While it’s easy to berate yourself for not using every moment at home productively during the pandemic, one professor believes we need to get over this guilt for what’s been wrongly labeled as “laziness.”
Devon Price, author of “Laziness Does Not Exist” and a professor at Loyola University of Chicago’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies, told CNBC on a video call that many people feel this guilt while at home amid the current coronavirus public health restrictions because of “psychological anchoring.”
Humans are unable to be fully objective and therefore use external cues as an “anchor” to help us gauge whether we are spending our time well enough, the professor explained.
This can lead people to think that every moment stuck at home in lockdown could be spent working, said Price, when a normal day outside the pandemic would be more broken up by commuting, speaking to colleagues between meetings in the office or running errands, for example.
So there would usually be more time “bleeding out,” but Price said this is a good thing.
In fact, despite people feeling like they’re doing less working from home, Price said studies have actually shown a rise in productivity amid the pandemic.
A study published September, commissioned by British telecommunications company Talk Talk, found nearly three in five of the 1,250 U.K. workers surveyed said their productivity had gone up since working from home in lockdown. There have also been a number of studies showing that people have been putting in more hours working remotely this past year.
So why do we continue to beat ourselves up?
In the book, Price said that even prior to the pandemic people had convinced themselves that “having limitations makes us ‘lazy’ — and that laziness is always a bad thing.”
It was only after Price suffered a bout of flu which developed into anemia and a heart murmur from continuing to work hard through the illness, that the professor realized their own “struggles were part of a much bigger social epidemic” — the “laziness lie.”
Price explained that this is a “deep-seated, culturally-held belief system” which has caused people to believe that they are inherently lazy and must work hard to overcome this tendency.
It has also led people to tie their self-worth to their productivity and believe that “work is the center of life.”
However, through Price’s own experience of becoming more ill through overexertion, they learned that feelings of so-called laziness are “often actually a powerful self-preservation instinct.”
“There is no morally corrupt, slothful force inside us, driving us to be unproductive for no reason,” Price said.
“It’s not evil to have limitations and to need breaks,” Price added.
In fact, that instinct to take a break and rest are a “core part of how we stay alive and thrive in the long term,” according to Price.
Indeed, British actor Stephen Fry recently sent a message to local school staff in his home county of Norfolk, urging them not to “fall into the trap of thinking that you’re somehow ‘failing’ or ‘getting lockdown wrong’.”
For some, he said social media posts showing people “baking and exercising” in lockdown, could “make one feel inadequate.”
Fry, who said he was re-watching old TV shows and reading historical novels in lockdown, encouraged people to let themselves “off the hook” during this time.
In Price’s book, they highlighted one prime example which can often be misinterpreted in the workplace as laziness, which is known as “cyberloafing.”
This is when people scroll through social media or browse-shop online, particularly in between big tasks at work.
“Research suggests that people tend to cyberloaf as a way to relax and reinvigorate their brains, which is essentially the same reason why employees do things like chat over the watercooler or futz around in the supply closet looking for a pen they don’t really need,” Price explained.
Price said that after one of their graduate students delved deeper into this trend, they found research showing workers became “more productive and focused” after a cyberloafing session, as well as coming up with “more unique solutions to work problems.”
Price also suggested that this kind of mental refresh is just as inevitable and essential as other kinds of activities which employers might view as “wasting time,” like making cups of tea or chatting to co-workers. Instead of viewing it as a “theft” of company time, they proposed reframing it as a way of “coming up for air.”
In a similar vein, Price highlighted how periods of mental inactivity can help creativity. That phenomena when good ideas come to us when we stop trying to think of them is known as the “incubation period,” Price said.