Businessman overwhelmed by paperwork

The secret to a smart life is never wasting time in work or in play. Which is a pity, because the modern office is a psychological experiment designed to make you waste both simultaneously: you have to stay in place for a certain amount of time (not a certain amount of work), you can do what you like as long as it looks like work, and you have a computer. It couldn’t be better built to force you into the Internet if it was that machine from TRON.

The Internet isn’t inherently evil or soul-sucking — intelligent computers designed to kill us aren’t scheduled until an alternative 2001 where we fly to Jupiter — and it’s absolutely stuffed with useful sites. Like this one, and all the others we spend most of our time finding for you. There are also incredibly entertaining games and videos (though they take some finding among the flash garbage and YouTube idiots), but you don’t want to be caught loading those. The net effect is millions of man-hours forced into meaningless drivel.

You know what we’re talking about: those awful times where you look at the lower-right clock and discover it’s half-past-you’ve-done-nothing-all-day. The times you were meant to be working but just didn’t feel like it. You couldn’t do something else and be refreshed to work properly, so you poured yourself into Facebook for several utterly irreplaceable hours. Where brain-drain prevents you from working properly, but guilt or fear of discovery prevents you from playing properly.

This has to stop!

We’re not worried about work ethic or employment efficiency (anyone who’s even smelled some research on work psychology understands that nine-to-five is the worst thing to happen to effective work since having your hands chopped off). The problem is it isn’t even real play; you end up as exhausted as you were before and you’re annoyed at the waste of time. Tabbing through things you don’t really care about is stasis, not succor, merely delaying your failure instead of recharging you to succeed.

So we’ve compiled some sharp, sensible, and subterfuge-capable strategies which allow you to really get things done, even when your brain would rather mail itself to Tijuana and live in a jar (of tequila).

1. Text Books

Don’t worry, no school flashbacks here, though this strategy can contribute to your education as well as your entertainment. Project Gutenberg shares a truly staggering array of free books in text form, and that’s “staggering” in both quantity and quality. You will not believe how many amazingly famous books (you know, the ones you meant to read “someday”) you can legally download for free and read in a Notepad window, making them utterly indistinguishable from real work communications to just about everyone.

Scribd shares everything else, providing the common crowdsourcing crowd with a constant stream of free material. Feel free to pan for nuggets of gold before arriving for the day.

2. Writing

Approximately everybody has thought of writing and almost that many people suppress the urge on the grounds that they might suck. So far, so sensible, but what if you could get paid while you write?

What if you worked in an office where you were, in fact, expected to be writing at your keyboard, where some utterly unrestricted creative activity might invigorate your mind to benefit both yourself and your day job (which you’ll return to refreshed later that day)?

It’s just a thought.

3. Work on your workday

It’s impossible to overstress how much time and effort proper planning can save in any project, and your workday is the same. There’s always some scut work, some scrubbing-of-the-decks, mindless textual/formatting/whatever labor you know you’ll have to do. Instead of wasting your energetic time powering through it in a blaze of “I’ll get this finished NOW!” (a great feeling to have), why not use that same inner fire to blast through all the hardest parts of different tasks? Then, save the brainless and boring stages for when you’re brainless and bored?

This is the most difficult strategy, requiring you to resist the siren song of screwing around, but as is often the case, that gives the best payback. Simply getting something done, defeating your own immature urges of “I don’t wanna!”, can be a kick better than the strongest coffee.

So work, write, or read. Just reject Farmville and all its foul kind. They prey on flaws in mental architecture… the misplaced feeling that as long as you’re not really relaxing, you’re not really avoiding work. If your brain wants a break, give it one, then let it work when it’s well rested.

Image credit: PeskyMonkey / iStockphoto