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Long Hours and Laziness

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Sometimes we work long hours because we are lazy. It's counterintuitive but, I suspect, true. I'm speaking as a WEIRD man with young children and a desk job, so this may well have nothing to say to people in other demographics, but there are at least three factors that can contribute to laziness at work expressing itself in longer, rather than shorter, working hours. I can see elements of all of them in my own life.

One: laziness can manifest itself as distraction, which makes us inefficient, which means we have to work for longer. Instead of remaining focused on the task at hand, we flit, we procrastinate, we have unnecessarily lengthy discussions about things that could be resolved quickly, we toggle across to email or news or social media screens more than we should, we chat, we do personal administration—and all of these things mean the actual work we are paid to do takes longer. But there is a badge of honour to working long hours. We can tell people about it, and ostentatiously send emails after we know everyone has left, and huff and puff about how tired we are. So given the choice between working efficiently for eight hours, and working inefficiently for eleven, many of us will choose the latter out of laziness.

Two: laziness can manifest itself as busyness, which makes us do more than we should, which means we have to work for longer. This is Eugene Peterson’s point in his excellent The Contemplative Pastor: I am busy because I am lazy, he says. Instead of making active decisions about what I will and will not do, I become passive, reactive. I let others set my agenda for me rather than doing it myself, either because I am disorganised, or because I am fearful of confrontation. Laziness in priority-setting manifests itself as busyness, as I get pulled from pillar to post by the expectations of others, and have to work extra hours to get it all done.

Three: laziness can manifest itself as avoidance of genuinely hard work in favour of work which looks difficult but is actually easier. The classic example here is parenting. I doubt I am the only man in the world who battles the temptation to stay late at work, at least partly because it is an environment in which I am in charge and control my work flow. I have a desk, a phone, some space, a PC, and a level of autonomy over what I do next. As soon as I get home, however, those privileges disappear, to be replaced by privileges which are a great deal noisier, messier, less obedient and more demanding than my computer. When I feel tired, my flesh wants to work more and parent less, which turns into longer hours in the office. I need to fight that desire, and I do, but it’s there all the same.

None of which means that all people who work long hours are lazy, or even that when I do, I am. Nor is it to say that people should only ever work X hours, or anything like that. I trust nobody reading this is going to draw prescriptive conclusions from a descriptive piece like this. It is simply to say that laziness doesn’t always manifest itself in the classic Proverbs way: “a little slumber, a little sleep, a little folding of the hands to rest.” A person can work short days and still be diligent. A person can work long days and still be lazy. As always, brothers and sisters, we need to guard our hearts, pursue genuine diligence—and work as to the Lord.

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