Why coasting at work is the best thing for your career, health and happiness

Most people are not as busy as they say they are.

When I met a friend recently, I asked him how work was. “Oh, just coasting,” he said. He’s not alone. According to a recent poll, one-third of the 3,000 people surveyed said they were “coasting” at work. This may come as a surprise in an age when so many people spend so much time complaining about how busy they are. But most of this talk about busyness is balderdash. According to a study by researchers at Oxford University, we do not, in fact, spend more time working than we have in the past. On some measures, the amount we work has gone down. Instead, many people just have jobs filled with tasks that don’t really need to be done.

The way we look at coasting has radically changed. In the past, being relaxed and not burdened with too much work was a sign of status. Now, being extremely busy shows you are important. If you are not insanely overburdened, then you are seen as a slacker.

This does not make sense. Most people are not as busy as they say they are. In fact, most pressing tasks at work are often unrelated to productivity. Many busy people are actually overburdened with telling others how busy they are. Being obsessed with your job may make you feel important, but it’s likely to alienate friends, co-workers and your family. What’s more, being super-busy all the time is not good for you. Another study found that people who are overburdened with work tend to have a worse sense of wellbeing than those who are more relaxed. The researchers also found that being super-busy is bad for your career. Those who reported working very intensely were associated with poorer career outcomes.

So, perhaps coasters are not a drag on productivity. Maybe they have worked out that the secret to a productive and healthy life is not being too busy, and certainly not going on about how busy you are. We should remember Bertrand Russell’s adage: “One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.”

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