This summer, the concept of "quiet quitting" gained popularity as employee stress levels reached an all-time high and workers grew more "exhausted and overwhelmed." Writing for the New York Times, Laura Vanderkam, a writer who focuses on time management, explains why incorporating "energizing activities to your schedule" is a more effective way to address burnout than "quiet quitting."
A 'counterintuitive' approach
More than two years into the Covid-19 pandemic, employee stress levels have increased significantly. "When you're exhausted and overwhelmed, it feels like something needs to give — and for many, that seems to be the pursuit of excellence at work," Vanderkam writes.
While many workers have entertained the idea of "quiet quitting," or "doing the bare minimum at work," to address burnout, Vanderkam argues that "taking your foot off the gas" is not the answer.
"As a writer focused on time management, I've come to realize that the opposite of burnout isn't doing nothing, or even scaling back," Vanderkam notes. "It's engagement."
"As counterintuitive as that seems, adding energizing activities to your schedule just might make life feel more doable," she adds.
The benefits of 'adding energizing activities to your schedule'
Vanderkam ran a time-satisfaction study with over 140 busy participants for a book she was writing. According to Vanderkam, when she started the project in the spring of 2021, the participants said they felt "exhausted and tapped out."
"Life feels very chaotic with so many different balls in the air," one participant told her. "My work to-do list is never-ending," another said. Another participant said they felt "like I need a few more hours each day in order to have time to manage family and life."
Over the next nine weeks, each participant applied nine time-management strategies. However, rather than asking participants to eliminate things from their schedule or form strict boundaries between work and life, Vanderkam taught participants to add enjoyable activities to their schedules.
"I had them build in regular physical activity," she writes. "I had them make space for little adventures. And when it came to leisure activities, I asked them to put 'effortful before effortless'— to choose those that require action over those that are passive (even something as simple as reading a novel instead of binge-watching a TV show)."
During the study period, participants started to notice that their schedules were full of activities they could look forward to. As a result, they reported feeling like they had more time in their schedules. And participants' satisfaction with how they spent their time increased by 16% throughout the study. At the end of the study, when asked how they spent their leisure time "yesterday," participants' satisfaction increased by 20%.
Notably, participants also furthered their professional goals "as their increased energy and engagement spilled over into all areas of life," Vanderkam writes.
In addition, a study published a few years ago found that university students who were asked to spend 15 minutes editing at-risk high school students' essays reported having additional free time in their day, compared with participants who left the lab 15 minutes early.
"Logically, this doesn't make sense, since those who left early had more free time," Vanderkam notes. "But the people who spent time in the rewarding, engaging activity of helping others felt that their time was less scarce."
"Put simply, when we put time into what we find energizing, our inner narrative changes," she adds. "We no longer feel like life is a slog."
"We each have the same 168 hours every week. But time is also all about the stories we tell ourselves. When life is full of have-to-dos, with only brief periods of downtime in between, we can feel beaten down by responsibilities," Vanderkam writes. "But add in things we actually want to do, to compete with those same have-to-dos, and time feels different. We feel a bit more in control of our lives."
Ultimately, "there's no reason to cram things into your schedule out of a sense of obligation, and depleting pursuits should be eschewed," Vanderkam notes. "But when you're feeling overwhelmed, committing time to something that feels wonderful could be a better bet than simply doing less." (Vanderkam, New York Times, 9/13)