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Don't 'space out' while reading this
Scripps Howard News Service


August 23, 2005

American workers are among the most productive in the world, but imagine how much we could accomplish if we didn't waste a quarter of every workday.

According to a new survey, the average worker fritters away 2.09 hours per day, not counting lunch. Time-wasting activities cited included surfing the Internet, chatting with co-workers, conducting personal business, running errands and "spacing out."

The survey of more than 10,000 employees was done by America Online and on the Internet, so it's no surprise that computer use was the top time-waster. (The results did not break down how much time was spent filling out survey responses.)

"A certain amount of slacking off is already built into the salary structure," said Bill Coleman, senior vice president at, who was running a personal errand at the time. (Kidding!)

But 2.09 hours is twice what employers expect, according to a follow-up survey of corporate human-resource managers, and the time wasted adds up to an estimated $759 billion a year in salaries for which companies receive no apparent benefit.

That number's deceiving, however, because some of that wasted time might be "creative waste," which Coleman defined as "time that may well have a positive impact on the company's culture, work environment and even business results. Personal Internet use and casual office conversations often turn into new business ideas."

Some thoughts about this survey:

One, it's skewed toward white-collar workers who have access to the Internet. Nobody working on an assembly line goofs off two hours a day. Many blue-collar workers even have their bathroom breaks timed and regulated. Any sawmill worker who's "spacing out" soon will go by the nickname "Stumpy."

Two, survey respondents make mistakes and tell lies. They might be overestimating their wasted time (or underestimating it, though I don't know how a man wasting more than two hours out of every eight could stay employed unless the company is owned by his father-in-law).

Three, many time-wasting activities clearly were not reported. Picture how much time per day is spent on cigarette breaks, drinking on the job, snacking, napping, doodling, putting on makeup, mining nostrils, ogling secretaries, canoodling in the supply closet, planning vacations, looking for another job, adjusting squeaky chairs and so on. And the No. 1 time-waster of all - complaining - isn't even mentioned.

Finally, the survey omits a growing portion of the working population - those of us who toil in home offices. We don't have bosses looking over our shoulders. No one's timing how long we spend in the bathroom. We can "space out" to our heart's content, at least until the bills come due.

We at-home workers waste time in many of the same ways as our corporate peers - Internet surfing, running errands, yakking on the phone - but the boundaries are blurred. Going to the post office, for instance, could be personal errand or top-priority business, depending on what's being mailed and how desperate we are to get out of the house.

Because nobody's watching, we can waste time in ways not available to people who work in real offices: Wandering aimlessly around the house. Random mumbling. Uninterrupted hours of computer solitaire. Toenail maintenance. Phone pranks. Counting dust bunnies. Staring out the window. Staring into the refrigerator. Staring into the depths of our tortured souls.

The only way we work-at-home types get anything done is by exercising discipline and maintaining a rigid work schedule.

Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for my regularly scheduled "spacing out."



Redding, Calif., author Steve Brewer's latest book is called "Boost."
Contact him at ABQBrewer(at)

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