Do you have enough slack time in your day?

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This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a blog post about the value of getting enough slack time…

Many people who are self-employed believe work should involve no slack time. If an hour isn’t billable, it’s a lost opportunity — or a source of shame. Instead of relaxing and enjoying some time to read, think and imagine we describe ourselves as “lazy” or “lacking in initiative.”

A recent post on the always-thoughtful Farnam Street blog, addresses the value of having enough slack time. Without enough slack time, the post says, “we know we won’t be able to get through new tasks straight away, and if someone insists we should, we have to drop whatever we were previously doing.”

But here is the kicker: “Having a little bit of wiggle room allows us to respond to changing circumstances, to experiment, and to do things that might not work. ”

Although I am a demon for being efficient and effective, I agree with Farnam Street that a certain amount of slack time is essential and not having enough of it is taxing.

Slack gives us more room to move. If every hour in our schedules is already accounted for, we don’t have the time to slow down to recover from a minor challenges like fixing a piece of software that suddenly stops working or finding a missing document.

Too much slack, of course, is bad because it leads to waste. But, more often, the absence of slack is much more of a problem. As the post puts it: “If you give yourself too much slack time when scheduling a project that goes smoother than expected, you probably won’t spend the spare time sitting like a lemon. Maybe you’ll recuperate from an earlier project that took more effort than anticipated. Maybe you’ll tinker with some on-hold projects. Maybe you’ll be able to review why this one went well and derive lessons for the future. And maybe slack time is just your reward for doing a good job already! You deserve breathing room.”

Psychologist Amos Tversky said the secret to doing good research is to always be a little underemployed. That’s because you waste years by spending too much time on the wrong question. Instead, waste a few hours, to make sure you’re asking the rights ones.

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