Does Free Time Make You Antsy?

Last Updated May 22, 2011 9:30 PM EDT

Tony Schwartz wrote a post last week claiming that "Working Harder Doesn't Get You Ahead.” We can all debate where the point of diminishing returns may be, but I enjoyed a comment from reader Manabozho, who claimed that "executives and hard-workers have a fear of unstructured time.” Manabozho pointed us toward a bumper sticker reading "Jesus is coming. Look busy.”
It's funny because many of us do seem to believe that idle hands will soon be doing the devil's bidding. I recently interviewed someone involved in a career-internship program for underprivileged young people who mentioned (ruefully) that co-workers quickly taught these young folks the important job skill of looking busy when the boss walks by. Fall asleep on the desk for 30 minutes and people will think you're a slacker. Click randomly between websites for the same amount of time and it will look like you've got a lot on your plate. So that's what most of us do.

This is probably silly if you think about it. Many of our best ideas come from times when we let our minds go fallow, at work and at home. Sure, the devil may get a few ideas in there. But the angels may decide to play that game as well. To me, one of the best things about working from home is the freedom to go for a walk or read a magazine when I have a slow patch, rather than feel some compulsion to look busy (as the professional world defines it) by hitting refresh on my inbox again.

And yet, knowing this, I have sputtered to explain myself on a few occasions when my husband has come home from work early and seen me -- during my ostensible work hours -- reading People. Even if he wouldn't dream of saying anything. Do you ever feel this way? Or do you enjoy downtime during your day without making excuses to anyone?