nothing.
The problem with this completely reasonable idea is that we live in an unreasonable world. People wear “busy” like a badge of honor. It almost feels like a cult.
Here’s a secret: Some of the most successful creative workers I know appear way more lazy than busy, at least at first glance. Meanwhile, I have other busy friends who are getting burned out from the 24/7 grind.
We need to rethink the paradigm.
For knowledge workers, large chunks of unstructured time are not rewards for doing good work — they’re prerequisites for it.
So take the “busy” badge, throw it in the trash and replace it with one that says “rested.”
And after you do, don’t go post about it on Twitter. Step outside, lie down in the grass and look at the clouds. And don’t get up until you’re good and ready.
Carl Richards is a certified financial planner and author of “The Behavior Gap.” His sketches and essays appear regularly. Twitter: @behaviorgap
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.