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In praise of wasting time

Frittering away an afternoon now and again helps you live a more productive, successful and happier life. Physicist, novelist and essayist Alan Lightman answers Ali Roff’s time-honoured questions

Q+A

Q What are your thoughts on our relationship with time in the modern world?

I think we’re obsessed with productivity, which goes back to our puritan ethics; that it’s regarded as a sin to waste time, but I also think that the use of our time has changed drastically with the increasing pace of life. We view every 15-minute period as a potentially productive use of time, when we can plug into the internet on our smartphone, wherever we may be. When you combine the speed of communication with the time-equals-money equation, we have become more productive over the past 50 years, and that productivity has made each minute of the day potentially more valuable monetarily. A study by the Harvard Business Review recently showed that most people spend 13.5 hours a day on their smartphones doing business, as opposed to the old eight-hour workday.

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