I’m good at my job but I’m worried I’m lazy

A reader writes:

I have worked in a demanding and creative career for almost 20 years. I have no college degree and no formal training, and I lucked into my first gig due to timing and strategic volunteerism. When I started this work, my only previous experience was in retail and I was desperate to excel so I could have a professional future. I was a workaholic in the beginning –- it wasn’t uncommon for me to be at the office till midnight, but I loved it, the work was meaningful, and all that investment made me very successful! Some of my friends were worried I was missing out on other aspects of my life at the time, and they were probably right … but it was what I felt I needed to do to have a secure future.

I have achieved some really terrific results in my career so far, but in my current job I am the absolute star of my department. In the past year, my work has brought in more revenue than the rest of my 30-person department combined. The CEO has sent out company-wide emails praising me to 20,000 employees more than once in the past few months. I am compensated very well, I have terrific relationships with my colleagues, and I love my job. But I am starting to worry about my work ethic and how it’s changed over the years.

Today, I am lightning fast with many of the elements of my job – think complex research, writing and creative design – so my colleagues tell me that I have insanely high productivity. But I am only really engaging in the work for a few hours a day. Maybe three? Four max. I spend the rest of my day walking my dogs, doing yoga, making art, taking naps … just generally goofing off. This trend started before pandemic working from home, but it’s gotten more pronounced since then. Despite all this downtime, I am still a rock star – I even won our company’s Employee of the Year award a few weeks ago! My manager recently told me that I am the reason she knows working from home can be done successfully without damaging productivity (I have not told her about how I spend my days, and she’s so busy she will likely never notice).

Lately I am starting to wonder: should I feel guilty about all this downtime? Am I behaving unethically or somehow sabotaging my future? I know sometimes I will ponder a problem while I am walking my dog or exercising, and the lightbulb goes on so I can start doing the work when I sit back down at my desk … but a lot of my time is unproductive. The work is never boring, and I still get excited by it, but it’s just not difficult for me to execute. While everyone around me is working like crazy and having a billion zoom meetings, I have found a balance and an ease in my life that I love so much, despite the demanding nature of the work we do. In basically every way, I am happier than I have ever been in my life. But I also am starting to wonder: am I stealing time from the company? Am I somehow hurting my ability to re-adapt to a demanding environment in the future?

If I tried to spend eight hours a day being productive, I would really have to hunt down additional work to do, and I don’t think I would see much benefit. I am basically maxed out on compensation, and because my work is so niche, any promotion would result in me supervising others instead of doing what I am good at. I have zero desire to do that. When deadlines approach and self-discipline really matters, I can absolutely kick into high gear and put in the time, so I know I can crank when I have to.

If you were my manager and you knew the truth of how I spend my time, would you be upset? What would you advise me to do?

You have discovered a not-often-talked-about secret of work: Some people are much faster than others. It sounds like you’re one of them.

If you can get the outstanding results you’re achieving in three or four hours a day, you don’t need to find ways to make yourself busier and more frazzled just so you feel like you’re doing “enough.” You are doing enough. You’re apparently outperforming your entire department, and your employer is thrilled with your work.

It’s possible that what you consider “downtime” is what’s making that high level of achievement possible. Your brain may be one that works well in quick spurts followed by periods of recharging. And you might be doing more work during your downtime than you realize; sometimes, relaxing your mind and not consciously focusing it is what lets your brain do the behind-the-scenes work that leads to creative solutions (see: those lightbulb moments while walking the dog that you mentioned). That’s why creative thinking is usually harder when you’re stressed out and being pulled in a million directions.

In fact, if you did try to generate extra work to fill more of your hours just for the sake of being busier, it could negatively impact the work that’s making your employer so happy!

It is worth making sure that there’s real substance behind all that praise your work is garnering. I suspect this isn’t the situation with you, but sometimes an employee will be lauded as being tremendously productive and accomplished … but when you look at what they’ve actually achieved, it turns out not to be all that much, and instead they’re just talented at talking up their work, schmoozing, and appearing to be doing a lot. If that were the case with you and you were concerned about the ethics of it, I’d say that yes, you should be more rigorous about getting results in your work, not just the appearance of them. But that doesn’t sound like your situation; your revenue numbers alone prove your success is genuine.

That said, I get why it feels weird to be relaxing or doing yoga while your colleagues are scrambling through their own tasks. It’s definitely remote work that allows for that. If you were working in an office with others, you’d presumably be choosing a different, more discreet set of activities for that unused time, but that doesn’t necessarily mean those activities would be more productive or even relevant to your job. Believe me, plenty of people spend hours of their in-office workdays poking around on social media, reading the news, and watching YouTube — and a lot of them aren’t getting nearly as much accomplished as you are.

I bet you’re not really fully checked out during the hours you consider downtime either; it sounds like you’re accessible to members of your team when they need you. You’re just not panicked about getting more done, and it doesn’t seem like you need to be.

If you were worried that you’d sunk so deeply into bad habits that you now questioned your ability to kick into a higher gear when you needed to, I’d be more concerned. Sometimes people get so used to a leisurely pace in their work that they have trouble adjusting when circumstances change (for example, when they get a new manager or change jobs). But that’s not the case for you; you noted that you’re more than able to crank it up when you need to.

Ultimately, you’re being paid to produce certain results, you’re producing them at an extraordinarily high level, and your employer is thrilled. Whatever you’re doing, it’s working.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 238 comments… read them below }

  1. Susan Mazur-Stommen*

    This person also has built up a ton of experience with processes and tools for maximizing their labor over the past decades. I don’t need to re-invent the wheel when I keep track of things like work product I have done in the past and know how to adapt it to the current project.

    1. CH*

      What’s that old saying… you’re not paying me for my time, you’re paying for my expertise. OP, the reason you’re able to do everything faster is because you’ve spent 20 years building the muscle.

      1. Cynan*

        Or “you’re not paying me for the 30 minutes it took to do it; you’re paying for the 10 years it took to learn how to do it in 30 minutes.”

    2. PinkCandyfloss*

      Exactly. Experience breeds efficiency. This person is reaping the outcome of years of practice and knowledge in the form of time no longer wasted.

  2. Exiled in TX*

    I wish I had these problems, but it sounds like OP has paid their dues. It can be disconcerting to decelerate after such a long period of extensive engagement though (waiting for other shoe to drop), and the praise (especially if one is prone to imposter syndrome).

    Live the Dream OP!

    1. Anonym*

      Yes, this is a level of expertise many of us aspire to! I’d love to reach a level of mastery in my work, combined with balanced expectations for my role from the employer, that would allow me to work at an organic, intuitive pace, including plenty of downtime. I work in spurts too, faster than most when I’m on a roll.

      OP, you’re delivering more than what your employer is paying you for, AND you’re doing it in a way that creates a balanced, happy life for yourself. Enjoy the hell out of it, and teach others how to get there when appropriate! Those of us who aren’t there yet, or are working on overload/burnout for various reasons, will live vicariously through you until we get there. :)

      1. FrenchCusser*

        Don’t live life as a punishment. Life is to be enjoyed if you can. Don’t feel guilty about being happy and healthy, for pete’s sake!

    2. Van Wilder*

      Agreed, I hope to reach this level someday!

      OP, studies have shown that most employees are only productive 3-4 hours a day anyway. Instead of wasting your time in Zoom meetings and moving emails around (like I often do) you’re making good use of your downtime.

      No phase of life is forever, but enjoy this one for as long as you can!

      1. Sloanicota*

        “No phase of life is forever” – it’s funny, this was my exact thought also. I’m happy for OP being so successful. Someday circumstances might change – a new boss, a new vision or direction for the work, a market shift, a change in your personal life – and you may find yourself entering a new phase of your career. Enjoy this phase for what it is, and don’t worry about doing anything differently right now.

    3. Jessica Fletcher*

      Yes! This is the argument for the 4-day work week, right? Many jobs can be done in less than 40 hrs, and there’s no actual reason for us to be chained to desks 8 hrs per day.

      Live the dream, OP!

  3. Anon for This*

    I really, really needed to read this. This is exactly how I am when I work from home, and it has always felt like I’m “slacking” even though I know I’m getting more done than anyone else on my team. It sounds silly, but I just felt pretty serious imposter syndrome even though my bosses are complimentary AND I got promoted during the pandemic. So this reminded me that I need to get over that ;)

    1. Just Another Reader*

      Yes! This! I was always told in my early teen jobs that idle hands is stealing time and money from the company. Its really hard to get past that! I, too am similar to OP and you. I can crank it up and get massive amounts of work done in a short time. I also don’t want to overload my work plate. I can’t work at a high volume for long periods of time. A week or two at most. I need the down time.

      1. No_woman_an_island*

        You’ve hit the nail on the head. Capitalism has made us think that if we’re not dropping dead of exhaustion, we haven’t done enough. Myself included. All of us needed this today, OP. Thank you.

        1. Anonym*

          Yes. This is an important falsehood to unlearn. Your life belongs to you, and you only owe your employer what you agreed to deliver for the comp they give you. They’re not entitled to more. If you want to exceed that for your own reasons or benefit, go right ahead, but not because you owe it to them.

        2. Library Lady*

          And if you do drop dead from exhaustion, you’re just being lazy because look how hard EVERYONE ELSE around you is working!

          1. JESUS IS THE MAN!*

            “well Wakeen was able to do this job without dropping dead, so clearly you’re an underachiever”
            –some coworker somewhere, probably

      2. KRM*

        This. It’s so important for everyone to unlearn this concept of “stealing time”. You don’t pay me for 40 hours of work. You pay me to do a job. That job will sometimes take 20 hours of work a week, and sometimes 45 hours of work a week. Do what needs to be done! Should I feel guilty for days spent reading AAM/other sites/the occasional paper at work? No! Because that day I also probably set up 2 7 day assays and ran a Western blot that has to go overnight. Also next week I might have a day crammed full where I barely have time for lunch. Such is science. But I get results, I think about my next steps, and my boss is pleased with my data. So I’m clearly doing it right, and so are you OP! Your expertise helps you do things fast, and the downtime that gives you allows your mind to percolate on more challenging tasks you might have! Embrace it!

        1. EngineeringFun*

          I’m 20 years in and feeling like this too. I don’t need to put in the hours 20 or 30 year old me needed too. I read the time management book “four thousand weeks” and it talks about productivity and 40 hour work weeks. Something that rang true to me was if you keep your mail box empty every day, you’re only going to be given more work to do and expected to return all emails. What if you stopped? Perfectionist me found this freeing. I’m doing good work and finding a balance for the first time.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          I think this is important for a lot of people to unlearn, but there are a decent number of jobs that are pay in for hours of coverage/availability or that charge the time out by hour and not by deliverable (and have productive hours requirements). It’s more of a know what your job’s paying you for an plan accordingly.

      3. Koalafied*

        Yes – I started working remotely a number of years before the pandemic in large part because my role involves a lot of producing original creative work. In an office environment one feels the need to “look busy” for the full 8-hour day, but the reality of how creative work is produced is that it requires some blocks of time where you don’t look like you’re working. My creative process sometimes means I need to talk a long walk without checking my phone, because my brain isn’t going to produce what I need if I’m steadily being peppered with unrelated questions, segues, and tangents. My imagination needs empty space in which to breathe.

        I started out doing one day a week at home and steadily increased it over the years until I was fully remote by 2016. It’s just so much easier to get my work done when I don’t have to also be concerned with what my method of getting work done looks like to an observer.

    2. Ashes*

      Same — I do good, consistent, and fast work, but a position change to one that isn’t customer-facing leaves me feeling like I’m not doing enough, because I’m no longer scrambling to keep up with calls and emails and all that. I was great at that sort of fast and stressful grind, and it feels so weird for my day to be less structured by that stress. Having a bit downtime feels like I’m cheating.

      1. zolk*

        I really related to this post! My best tips:

        –reuse anything you can – there’s no need to re-code something from scratch if it exists elsewhere. Take the code and edit what you must
        –ditto for writing: if we did a good job writing something, reuse it wherever possible and lightly modify as needed
        –stuff that takes longer should save you time later, like building out detailed PSD or INDD templates
        –write fast and dirty and edit slowly, sometimes blocking everything except one word at a time with physical obkects; sound out words to make sure you’re not missing a syllable

        of course all of this only works in marketing/it roles but hopefully there’s some overlap with people’s jobs that they can extrapolate!

        1. Mockingjay*

          I am a technical writer and I’ve said for years that TW is legal plagiarism. If it’s accurate and vetted, reuse it! (Within the program/project, of course.)

          I see a lot of myself in the letter writer. I’m the most senior on the team and I have the most downtime. After 30 years, yeah, I’m pretty good at what I do, so my tasks are finished in far, far less time than my teammates. I train junior writers and assist other areas, but it still doesn’t fill 40 hours. I used to worry about it, but I realized that my company likes having me available to work on the most complex project (project lead is hopelessly disorganized and ineffective) and pinch hit in other areas to solve problems. I’ve seen most problems at this point, so I can fix things quickly. It took me awhile to abandon the “must have nose to grindstone at all times” mindset. Alison’s and commenters’ words that I’m getting paid for experience, not per task makes so much sense. It’s not piecework!

    1. quill*

      This. I need down time, and processing time, to function, but finding a job where I can actually get it? That’s hard!

      1. Wendy Darling*

        My best trick for this was getting a mostly-remote job with a company that has a small office in my timezone and a main office in another timezone where our working hours only overlap like 3 hours/day.

        I can pretty much guarantee no one from the main office is going to bother me after lunchtime, so all my meetings are first thing in the morning and then I pretty much get to set my own pace except in client-delivery-related emergencies (so like every 2-3 months I have a couple frantic days).

        Turns out I am INCREDIBLY productive when you just give me reasonable deadlines and then let me sort myself out. I might spend 2 hours head-down writing code and then 2 hours playing xbox or doing chores with Teams open on my phone while some problem I got stuck on percolates.

        I also have that style of executive dysfunction where I can’t attend to what people are saying unless my hands are busy, so remote work also allows me to cross stitch/play solitaire/bake cookies during presentations to my heart’s content without offending anyone.

        1. quill*

          Any advice on finding a boss who understands that sometimes inputting data takes 5 minutes, sometimes it takes 1 hour, depending on the amount of data required?

          1. Mizzle*

            It may feel wrong, but the solution I’ve had most success with is: just always tell them it will take an hour. Your boss will be happy that you’re consistently ‘on time’, and you regularly get some time to either unwind or focus on other work (your choice).

            It took me quite long to realize that even though managers *say* that they want things fast, what they really need/appreciate is things being *predictable*. (The ‘Agile’ framework is helpful for this.)

    2. Anon Today*

      I’m like this OP. I work from home an average of four hours a day and am considered a top performer. . Sometimes more in crunch times but usually about 4. Here are my secrets:
      1) I read really, really fast. Get your reading speed up, it saves a huge amount of time.
      2) I’m a quick typist. If I have a meeting and am taking notes, the notes are written and polished in real time. I write emails and documents quickly.
      3) I understand what top performance looks like in my company and I make sure I tick all boxes. I regularly ask my boss for feedback on how I am doing to make I am exceeding expectations.
      4) I concentrate on getting as much done as possible when I am working.

      Probably my reading speed has made the most difference.

      1. Anon4This*

        I am in a similar boat and my method is a little different. Speed reading is not a factor in my job at all, but typing and being able to write concise, polished notes/emails/etc. is very important. I also wholly agree with knowing what success looks like at your organization – focus on what matters to your org.

        My biggest things are the ability to problem-solve and learn just enough of pretty much anything to get what I need to get done done. I’m not wasting my time fiddling around with Excel, I just find the formula that does what I need it to do. I’ll find a prior example and use that to model formatting and structure of a longer-form document. I create templates.

        I’ve also been working for nearly 20 years and some stuff just comes to me a lot faster now.

  4. Long Time Listener, First Time Caller*

    Thank you for this question! I am a high performer and have always wondered about this. I can finish most of my work in 5-6 hours on a really busy day. I work hard, I am available when needed, I am willing to work overtime, and I am always willing to help colleagues when they ask/need. My thinking is: Why should I be penalized for doing my job well (while still able to help others when called on) by personally taking on even more work that is not even necessary?

    1. Anonym*

      I love your perspective on this. You sound like a great colleague and employee, and a very wise person!

    2. 1,000 Snails in a Lady Skin*

      I think this is a fine attitude for high performers!
      The danger is for employees who are NOT high performers and think they should also get this benefit of extra free time in their day and never take on more work.

      *cough, one of my direct reports who is underperforming has said this to me — she compared herself to someone who’s amazing at their job who brags about never working past 5pm, and this underperformer tried to tell me she also should only work 30 hours a week and no more *because other people at the company do that*. It’s unfortunate that this underperformer has the expectation that that’s how her job should also work when she also can’t complete work on a deadline. It’s a very difficult expectation to navigate.

      1. coffee*

        It sounds a bit like you’ve got a lot of factors that you’re trying to keep straight here, but at its heart your biggest problem is that she isn’t completing work by the deadline, and if you focus on managing that then other problems will be easier to address.

    1. Bunny Girl*

      I am like this too. I am very, very efficient with my time and can work very quickly. I’ve struggled with this because except for my current job, I haven’t been able to work from home at all and I am often ultra bored because I can finish my work in less than 5 hours and the rest of the time I’m just existing.

      I call myself a HITT workout. Efficient bursts of energy for a shorter period of time. I feel like employers would get more out of their employees if they accepted that an 8 hour work down doesn’t work for everyone.

      1. Justin*

        Though a part of me likes the downtime so I don’t mind a full length day. But everyone is different

      2. Elec*

        8 hours doesn’t even work for some of us slow & steady types either! I work a job with billables, but honestly, things get steadily done in 6 hours, max. I’ll keep working because a 9 hour day is the minimum here, but I don’t actually produce much after that point. It isn’t how I want it to be

      3. On Fire*

        This! Some days I’ll work 10-12 hours when I’m on the road, but I can finish my desk work in 2-4 hours. And then I’m stuck sitting there the rest of the 8-hour day, trying to look busy, because “salaried positions mean you work at least 40 hours a week” and leaving early requires using leave.

  5. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

    I’d like to focus on this statement:

    I have found a balance and an ease in my life that I love so much, despite the demanding nature of the work we do. In basically every way, I am happier than I have ever been in my life.

    OP, take a clear-eyed look. If this statement is accurate, then relax and feel proud of your accomplishments, both professional and personal.

    But if this is a gloss over the beginnings of a sense that you’re ready to move onto something else, don’t ignore it. Consider whether you want to branch out in some way, either in your current job or by taking on some other task (or even moving elsewhere if it gets to that). What is merely theoretical concern now could evolve to something more difficult if you don’t find something that continues to engage you.

    Whatever, it seems like you’re quite capable of doing whatever you decide to do.

  6. Cold and Tired*

    Let all that shame go! You’re giving your employer everything they want (and more!), and if you happen to do that in half the time as someone else, that’s someone else’s problem. And honestly, you’ll be a better employee if you’re happy rather than burned out, so consider it self care that lets you continue to be great at your job rather than laziness.

    1. B*

      OP here – I hadn’t really framed this as “shame” in my understanding, but I think when I take a step back and look at the situation, this resonates with me in an interesting way. Maybe there is some deep-seated “not good enough” type of energy that I still need to overcome, mentally. The positive comments are really lovely and uplifting tho!

      1. Reba*

        Re: shame or guilt about how you are using your time…It’s the cult of productivity!

        There is a great recent book you might enjoy called “How to Do Nothing” by Jenny Odell.

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        Imposter syndrome is real, and can hit anyone.

        Those times when you are out walking the dog, doing yoga, or even napping? They are part of your productivity routine! You are essentially distracting your conscious mind with other things so your subconscious can process and create solutions. I call it “handing the problem off to the backend processor”.

        I regularly would be stuck on a problem, give up for the day and go home (pre-covid), then come back the next day and solve it in mere minutes. Why? Because as I did my non-work stuff the “backend processor” in my brain would work things out.

        One job I had both my boss and I would feel the need to take a lunchtime nap because our “brains were full”. Just an hour asleep would let new data mesh with what we already had.

        Harnessing the power of the subconscious mind to solve problems is why I can still work in tech at age 60 with ADHD. It’s part of how my brain works, and I have benefited from it.

    2. Despachito*

      Yes, yes, yes!

      Enjoy your balance, OP! Wallow in it!

      You earned it, you are pulling your weight (and much more than that), and you owe nothing to your employer.

      And you are setting a good example for the rest of us to unlearn the mentality that we are just cogs in the system. If I get my work in the required quality done quicker than the required time, it is fair to consider the remaining time my benefit and to treat it as such.

  7. Hamster Manager*

    OP, you’re probably blessed with some combination of being decisive, not over thinking things and being able to anticipate and think ahead, eliminating mistakes and rework. Good for you!!

    I’m like OP. I’ve ALWAYS been lightning fast. And I also feel like an ass when I’m watching a movie at 2pm because I’ve done all my tasks and beyond for the day. I definitely agree with Alison here, as long as your employer is happy, you don’t have anything to worry about.

    And remember, the punishment for doing good work quickly is: MORE WORK

    1. Yay, I’m a Llama Again!*

      The reward for good work quickly being more work is exactly what I was thinking. Surely we should be measuring quality of work not quantity of hours filled? Plus, I don’t think anyone is 100% effective for the entire eirking day. And adults attention span is about 20 minutes, we need variety!

    2. SpecialSpecialist*

      “…blessed with some combination of being decisive, not over thinking things and being able to anticipate and think ahead, eliminating mistakes and rework..”

      YES! 100% this.

      You’ve put in 20 years of work to get to the point where you have systems in place and have lots of background knowledge to pull to get your work done EFFECTIVELY.

      Be proud that you’re an effective worker.

      Like so many others in the comments, this post resonnated with me too. I’m currently sitting back just being “on call” for my team on one of my WFH days because I don’t have anything to do right now. Do I feel bad about it? You betcha. But I’ll be here right when they need me.

    3. MEH Squared*

      Yup, I agree. I had a half-time job once that I did quickly and efficiently. My manager started piling on duties that were well above my pay grade, but I was still able to do them in the hours I was allotted and have time to spare.

      OP, you’re giving your company the results they’re looking for. Above and beyond it, really. Do not feel one moment of guilt that you can do it faster than most people.

  8. Fran Fine*

    I could have written the OP, except I don’t have 20 years of experience (I only have 13, with only one year in my current function). I don’t work that hard either, but I’ve been promoted twice in three years with my current employer – with the promotions being nine months apart – so clearly my work is very much appreciated. This part of Alison’s response

    Ultimately, you’re being paid to produce certain results, you’re producing them at an extraordinarily high level, and your employer is thrilled. Whatever you’re doing, it’s working.

    is exactly why I have zero guilt about only working a few hours a day most days – I’m paid to get results as a salaried employee, and my results speak for themselves. I hope OP sees this response and can now relax knowing that she’s not doing anything unethical.

    1. sookie st james*

      Came here to say a similar thing. I only have about 5 years in my career so it’s on a vastly smaller scale than the letter writer’s success, though. I don’t have a job that can be measured in numbers & revenue but it’s creative and I spend a LOT of time feeling worthless and ashamed of my working style (or lack thereof) which sees me procrastinating for several hours on a bad day then suddenly smashing out many tasks within a short time period. Yet I consistently get great feedback from my coworkers and project manager and I’ve never been questioned about how much I’m working. Sometimes I feel unbelievably guilty, like I should be able to work like I do in those magic spurts for a full 8 hours everyday. But maybe some people just aren’t weird that way. Maybe some people need to pace out their work and creative output out steadly on mid-gear throughout the day, whereas some of us squeeze the same amount of work into half that time (or two thirds, or a quarter, or whatever it is for you) but our brains are switched into high gear. We value the former because, capitalism and norms, but who’s to say any one is better than the other? Now if I could just shake the shame…

    2. Anon all day*

      Yup, I’m in this boat, too. I was just saying to a family member today that even though I wish I got paid more, considering the salary I am getting and that I’m working probably 20-30 hours a week when 40+ is expected at my office and my field is known for 50-60+ or worse….it’s not too shabby.

  9. Eldritch Office Worker*

    “It’s possible that what you consider “downtime” is what’s making that high level of achievement possible. Your brain may be one that works well in quick spurts followed by periods of recharging. And you might be doing more work during your downtime than you realize; sometimes, relaxing your mind and not consciously focusing it is what lets your brain do the behind-the-scenes work that leads to creative solutions”

    It has taken me SO LONG to come to terms with this OP but it’s very true. Taking some time to let your brain just be, and work through things in the background, can be so important – like having a big file downloading in the background that slows down the rest of the computer. I also work fast, once I’m ready to do a thing I can blow through it, but when it feels like I’m procrastinating or not doing much sometimes, I’m prepping for that activity consciously or subconsciously. We have a thing in my office called “soak time”, which is necessary to just think things through sometimes. That’s totally classified as work time. I think we’re just conditioned that we have to look busy all the time – and that’s how work might look for some people or some jobs but it’s not a universal sign of productivity.

    1. Mill Miker*

      Seconded. I also tend to work this way, and I just moved into a job where one of the deliverables is a log of what was done every hour, cross-referenced with tasks that have a certain number of hours estimated/budgeted, that accounts for all 40 hours in the workweek, and I have never been less productive in my life. The time between things is definitely when most of the “real” work is being done.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        UGH the production suck of tracking how productive you’ve been absolutely baffles my logic (assuming you’re not billing clients…but even then to an extent)

        1. Mill Miker*

          We are billing clients, but the non-billable time needs to be tracked to specific tasks too. I get called out regularly for my time sheets not adding up to a full 40 hours.

  10. Essentially Cheesy*

    Two main factors in managing workload are Efficiency and Effectiveness. If you’ve figured those out and are at a top level because of your on-the-job education and experience, then try not to pressure yourself so much.

    In my own experience, management does not expect their employees to be working at their utmost highest levels constantly either. Give yourself a break from the pressure.

  11. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    Sounds like you put in a lot of extra time and effort early on in your career, and that was what helped you become the lightning fast, high performer that you are now. Enjoy!

    If I were in this position (and I sometimes am, depending on the team I’m on and the work I am responsible for doing), I’d be using some of the extra time to work on improving my skillset. But that varies by field and you might not need to do it.

  12. Hiring Mgr*

    Sometimes lazy means you won’t really try and do much, but sometimes it means you’ll look for the most efficient/easiest way to do things which can be beneficial

    1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      The number of tasks I have automated because I was too lazy to do the boring and tedious steps is ridiculous. I swear lazy people are efficiency experts

      1. G*

        I went through the pain of learning how to record macros to automate tedious tasks. Having done that, I’m now going through learning VBA so I can tweak macros rather than having to re-record from scratch.

        Both these steps (and all the others that led to them, and any others that come in future) happened due to laziness and simultaneously make me a better employee.

        1. Melody Pond*

          Learning VBA was the best thing I’ve ever done. I’ve automated so much dumb stuff. I mostly taught myself, from this book: Excel 2016 Power Programming with VBA

          But it helped that I was already a wizard with automating as much as I could with regular Excel formulas.

      2. Mek*

        I always tell my husband “I’m not lazy, I’m efficient.” Also “I’m not a procrastinator, I’m patient.” In truth, I avoid doing something until I have figured out how to do it perfectly, and then bust it all out at once to a high standard.

      3. Aziraphale the Cat*

        +1 Many times in my career I’ve built a new, more efficient process because I hate doing tedious work if there’s no good reason for it.

        1. Melody Pond*

          Ha! My favorite grandmother always says, “I’m not lazy, I’m energy efficient!”

      4. Curmudgeon in California*

        In my field that type of laziness is expected and even encouraged. The whole idea is to work smarter, not harder. If spending two hours writing an automation script saves you ten hours a year of repetitive typing, it’s a win. I view it as “I’m too lazy to type the same boring stuff every week. How can I speed it up, reduce errors, and save toil?”

    2. AlwaysAnon*

      Very good point! I just looked up the definition of lazy and it’s “unwilling to work or use energy”. And that’s okay. There’s no need to put forth work/energy all the time. Both body and mind need rest.

  13. MegPie*

    Thank you so much for answering this letter. I had the same question and I’ve been having anxiety about it for years.

  14. Not Today Josephine*

    I’m assuming you are salaried and not hourly. In that case you are basically being paid by the widget (your work product) not by the hour. As long as you are producing what you need to, you are spending the correct amount of time working.

  15. RIP David Graeber*

    To anyone who resonates with OP’s sentiments, I highly recommend reading the book Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber. It’s a fascinating exploration of the contemporary labor environment where so many of us have jobs that, in some way shape or form, could be classified as “bullshit jobs” in terms of their functions, how much time they take up, etc. I’m not at all saying that OP has a Bullshit Job (based on their descriptions, it’s actually far from it!) but the book talks a lot about how so many people don’t actually work a full eight-hour day and the feelings of discomfort, paranoia and shame around acknowledging that fact.

    The accord I’ve reached myself is that ultimately, as long as you’re completing your work on time, under budget (if applicable), and at an high-enough level of quality (which OP is definitely accomplishing), what you’re actually doing at any given minute of your workday doesn’t really matter all that much. We only have a limited amount of time on God’s Green Earth – never feel guilty about “time theft”.

    1. B*

      OP here – I LOVE that book (and I love Graeber’s other work too, RIP). I think his writing helped me recognize during the pandemic that there were things i was wasting time on that could just be eliminated – and it helped me prioritize and build an understanding of true efficiency in my role, and not just ticking the boxes because I felt like I needed to. You know?

  16. The Rural Juror*

    I can hold a dim candle to the LW! I also work quickly at my job. Not that it’s not challenging, I just tend to roll through tasks at a high speed. But I’ve realized I NEED my Friday WFH to decompress after going going going all week at the office. I feel no guilt over that :)

  17. This-is-a-name-I-guess*

    I’m similar. Before the pandemic, I actually went from a salaried job to an hourly job (quirk of my new org’s payroll). It was great to make OT, but I noticed that I’m a lot more productive if I work 4-5 intense hours/day. 32 hours gets me more productivity than 40 hours. WFH during covid was great because I didn’t need to be “present” 40 hours/wk.

    While there are likely some individual components to productivity (I have ADHD, work well on deadline and under pressure, and also am good at making decisions independently, which all help), this isn’t necessarily just you. Lots of companies adopt 32 hr workweeks and find their employees are just as productive.

    It also depends on whether you have a sustainable workload and whether your job is coverage based. Some people do have to do the job of 2-3 people. Others must be present for coverage reasons.

  18. MarieX*

    I could have written this letter. I’m one of the highest producers in my department and am constantly praised, but I spend quite a bit of time NOT doing work tasks. The fact is that I’m just really fast at what I do. I am perfectly capable and willing to spend a full 8 hours doing a task if that’s how long it takes, but due to my speed I can get a full day’s work done in much less time. I greatly exceed my production expectations, but I do still have guilt and fear that my managers could say, well, if you DID work constantly all 8 hours, think how much MORE you could be doing!

  19. Hei Hei, the Chicken from Moana*

    If I were Chandler Bing, I’d tell you that I’m sorry your diamond shoes are too tight and that I hope you can find change for your $100 bills/pound notes!! ;)

    For reals – enjoy it! You are crushing it, that’s what matters!

  20. Xantar*

    Someone I know told a story about how he hired an artist to draw something for him. Once they had agreed on the price, the artist made the illustration at basically lightning speed. It was quality work, and the artist did it all freehand. My acquaintance was not dissatisfied, but he said, “Wow. So I’m paying all this money for an hour of your time.”

    And the artist replied, “You’re also paying for all the time I spent practicing and training so that I could do this kind of thing in under an hour.”

    My acquaintance thought about this and decided the artist was absolutely right.

    OP, you are like the artist in this scenario. You are not just being paid for your current work. You’re being paid for all the time you spent in the past so that you could be this good. You made sacrifices in the past. They’re paying off now. You get to enjoy it.

    1. ThatGirl*

      I’ve seen a similar story going around and the moral is essentially “you’re paying for the years, not the hours” – aka the training and expertise, not the time spent on the individual task.

      1. Retired (but not really)*

        My neighbor who is an accomplished artist in his niche, is frequently asked how long it takes to do a piece. His response is xx years, x months and xx days (ie his age).

    2. Josephine*

      This resonates with me sooooo much – thank you for posting it! I feel like an imposter a lot of the time but this makes so much sense to me.

    3. WestSideStory*

      I have explained this to consulting clients as, “You’re not paying me by the hour; you’re paying me by the brain cells.”

    4. Elizabeth Bennet*

      Yep! I majored in music in college and sometimes us musicians could be looked down upon for our major. I always pointed out to anyone who gave me grief about it that I can walk into college and major in most anything without experience in the field, but with music (and really most arts), unless you’ve been studying an instrument for years, four years isn’t going to earn you a bachelor’s degree without outstanding significant talent and focus.

      And now that I permanently WFH, I find when I’m mentally stuck at my desk, playing the piano for a bit resets my mind. Then I come back to my desk and think more clearly. This is my favorite perk of WFH.

  21. Random Internet Stranger*

    Hello, me. I really needed this one. I can relate to every part if this letter, but letting go of the guilt is so hard! I feel like a con artist and I don’t enjoy the downtime as much as I could because of the guilt.

    1. BEC*

      I’m assuming you don’t work on an assembly line, where hours worked directly affects teapots produced.

      If you’re in a job where they’re paying you to give results, then whether it takes you an hour to do or twice as long as your workday to do, you’re getting paid for what you produce, not what the amount of time you spend producing it.

      I’m wondering if part of you thinks that, if you were truly working the way you are ‘supposed to’ be, you would know? Would you feel a certain way or look a certain way?

      Another suggestion is one that has worked for me – if you have another task/project/purpose, that may give you something to work on that gives you a sense of being gainfully engaged, so you’re not just messing around doing things that aren’t super enjoyable anyway.

      Ideas are taking a painting class, taking online professional development classes in areas that are interesting to you, writing a book, getting certified in a fitness activity, learning to cook…

  22. ecnaseener*

    The 40-hour-work-week idea is so ingrained! As is the idea that you owe your employer the absolute maximum you can give them.

  23. still anon*

    Perfect timing for this! When I’m on at work, I’m full speed ahead & carry an entire service point with thousands of users. But when it’s dead, it’s freakin dead, and there are only so many housekeeping projects I can stand to work on in a day. It’s taken me all of lockdown to destress from overload/understaffing issues, and now I find myself wondering if I should keep filling up down time to match the busyness of my public facing coworkers, even though I know the cyclical nature of my workload means I will be going gangbusters while my coworkers chill eventually.

  24. SereneScientist*

    I feel like this shame that the LW is experiencing has as much to do with how work is tied into personal identity in many cultures (but especially the US, just don’t want to assume here) as the actual reality of her work and job. Because they aren’t busy throughout the work day, that any time at all is being lost to other activities, regardless of the achievements, that something must be wrong about them. I hope we’re all starting to evaluate that relationship, because work being a central part of our identities…hasn’t done much good for us.

    PS if I remember correctly, some research has shown most workers in white collar jobs do somewhere between 3-5 hours of actual work on any given day. So LW, you’re not even that far from the average and you’re still a stellar performer, give yourself some grace!

    1. Hourly Not Salaried*

      I always wonder how different this comment section would be if it was composed of people from across a spectrum of different kinds of jobs, including blue collar hourly work. I appreciate Allison but the responses here are always through the lens of particular types of jobs where not doing anything for long periods of time is job ending. It has nothing to do with OP, but perhaps it would lead to a wider variety of responses.

      1. EmDash*

        Former teacher here. I appreciate your comment. I know a lot of people who work in a variety of fields, including creative ones at a high level, and I do not know anyone who has that kind of schedule. This is NOT a critique of OP as she has earned her position. But many many people do have to account for hours AND high quality output concurrently. I would wrestle with the time theft question as OP is and probably try to take on too much and then get burn out. I agree this has a lot to do with capitalism and productivity and other concepts that need reforming as does the 40 work week, but I was shocked to read this. Again, it sounds like OP is kicking butt and has long laid her dues but I guess as a former teacher this type of schedule kind of blows my mind, especially when summers were devoted to PD or second jobs.

  25. FormerTVGirl*

    OP, if you happen to surf the comments, this is and has always (well, almost always) been me too. In fact, my story feels quite similar to yours — early on in my career, I busted my you-know-what, regularly pulling double shifts or working until 11 p.m. or later. Now, 15 years into my career, I am a high achiever and produce a lot but I don’t need a lot of time to do it. I do struggle with some of the same guilt you do, so thanks to Alison for your response as well :)

    1. B*

      OP here – and yes, I am relieved to see so many people sharing how they experience similar feelings or circumstances. It’s nice to know my situation isn’t as unusual as I imagine!

  26. HelloFromNY*

    I agree with Alison’s general assessment. I would only differ my saying that taking naps is probably where I would be drawing the line. It’s important to be available if your team or your boss needs you. It’s not unlikely that you could miss an urgent phone call while snoozing. Walking the dog feels different because presumably you could take your phone with you and answer a call if needed.

    1. Fran Fine*

      Yeah, I don’t take naps during my downtown either, mainly because my “naps” are hours long, lol. But like OP, I’m in a creative field where my mind needs plenty of rest throughout the week to produce top quality written and visual content – not to mention my focus on creating and shaping strategy for my team – so I do things like yoga, Pilates, meditation, watch movies/TV, scroll the internet, etc. whenever I get a chance because these things give me the reset I need to be able to execute on assignments quickly and efficiently when needed.

    2. Cera*

      As a sleep deprived parent, I can either take a 20-60 min nap and wake up ready to kick butt or slog through the rest of my day. There is no difference in waiting an hour between that or because I am unavailable due to a meeting or an appointment.

  27. MidCenturyMayhem*

    I have found my people! I can relate to so many of the comments and the OP. I WFH in a quite specialized field, and my predecessor told me when I was hired they felt I was one of two people available with the skill set to do the job. However, I delegate appropriately, finish my end of projects quickly, and have lots of downtime. It does lead to twinges of guilt, and it’s gratifying to hear from others in similar situations.

  28. Amanda*

    Honestly it’s really nice to read something that sounds just like me. Sometimes I feel like I’m not doing enough, but I also don’t have it in me anymore to work 80+ hours a week just because. I get everything and more done, but I work ~25-30 hours a week on avg, although I do have those 80+ hour weeks when absolutely necessary.

    Enjoy the downtime, I do.

  29. Meow*

    I think this is also one of the benefits of being in the same field for a long time. Once you’ve mastered certain skills, techniques, processes, etc. it takes much less time to do them – even things that require decision making or judgement calls because you have so much more experience to draw from to guide you. I’ve been in my field for about 12 years and I really noticed this starting to happen for me around the 5-6 year mark. By the time I had gotten to 10 years it was even more pronounced. Very rarely does something come up at work that totally stumps me and takes a long time to sort through, but I remember in the first couple years feeling that way all the time.

  30. ThatGirl*

    I’m not quite the rockstar the LW is, but after almost 20 years of professional experience, I’ve definitely gotten faster and better at my job overall. And some days I just don’t have a lot I could be actively working on. So I do sometimes only have a few hours of active work a day. But I figure I’m being paid for my results, not my time spent working. Plus, I am in a creative field, and sometimes you need downtime to get inspired or clear your head. I could stare at a Word document … or I could get up and wash a few dishes.

  31. The New Wanderer*

    The analog is when you pay an expert hundreds of dollars for an hour’s work, whether they’re a lawyer, plumber, doctor, electrician, or so on. You’re paying the expert to apply their hard-won expertise to resolve a problem quickly and successfully, and you’ll get a better result than if you paid someone with a much lower knowledge base a much lower rate to work much longer hours. It might be the same cost to you money-wise but time-wise and quality of product, you’ve probably lost out. (A point I failed to make to my previous management structure, and now they’re experiencing the costs of hiring barely qualified, low-experience people to do an expert’s job.)

    From OP’s description, their expertise is clearly hard-won over many years, and this is what they won: a fantastic balance of work that is highly regarded and a lot more freedom than they used to have.

  32. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

    OMG, did I write this and not remember? I get praised to the stars by my boss and her boss, the stakeholders I work with, etc. but I seriously do something like 5-10 hrs worth of work a week when I am not in the field. I’ve been feeling so guilty about basically screwing around all day, but literally do not have anything else I can do

  33. CoveredinBees*

    You are not lazy, you’re experienced and my inspiration.

    Here’s a good example: I changed the lock on my door a few years ago and it took me a bit over an hour plus more time later because it wasn’t balanced properly. An experienced locksmith probably would have taken 10 minutes to do it with proper balancing. Would you call the locksmith lazy? I hope not. Their speed is the result of training and experience. Just like yours.

    You have figured out a setup that allows you to live what sounds like a lovely life. Enjoy it!

  34. Butterfly Counter*

    Also, and this is something that I’ve really had to confront about myself during the pandemic, can we stop automatically thinking that lazy = bad?

    Growing up, it was the WORST thing my dad would think to call us. If we spent the day relaxing at home watching television vs. doing chores vs. playing sports vs. idek? inventing something? he would call us lazy and punish us. Any down time was pathologized for me to the extent that whenever I allowed any for myself, I would also berate myself the entire time.

    But maybe, being lazy isn’t bad? Maybe it’s letting your mind rest and reorganize. Maybe it’s taking care of your mental health and avoiding stress. Maybe it’s just nice to feel nice.

    1. Meow*

      I am the same way. I was always called “lazy” growing up – some of it was undiagnosed ADHD, but it was also others not seeing value in what I was spending my free time on. But regardless, I basically live in perpetual terror of the L word.

      I have made a lot of great strides in not shaming myself for resting, having downtime, and not overextending myself… but I still struggle greatly with comparing myself with others. Like in OP’s case, I would constantly have a nagging feeling that, since my coworkers are so busy, I should be doing something to help. I especially struggle at home, worrying that I’m not doing my share around the house compared to my husband. I think the problem is that “laziness” in these situations can have real concrete consequences – I could get fired or my husband could become resentful – but my meter is so broken from being constantly criticized growing up, I can’t tell the difference anymore between healthy and “lazy”.

      1. PotsPansTeapots*

        I really needed to hear this. I heard some of the same things growing up.. I’m always afraid my (amazing) partner is going to decide tomorrow I don’t pull my weight around the house or that taking a day off in the middle of the week (I’m a freelancer) will mean I’ll never finish a project.

  35. Ellena*

    This is the very example of the benefit of being paid for one’s value rather than one’s time.

  36. cucumber*

    Ohh I’m so glad I saw this – I’ve been having similar concerns. I’ve been at my job a long time, and we have slow and busy seasons. During busy season, I’ll work til 10 pm, but we’re in slow season now and I frequently stop working around 1 pm. I’ll spend my afternoons doing similar things, but making sure I’m available for calls or emails. I definitely had some guilt about it, but reading this made me feel a lot better.

    1. WestSideStory*

      Perhaps one of the issues related to this is how to spend time when your work is done but the JOB insists you sit there in your desk until 5PM. I have worked with a few companies (major names one would recognize) where a good part (say a third) of the junior staff did absolutely nothing once the day’s inbox was cleared. Meanwhile, due to how the work was portioned out, the other two thirds of junior staff had so much on their plate they never finished despite staying later. A suggestion to “cross train” all staff so hands could be deployed more efficiently went nowhere.

      Working from home has ameliorated this somewhat, but only to the extent the employees are expected to “be on” through the normal workday – which usually means checking emails hourly if not more frequently and thus breaking up any quiet time the WFH can offer.

      Cucumber, how do you manage being “on call” in a way that still allows those free floating hours which are necessary for creative problem solving? You mention doing “similar things” and whether you are stuck in an office or home, I’m curious as to what “things” you feel are making best use of your time.

      1. cucumber*

        To be honest, my job requires absolutely zero creativity or creative problem solving, so that’s a big part of why being on call isn’t a huge issue for my brain to decompress. It’s all just math and numbers. I keep Microsoft Teams and email on my phone, and if I get a notification that looks urgent, I answer it (but honestly almost nothing at my job is ever so urgent I can’t take a couple hours to myself before responding). Otherwise, I spend my summer afternoons going to group fitness classes, doing yoga, walking my dogs, reading a book on my porch outside, or getting errands and cleaning done. I can’t exactly just dip way from my house for hours and hours at a time in case I do need to hop on the computer, but I don’t spend 8 hours a day working from June to September.

  37. Purple Cat*

    I hate how much our stupid hustle-culture has people questioning their value to their company even when they’re objective rock stars.
    OP – you’re able to do your job as well as you do, BECAUSE of all of the time, effort, and energy you’ve put into it in the past. PLEASE enjoy your success. It’s obvious how much your company values you. You need to focus yourself on the advice Alison often gives which is to focus on output and performance, and not get bogged down by details. You are delivering, so you are absolutely earning your keep. Your company doesn’t “own” you for a specific period of time – especially in your role/field, your company only gets your ideas. And it’s great that you’re able to get them out so quickly. Think of yourself like an author. While there are deadlines, publishers really care about the content of the book, not necessarily how long it takes to get out. Again, within reason – looking at you GRR Martin.

  38. Anonosaurus*

    I’m a bit like this, and I know that if I spent eight hours a day focusing on tasks my productivity would deteriorate. The time spent on other activities is what drives the creativity. Yes, the optics might not work and I don’t spell it out for my manager either. But ultimately this is what a focus on results looks like, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.

  39. cmcinnyc*

    All those years of working until midnight trained you to do this job at a high level. If it now takes you two hours what it takes someone else five? Walk the dog, do some yoga. You have literally earned it.

  40. bee*

    Very relieved to read the response that this is totally fine! I also have a “sprint brain” and have since childhood — I once had a teacher tell me she assumed I hadn’t put in any effort on a test because I finished so fast, so she was shocked when I got a perfect score! Now, at work, I do pretty much everything before lunch and spend the afternoon reading and vaguely monitoring emails. I also carry some guilt about this, but I was recently on vacation for a week and my cover strugggggggggggled with what I left, which I thought he would breeze through because it’s less than 1/4 of what I usually do (and then I cleaned up his mess, did everything he didn’t do, and caught up on the rest of the 3/4 in a solid 8 hour stretch on Monday).

    I think it’s also relevant that I have ADHD, and I know that I need to work in solid blocks — I’m the absolute worst at the Pomodoro method, because 25 minutes ends just when I’m getting into a groove, and a 5 minute break usually gets extended to 30. I also know that my brain is most productive in the morning, so I’ve shifted my schedule early to get an extra hour of focus time in, because I know I will be absolutely sleepy and useless by 2:00.

    1. CommanderBanana*

      I read very quickly and more than once would finish an in-class reading assignment in half the time allotted and then was told I was either skimming, faking, or to go back and read it over and over until everyone else caught up.

      Now that I think about it that was good training for the enforced mediocrity of most of my workplaces. Sad.

  41. MM*

    I’m echoing all of the supportive comments here and I’m going to go a step further and say that creative work *requires* the kind of “downtime” you describe. You said it yourself – you’re still working through creative problems while you’re walking your dog or whatever.

    If you fill your time with more busywork, your creative output will likely suffer. You’ve found the balance that works for you, so enjoy it!

  42. nonprofit writer*

    This is one of the reasons I wanted to switch to consulting. I just always hated being required to sit in an office building for 8 hours (plus the commutes on either end) even when I didn’t have a full day’s work (which was most days). Honestly, the only job where I can remember putting in full days was when I worked in my dad’s office on Saturdays during tax time (CPA firm) and in the summers, when I was in my early teens and then a bit in college. That was because everyone there was told to give me all the random busywork they could. And of course this was years ago when there was more admin-type work to be done–typing letters from handwritten drafts, filing papers, answering phones, sending faxes, making photocopies. In my post-college jobs I have always struggled to fill the days, with some exceptions.

    Now I work when I need to work, check email as needed depending on my clients’ needs, and tend to my kids and creative work the rest of the time. Sometimes the hours get wonky if I’m left dangling by a client and then I have to finish a project on deadline at a strange time of day. But there is no automatic assumption that I need to be at my computer all day.

    I do make less money, however. For me the trade-off works. But if OP can do this in a full-time salaried job (I might have stayed in mine if I could have worked remotely), then good for her!

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      This is totally me, except that I work for a nonprofit where we all WFH. When I worked in an office, I’d get done with my work in a few hours (or sometimes just an hour!) and then had to spend the rest of the day sitting in front of my computer pretending to work even though my boss knew I didn’t have enough to do. I’m one of the rare few whose quality of life actually went up in 2020 because I realized how much I LOVE WFH. When my old job made noises about going back to the office I realized I had to get out asap because that was a miserable existence for me. I hope I never don’t get to WFH again. In my current job, I probably work 6-8 hours a day, I start earlier in the day than my old office was open, and I finish earlier in the afternoon than my old job finished. It’s so amazing. And when I do stuff quickly my new boss is always impressed I can get stuff done so fast.

      I also grew up working for a parent’s office and was doing all the grunt work as well, learning to never just sit around and wait for work to come to me. Makes it hard to not feel guilty about taking longer breaks, but I’m learning to be better to myself. I *need* the breaks; I definitely work better when I take them.

      And now I shall take a much-needed nap. Here’s to WFH!

  43. Sprinter Type*

    The OP may find it helpful to approach things this way: While they are doing yoga or walking the dog, their subconscious is being productive. When they are actively doing work tasks, their conscious mind is being productive. It sounds as though the OP has found a career track that really fits with the way their brain processes information behind the scenes. Also, I’m betting the processing doesn’t turn off after hours — their employer is actually getting “extra” time! From what I can tell, this is not at all uncommon for creative types — just because the OP isn’t, say, a songwriter doesn’t mean their brain doesn’t work in a similar way.

    1. Generic Name*

      I don’t work in a creative field, but my job requires planning and problem solving. This letter resonated with me because I know a lot of my work happens subconsciously. Often I’ll be thinking below the surface as I’m doing laundry or in the shower or even in my dreams. I work billable hours, but it makes up for the time I spend “goofing off” during the work day. I still struggle with feeling guilty about it though.

  44. Paula*

    I love this question because I am much the same way. I stepped into a lower position after getting burnt out, and now I have several hours of down time every single day. I’m always available, but I’m not butt-in-seat typing, and for awhile I felt guilty about that. But there’s only so much file structuring and admin “clean up” work that I can do.

  45. kiki*

    This remind me of the Picasso napkin story:

    Picasso was at a Paris market when an admirer approached and asked if he could do a quick sketch on a paper napkin for her.
    Picasso politely agreed, promptly created a drawing, and handed back the napkin — but not before asking for a million Francs.
    The lady was shocked: “How can you ask for so much? It took you five minutes to draw this!”
    “No”, Picasso replied, “It took me 40 years to draw this in five minutes.”

    When you’ve worked in a given field for many years as LW has, being highly compensated has more to do with your experience and wisdom than how much time you spend on any given task. It also sounds like LW’s job is creative– downtime and keeping things percolating in the back of your mind is generally better for the creative process than just grinding for 8 hours straight.

  46. LiberryPie*

    Count me in as someone who is relieved to find so many people similar to myself! I am well respected, regularly get merit-based pay increases, have a lot of unique skills … and there are many days when I have NOTHING to do. I take naps, go for walks (no dogs, though), bake. My boss knows I’m not that busy, but at some point it becomes a burden on the boss to have to keep thinking of things for an employee to do, so I don’t think he minds me not always filling my schedule. I wish I were busier, in part because I’d rather have a sense of accomplishment than the sense of guilt at the end of a day of doing no work. I think there are other, more valid, reasons I like to be busy, but still, it was a pleasant surprise to read that Alison thinks this is totally fine!

    1. BEC*

      I’m wondering if there’s something else you can do as a smaller project that would give you a sense of purpose? Like a mini-class, learning a new skill, starting a degree? It would have to be flexible and also genuine out interesting/engrossing for you.

  47. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

    Other than within the steep learning curve of starting a new job, for at least the last 15 years on my job history I have been able to attain rock star status with seemingly so much less effort or stress than my counterparts. In one position where I was working in the office full time, I wrote about half of my first novel while on the clock because they just could not give me enough work to do for 8 hours a day. Now that I’m WFH permanently, I’m probably actively working about 25-30 hours a week. The rest of the time I’m available and logged in, but I do a good bit of housework and leisure activities in my downtime.

    I think it’s a combination of efficiency, focus, and organization. My co-workers seem to spend a lot of time looking for and researching things that I have diligently captured in my files, notes and spreadsheets, and I have a very good memory even without checking for the status of all projects I’m working on. I’ve also been very successful in the past of finding creative ways to automate manual processes that are eons out of date.

    OP, as long as your employer is happy with your output, feel free to cut yourself some slack and enjoy the downtime while you can.

  48. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

    “Believe me, plenty of people spend hours of their in-office workdays poking around on social media, reading the news, and watching YouTube…”

    Um excuse me, why was reading/commenting on AAM not on this list?? I consider time on this site to be a KPI for my job.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      Yeah, there is a part of me that regards this site as “professional development”. I’d rather learn from others’ mistakes.

  49. readsalot*

    This is how I was at my last job, but I wasn’t remote! I ended up reading books through Kindle Cloud for about 2-3 hours a day. It looked like I was doing something so nobody bothered me. I’ve since left and the person who was hired for my position is working about 50-60 hour weeks.

  50. Chris*

    This sounds a lot like me. I’m a high performer. I think big. I solve problems. I get things done that nobody else knows how to do. I also do a whole lot of nothing for big chunks of my day, and end up working until all hours of the night in order to get it all done.

    For years, I thought “wow, those ADHD kids sure have it good with their Adderall. I was always staring out the window in school. I wish I had ADHD so I could get some of that, it would really help with work.” Well, then my kid got diagnosed after her teachers recognized the clear signs — her behavior and performance could have perfectly described me in school. Within weeks of her starting medication, her teacher told us the improvement was dramatic. Her grades for the rest of the year bore it out. It was a wake-up call for me.

    Earlier this year, at age 43, I got evaluated for ADHD. Medication has been a big help for me to stay on task and do less working until midnight or later. I’d recommend getting an evaluation. If nothing else, it will rule it out, and you can focus on other things.

    1. NeedRain47*

      I don’t see that here. OP mentions working late earlier in their career, but doesn’t say they end up working all night or in a time crunch.

      1. Fran Fine*

        This. OP’s not working those kinds of hours anymore, so I’m not sure an evaluation is needed here when Alison’s explanation is the likeliest (OP’s just hella efficient).

  51. NeedRain47*

    How do you get a job where you’re not punished for this? Because this has been a problem since like fourth grade. I basically had to train myself to waste time b/c it doesn’t matter how much I’ve done, and I hate it.

    1. Anon all day*

      Find a job where you’re not micromanaged, where your employer trusts you as an employee to do your job, and where they have systems in place to measure output and production, not just busyness. I’ve also been like this forever, and I’m lucky enough to have found a job where I can be a superstar without having to pad my time/workload.

      1. Justin*

        Yep. On my first day, my current boss said, “I’m not a micromanager, can’t afford to be.” And it’s way way better.

        Shame it’s not the norm.

      2. NeedRain47*

        I’m not micromanaged, but I also can’t just decide when I’ve done enough for the day and go home. I’m expected to “work” for eight hours minimum every day. I’m well aware that no one is actually working for all eight hours, but we’re all required to fake it.

    2. Chris*

      Definitely try to find a job where you can pursue your true interests. I bounced around between majors in college before I figured it out, including adding a year to finish in a major that I didn’t even officially switch to until I was in my junior year.

      I mostly coasted through high school, with A’s in the classes I was most interested in, B’s in the ones that I somehow already knew the answers to, and D’s in the ones I couldn’t care less about. College was similar. But when I first started working, like OP, I would work late into the night. I didn’t have kids or any real responsibilities, so I’d just stay in the office working, working working. My best productivity would always kick in sometime after I ran out to grab dinner.

      Since I had strong interests in the work itself, there was always an inherent reward for me in improving and expanding my skills. Rather than dive super deep on any one part of the work, I’ve always been a generalist, somebody who can get just about anything done, but of course I have to figure it out sometimes first, and that leads to the late work. I think the key is to become essential in certain ways, and find ways to occasionally save the day. But this isn’t always an option with every type of work.

      I do all many of web work, but I’ve been most successful when I do it in-house, for mission-driven nonprofits. I’ve tried working for digital agencies, where I needed to focus on one area of my skills, and I was instantly miserable every time I’ve tried. Find something where you have a passion for the work or the mission, where you have flexibility and aren’t doing the same thing every day.

      And, of course, if you think you have ADHD, get tested because medications or better management strategies can really help.

  52. Liz*

    I’d hire the OP in a minute (and ask them to teach me their method!). I pay for results, not process, and is someone can do **excellent** work fast, I want them to enjoy their free time (assuming general availability for emergencies)! As mentioned in the answer to the letter, I suspect that the energy to do the work that fast is only possible with enough downtime, and why not? If they are on salary, there’s no need to micromanage hours (and most companies are certainly happy to assume that salaried employees with work all kinds of unreasonable hours).

    Plus: most people sitting in an office for 40 hours a week (or in their home office) are not working those hours unbroken. It’s impossible to do. Everyone needs time to think, rest, process. At the office, it may be chatting in the lunchroom, at home it may be a yoga class….

    1. Liz*

      And I’ll add, at my job I get a lot more done in less time than most of my other colleagues. Some of it is just lots of experience to draw on, some of it is that I have a knack for learning, understanding, and analyzing vast amounts of seemingly unrelated info. Etc. So, if time spent was the metric, they would lose out on a lot of higher quality work. I mean, I work way too many hours, and am totally burned out, because of an unreasonable workload, but if I wasn’t able to work fast, I wouldn’t be able to do it at all,

  53. Olivia S. Word*

    Did…did I write this? This describes my entire career—lots of downtime, but produce great and fast results, especially compared to my coworkers. Nice to see there are others!

    1. B*

      OP here – that’s been my big take away from reading the comments section. I think I imagined every other high performer I know is constantly cranking and never stops to breathe. But based on the comments I am seeing here sharing my perspective and experience, maybe that’s a flawed mental model that is not informed by actual data, you know?

  54. Kara*

    Add me to the growing list of commenters in the same situation.
    My last review (March of this year) I got an “exceeds/excels”, got a full bonus, an additional performance bonus, and one of the largest raises in my organization. I get all of my work done in about 20 hours of work a week – and I actively keep in touch with my peers, seek out new work or projects to add to my portfolio, and make sure they know I’m a resource.
    I used to feel guilty about it, but my partner pointed out that I’ve been working for 20+ years to get to this professional level and what I’m being paid for is my speed, expertise, and ability to turnaround a project on a dime. So I make sure I’m accessible during business hours – keep an eye on my phone and my messages/emails – and I don’t sweat it if I have more downtime some weeks.

  55. DrSalty*

    You’re living the dream, friend. Sounds like you worked very hard to build the skills to allow you to work so fast. You’ve earned your position. Congrats!

  56. anonymous73*

    A good manager will only care about your productivity, not how many physical hours you spend in front of your computer. I have a similar problem but I’m bored and not doing anything to further my career. Carry on OP. There’s nothing wrong with the way you are handling your workload.

  57. me seventeen*

    I related to this letter so hard. I am a newbie in comparison (been at my job 5 years and stopped doing crazy overtime after the first 2) but I too feel bad about the amount of time I spend working. To be fair, my role tends to get work in spurts so sometimes I work mostly all day, and can be crazy busy for periods–which has a certain amount of satisfaction to it as long as it doesn’t go on too long–but the majority of the time I’m sitting around reading AAM and twiddling my thumbs. I take the occasional class in my field and do that work during the work day, and I make sure to be close to my computer and check frequently for any requests through email or chat. While I probably could rustle up some extra work to do, I prefer to spread it out and work leisurely with lots of breaks.

    I also have mental health issues so sometimes I’m really unable to focus or motivate myself, and that definitely contributes to a general feeling of low worth. I tell myself that I get everything that needs to be done done and receive nothing but praise, but the guilt is still there! My boss has no idea how much time I spend sitting around doing nothing. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around non-capitalism-y ways to view my identity because I honestly don’t have much of a life outside of work….

  58. Danger UXB*

    Jesus, nobody with an office, mentally-driven job works 8 hours a day. I used to claim as a copywriter that I had seven really good creative minutes a week and the rest of the week was spent trying to get into that zone where great ideas flowed magically. Mainly by watching the art directors smoke in front of the building.

    1. it me*

      Right on. We have this perception that when we were sitting in offices we weren’t having down time, but we were. We’ve just all forgotten it lol

  59. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

    It me! I’m not lazy, I’m efficient :) and you bet your behind I put “consistently achieved 200%+ productivity while maintaining excellent quality ratings” as a bullet point on my resume.

    1. Generic Name*

      Yes! I once had a discussion with the ceo of my small company where I admitted I was obsessed with efficiency because I’m inherently lazy. She laughed and said she felt the same.

  60. TMan*

    I can say the one thing Alison didn’t mention is that you have been doing this for 20 years and you worked very hard in the beginning to learn your craft. I too have been doing my job for a long time in a medical setting and though many of my colleagues seem constantly stressed, I am able to generally prioritize and breeze through my tasks, even though there has been more put on my plate over the years. I used to feel guilty that I wasn’t constantly “busy,” but I’ve learned to accept that I am just good at my job and that I am producing what the organization needs. Experience sometimes does indeed breed wisdom. Enjoy your success!

  61. PSA*

    Oh, the part about having free time to do not-work things during the workday resonates! I finish my work pretty quickly and will run off to do errands, sneak in a class at the gym, take a nap… Unfortunately, I felt like upper management made some astoundingly unfair decisions about my professional growth in recent years, so I’m not totally satisfied in my job… but I will likely stay because after a very long time of remarkable workday independence, I don’t how to go back to the ways of “butt in seat” > “project complete.”

  62. PinkCandyfloss*

    OP don’t forget that we work in a much different landscape than 20 years ago as well. I myself have 30 years in and am in the same boat as you – I get more done in less time, and have learned to allow myself to accept and appreciate the breaks in between (that used to be filled with commuting or other inefficiencies of the day). The tools I use to do my work are much different too. 30 years ago all my files were paper and stuck in a cabinet. Signatures had to be collected by interoffice memo or spending two hours wandering around trying to find everyone. Today they are all eFiles on a shared drive saving both space and time sending docs back and forth to collaborators & signatories. Analytics and predictive algorithms have pulled my job out of complex Excel sheets that used to take hours to format before I could spend my hours of review & analysis, into dashboards I can load with a push button. So many efficiencies – not only have I gotten better at my job, but my tools are better too. I have shaved hours out of each week that used to be spent on absolute nonsense.

    So don’t buy into the capitalist hype, OP. Not busy does not equal lazy. It equals efficient! And experienced! Congratulations, and well done.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I’ve been in a similar situation and I just took on more to fill the time. Surely there’s always more things that can be picked up? (even if it isn’t specific “tasks” then things like writing documentation, researching new/better ways of doing things, studying for a certification, etc etc). I wouldn’t necessarily look to be butt’s in seat for exactly 40 hours or whatever, but I think it’s a reasonable expectation to pick up as much as you have capacity for.

  63. Nerto*

    Have worked this way for 20+ years. The peer pressure to be working all the time is hard to resist. But the system is set up in a way where you can’t affect change.

  64. Not that Leia*

    I can relate to this but curious how Alison’s answer might change in a field with hourly billing. Even though I am salaried, I know everyone pretty much needs to bill for the full 40 hours to maintain overall profitability. But how do you account for those different levels of efficiency without “punishing” or overloading high performers? Like, if we’ve planned for a task to take 8 hours and it only takes me 4, what’s a fair way of handling that? It feels problematic to just bill 8 and go for a walk, even if, as Alison says, the downtime can be a net to productivity. Conversely, sometimes things do take longer and I wouldn’t want to expect that individuals bear the brunt of that either. It’s a real struggle with this kind of work.

    1. Hlao-roo*

      Alison did answer a question once about being able to bill for a dream. Search for “drama over kids’ fundraisers, can I charge for dream time, and more” and it’s question #2. There’s also some good discussion in the comments about was is/isn’t OK to bill time for.

    2. Purple Cat*

      I think you can move to a “Billable per project” type structure. So the client gets billed for 2 hours per project. OP completes it 1 – great. OP’s peers take 4, that’s going to be a management issue, but the client is paying the same. OR due to title OP bills out at a higher rate than her peers. So she bills less hours, but it’s the same revenue.

    3. Nerto*

      if you are truly good they promote you. Otherwise you realize you are being paid x and they are charging y, so you find a job that pays y, usually outside of the hourly billing world. If you are a salaried employee, it’s kind of lame to worry about hours.

    4. NotAnotherManager!*

      This can be a big problem in professional services organizations (like law firms and consulting) because a lot of the metrics relate to billable hours and profitability and the incentives are tied to having a large number of hours. This is changing a little with more types of alternate fee arrangements that are based on success, but it’s a slow change.

      My old firm did a model that looked at billables, quality of work, write-offs (not related to client accommodation), and skills development for a more balanced look at someone’s performance. People who did excellent work very efficiently did tend to produce more, but they were also the ones who got higher bonuses, more client-facing opportunities, and to take on higher-level tasks earlier. It doesn’t necessarily address the base problem, though, which is that the industry is very tied to the billable hour. Overall, what I saw was that the high-performers made their hours and got better assignments and more responsibility faster (a lock on partner-track), and the ones who billed a lot of hours but not efficient were eventually counselled out.

  65. PB Bunny Watson*

    So…how do you *know* if you’re really as good as people say you are or if you are just good at appearing good? Not saying this is the case for OP at all… asking for myself, truly. When you’re in a society that makes you feel like you should always be doing more… how can you tell when you really should be doing more?

    1. BEC*

      What are the ways that your position measures results, or receives feedback? How are your results/feedback?

      How do you feel? Do you feel motivated and purposeful? Are you interested in what you’re doing (doesn’t have to be for pay – are you interested and feel a sense of belonging?)

      1. PB Bunny Watson*

        Well, I do feel motivated and purposeful… and interested in what I’m doing. A sense of belonging… kinda. That’s not a feeling I’m particularly used to, but in as much as I can feel that way, sure. Otherwise, it’s just all kinda subjective. But I work in libraries, so metrics are a bit screwy. There is usage, but that’s affected by a multitude of things. So you just have to believe your supervisors that you’re doing good work.

    2. B*

      OP here – I am lucky in that my work is directly tied to revenue – I bring in money, and that money is an objective way to say “look at what I am achieving”. I recognize this dynamic would be a lot tougher to evaluate, overall, without these explicit kinds of results. I also recognize that Dunnin-Kruger is real (if, in retrospect, somewhat overstated in the initial research). It’s tough for us to evaluate our own performance, and we typically need feedback from thrid parties to develop an accurate picture.

      1. PB Bunny Watson*

        Absolutely. And you are definitely not dealing with DK… though I kinda suspect most of the people that applies to wouldn’t even worry about it in the first place, right? But you’re right. It can be hard for us to evaluate ourselves… and some of the stories on here of managers not knowing how to give feedback can probably spiral overthinkers like myself. But your consistent results aren’t a fluke or luck… that’s talent and skill. It’s just so much less apparent without a nonbiased benchmark like bringing in funds.

  66. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    This is probably less relevant to OP than to others in the AAM community. I’ve really needed to remind myself that even though I’m not working hard for my entire 9-5, that doesn’t mean I’m lazy. Actually, I’m mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausted. We’ve been in an ongoing pandemic for nearly 2 1/2 years where I am, which has caused an ever-present ambient level of stress that we’re just not even noticing anymore, but still has real effects. Even simple activities take more time and planning than they did before, with risk assessments. There are awkward conversations galore about precautions and risks. Everything is hard.

    I am doing the best I can, but I am struggling, like probably all of us are. So let’s all be gentle with ourselves and others.

  67. Fenix*

    OP, also think of it this way. Sometimes you have to leave work an hour early on a Thursday–so you work an extra hour on a Wednesday. That’s exactly what you’ve done here, except to the extreme, and over a longer period of time. Even if you were paid overtime in those previous years, that’s when you put in the energy and hours to get the expertise to be extremely efficient as you are today

    The only thing I would add is, IF interested, see if there are others on your team/office that you could ‘coach’ either in similar positions or earlier in their career.

  68. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    Not that you need to change anything, but you could consider doing some formal or informal mentoring of your colleagues, if they’re open to it. You probably have a lot of wisdom to offer to those who haven’t had all the work experience you have.

    Though again, nothing wrong with sticking with what you’re doing now.

  69. EddieMunson4ever*

    I possibly wrote this myself (along with a bunch of other commenters apparently)! Agree with everyone who says that you’re getting paid for your expertise and quality, not a butt in a seat. I’m also a subject matter expert for various topics at my job, so I consider the downtime as being “on call” to help out with these topics. No, I may not be actively working at any given moment, but if my phone rings or an email pops up, I’m ready to give a fast response and solution.

  70. Tris Prior*

    I work much the same way as OP, but we’re required to fill out a daily timesheet listing what tasks we worked on and for how long. So I always end up feeling SUPER guilty for not being productive 8 hours a day and feel like I have to look for extra work when I finish my own.

    We don’t have clients or a billable hours requirement and I am salaried so I think this whole system is really stupid and unnecessary, but here we are.

    1. Thorn*

      I admit that when this happens, I just record the time so that all my “thinking” time goes under stuff coming in the future.

      1. KRM*

        We used to do that at an old job! We had a lot of collaborations that had to be tracked so the collaborators could see that they’re getting the 2.5 FTE they’re paying for, etc. But our department head used to say “think about it for 5′, bill for an hour”, meaning that on week 1 you might take the 10/20 hours to work out when you’re going to be able to do the actual experiments, parameters, make sure you have the proper supplies, etc., and that’s just as valid as actually spending your time doing them and analyzing the data.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Yes! Planning, analysis and research time are all billable. Even if you do some of that skull work while walking the dog.

        2. Tris Prior*

          This is a great way to think about it! Thank you.

          I come from past jobs where client billing WAS involved and we often got in trouble for billing too many hours to the project. Whatever “too many” even is.

          But that’s not the environment I am in any more so it looks like a shift in thinking is in order.

  71. Joielle*

    I can definitely relate to this! For me, the main thing is that a lot of my work involves reading complex documents and I’m a really fast reader. Always have been. My boss often tells me that she’s amazed by how much I can take on without breaking a sweat, but I honestly don’t feel overworked and I do PLENTY of laundry and dog walking and daydreaming when working from home. It’s just that my coworkers spend twice as long as me on a big part of our jobs, which leaves me a lot of time for other stuff.

  72. Becca Rosselin-Metadi*

    If I were her manager and found this out, I would tell her to keep on keeping on. She’s a rock star and excellent at her job! If she can keep doing that while walking her dogs/doing yoga/taking a nap/on-line shopping (okay, that’s me) that’s great. You keep doing you, OP-you’re awesome.

    1. Northland*

      I have an employee like this and I understand it because I’m also like this, but unfortunately, most people would suddenly start to see issues with your work if they knew. I tell people about how I can only focus for like 15 minutes at a time at this point, but just couldn’t reveal how little I think I work.

      1. Pamanda*

        I completely agree here with Northland. I think Alison’s advice is spot-on as far as OP’s attitude about the whole situation (me, sitting in my shirt that reads “You don’t hate Mondays, you hate capitalism.”), but, OP, I think you shouldn’t advertise your methods to your boss. Or co-workers. Only because I think people will start to take a closer, more negative, look at your work. And lower-performing colleagues may complain.

        I’m in a similar-ish boat, but haven’t found the courage(?) to fully disengage – I just sit at home, in front of the work computer, waiting for an email or an IM or a phone call, but scrolling AMA instead of working. I think I probably could take a nap or a walk or a long lunch, most days, but I still feel like I can’t. Like many other commenters, I’ll try to take this as a sign and chill out! :-)

        1. WestSideStory*

          Yes! This is the scenario I wanted to discuss with Cucumber (see earlier post). It’s really not a break to rest the brain if you’re wasting your time waiting for someone to pull the trigger and ask you for something.

          This would apply to folks stuck in offices as well as WFH. How can one retrain to be able to block out hours of necessary downtime?

  73. Thorn*

    I’m so glad you asked this question. My situation is very similar. People often comment about how hard I work and how busy I must be all the time. I’m honest about the fact that I leave on time most days, and try not to accept untrue praise but otherwise let it go.

    And Alison, thanks for the perspective. It is true that my job also requires a lot of research and connecting ideas/problem solving. This is good perspective.

  74. Sookie Stackhouse*

    This is literally me! I’m the “rock star” of my team and am constantly being praised, last year, I received a spot bonus for my efforts and this year, in conjunction with an annual bonus near the top of the range for my role, I received an outstanding achievement award (10% of my salary in company stock) which is typically only awarded to management of which, I am not. We have unlimited vacation and I routinely take nearly 30 days off a year. I recently got back from a 2 week vacation whereby I added 4 days due to covid at the last minute to find I had received a 12% off cycle raise. Sometimes, I feel like I’ve won the lottery, which I think I have but I also think this is a case of the role being a perfect fit for me. OP, I think you should just enjoy the fact that you’ve cracked the code but it is also good to do a gut check every once in awhile to make sure you’re still That Girl.

  75. I AM a Lawyer*

    I really struggled in the billable hours environment because I was so efficient but still needed to find a way to bill someone for 8 hours a day. Things that took my colleagues 10 hours would take me 2 to 3. It was impossible. I’ve moved on to an in house position with no billable hours and have become a much better lawyer for it, even though I have lots of downtime.

    One thing I discussed with my therapist while struggling in my old job is that we all work differently and we need to try to work within our own style (for lack of a better word) rather than meeting this arbitrary 40 hour workweek that is so ingrained. OP, it’s so great you’ve figured out what works for you and I think Alison’s right – it’s probably one of the keys to your success!

  76. Northland*

    I am this same person. I have a lot of guilt and stress sometimes because I always feel like everyone is so busy and I’m just not. I am also extremely successful and have good results, it just does not take me a long time to do it. Working from home HAS helped though and helped this mindset. I often found myself just mindlessly scrolling online or trying to chat with people in my office, but at home I’m up and down and respond and do other things but then come back and I’m in a much better mental space, but I also feel better about my work too and don’t feel dragged down. After over 20 years I’ve just accepted that I am extremely efficient (I do know I read and process information much faster than other people) and I’m inherently lazy, so I do think I’ve found the easiest way to do things while getting results. I was this way in school too though.

    1. river*

      What you call “inherently lazy” is probably another form of efficiency: only using enough energy and no more.

  77. A Pound of Obscure*

    Twenty-five years ago I took my first salaried position with a well-known firm defense and I.T. services contractor. I remember our site director explaining that each of us was responsible for meeting contract obligations and performing our jobs to expected quality levels, and whether that took 3 hours of work per day or 12 hours was none of his concern. (This speech came after some petty staff members complained about so-and-so coming in ten minutes late or taking a slightly longer lunch.)

  78. Sprechen Sie Talk?*

    This is me as well. Unfortunately its also driven me to end up in a real bad spot of ‘boreout’ where I really need to change things up with a new job, new challenges, and new people with new experiences around me. Its caused some depression and a lot of anxiety lately as well due to frustration – I don’t get the recognition you do and can’t get promoted for love or money because you know, too productive where I am. Got a problem that a senior leader should be able to deal with but can’t? No problem, dump it on Sprechen, she’ll sort it out and make you look good to the CEO!

    My boss knows and we are working on helping me get from here to the adjacent field I want to transition to, but Im so tired, bored, and disillusioned. If they wont promote me/pay me more/challenge me then I have no qualms about taking it in time which I then use to do training or personal projects to protect my sanity. Hell, today I up and went to a museum and lunch.

    Frankly, I dont think any knowledge worker can be expected to work 8 hours pedal to the metal day in and day out. I get about 4 good hours out of the day to do my work and then spend the rest of the day learning or catching up with contacts, etc.

    I wouldnt feel guilty necessarily but if I were your manager I would be concerned about finding enough, or the right type, of work to keep you engaged and in our company and not going to a competitor. Have you thought about other areas or type of work you would be curious to learn about? Or say an initiative that is completely out of your normal scope of work that you could cross-pollinate ideas and approaches?

  79. I'm just here for the cats!*

    OP You are fine. There is that old saying you are paying me not for how long i complete something but for the quality of the product and the years it took me to learn how to complete it in a short time. Keep in mind that many of your coworkers are probably like you were 20 years ago, and as they get more experience and such they will get better.

    Your feelings probably come from your retail experience. In my experience, in most retail jobs it is drilled into you that you have to be productive your entire shift. No customers in the store, time to clean and stock. Even if you have already cleaned everything you need to re-clean it. This just sets you up to fail because in most other jobs you have a little bit of down time, even if its just doing menial paperwork or something.

  80. Silverose*

    I’m not in a creative field – I’m in social services – and I work in office in a client/customer facing position. I also feel incredibly lazy because the actual amount of work most days is limited….as Allison suggested, I spend lots of time on my personal phone on social media, surfing the web, etc. But I was in the top 3 last month for documented productivity company-wide of people who do the same type of job I do across multiple sites. And everyone else complains about how crazy busy they are. Plus I get accolades for having higher quality documentation of that productivity than many of my peers. I have no idea what everyone else is so busy doing. If my boss asks me to help with something and I’m physically able to do so (I have mobility challenges), I help out, but I don’t go out of my way looking for new challenges; I’m already covering more than most of my peers with less time in the job than many of them. I’m still bored more than half the time. I’m not moving on because this is the highest paid bachelors level social services job in my geographic area. My mama didn’t raise no fool.

    OP, you keep doing you.

  81. Your friendly neighborhood Zen Buddhist*

    I am not a rock star. I’ve gotten good feedback and even a little award, but I definately feel like I could be doing more. However, after years of working really hard just to make ends week and to sometimes try to excell (plus the whole pandemic thing), I’m just…tired. After a career change, I make the most money I’ve ever made to do the least amout of work. I feel like I’ve learned that hard work doesn’t always pay off and that my job is the least interesting thing about me and I’m trying to find out who the hell I am. I also think I’m falling into some bad habits but I’ll try to take this as a reminder to go better while seeking balance.

    1. marvin*

      This question made me sad! It seems like there is an expectation that we’re not really working unless we’re miserable and exhausted.

      I’m also a person who tends to do my best creative work with a lot of downtime and I’m consistently annoyed at the idea that taking breaks, exercising, and relaxing are considered lazy and unproductive. I never do my best work when I’m staring at a blank screen miserably for hours but somehow that has become the gold standard for being a good office worker.

  82. hayling*

    There’s a great Rolling Stone feature on Sia, where a producer complains about her being paid so much to write a song that takes her 20 minutes. She shot back “Yeah but it took me 15 years to take 20 minutes.”

  83. marvin*

    This question made me sad! It seems like there is an expectation that we’re not really working unless we’re miserable and exhausted.

    I’m also a person who tends to do my best creative work with a lot of downtime and I’m consistently annoyed at the idea that taking breaks, exercising, and relaxing are considered lazy and unproductive. I never do my best work when I’m staring at a blank screen miserably for hours but somehow that has become the gold standard for being a good office worker.

  84. Beth*

    I don’t think laziness is real. Having periods of slowing down and being less focused on work is a normal part of life, and there’s pretty much always a good reason for it. The reasons aren’t always obvious from the outside looking in, but most people want to use their energy and time in ways that makes life better and gets things done. If it looks like that’s not happening, it’s usually either because they’re using those things in a way you don’t see (e.g. being less on top of things than usual at work because they’re handling a family emergency that’s sucking up all their energy) or because they don’t have enough of those things to be productive (e.g. they’re sick, or burned out, or exhausted, or struggling with mental health, or etc). It’s pretty rare for people to have the tools to work, have the time and energy, be in good physical and mental condition, and still go “actually I would rather be idle forever than get anything productive done.”

    I don’t think it’s a coincidence, either, that most of us are more likely to judge ourselves as ‘lazy’ than to call other people ‘lazy’. With our friends and family, when they’re in a period of low productivity, we remind them it’s okay to relax and that rest is necessary. Even with our least favorite coworkers, we generally understand that they’re not robots and will have bereavement leave, sick time, vacation, and some days where they’re at work but just having an off day and not getting much done. But with ourselves? God forbid we take an afternoon walk after we’ve finished all our tasks for the day! Or advance into a lower-key job after years of working intensely! We’re often way harsher on ourselves than we would be on anyone else.

    1. Irish Teacher*

      And if it IS real, then those who actually are aren’t the ones who worry about it. I have met some people who boast about their avoidance of work. “Ha, I turned off my phone so the boss couldn’t reach me and they got my colleague to come in instead. He’s such a pushover” or “I made a complete mess of cleaning the bathroom so my husband/wife would do it himself/herself in future!” I might consider those people lazy, but the people who worry about being…nope. If you were lazy, it would be intentional and you’d feel you’d achieved something when you managed to avoid work. In the situation in the letter, a lazy person would be boasting about how they were still managing to get awards while doing the bare minimum, not worrying that they should be doing more.

    2. Antilla the Hon*

      Laziness IS indeed real and I’ve worked with a couple bone idle, completely unproductive, and underperforming people through the years.

      That being said, if someone is productive and can get great work done at lightning speed, more power to them! It sounds like OP has a genuine love of their work. It sounds like they have a job where work doesn’t seem like work to them because they love it so much. :). My last job was like that, but I had to quit because I needed a job with health insurance. I miss that job every day and am in a soulless slog of a job now.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      No, there are actually people who actively avoid work and don’t put forth bare minimum effort. I think they’re a minority of people and that many instances of people failing to do something has more to do with a lack of skills or some sort of medical issue, but there are people who are actually lazy beyond basic rest and relaxation needs.

      My favorites are the ones that do more work actively avoiding a task versus just doing it.

      1. Beth*

        I’ve definitely seen the ones that do more work to avoid a task vs just doing it! My favorite version of that is from teaching undergrads. Every term I’d get a couple students who spent so much work trying to cheat that 1) they would’ve been done faster if they just did the assignment as designed, and 2) the work they did actually taught them the material as well as more traditional studying methods would. (All those kids trying to sneak a cheat sheet into the final exam? By the time they’ve reviewed the course material to figure out what to write down, pared each point down to the shortest possible version, and written it all out that little tiny notecard, they’ve probably learned the material just as well as the ones that tried to memorize it all.)

        I don’t think I’d call that kind of work ‘laziness’, though. Counterproductive effort, definitely. Incompatible with workplace norms and demands, often, yeah. But when you put that much work into avoiding a task, that’s it’s own kind of work, isn’t it?

  85. Raktajino*

    I love love love this.

    Everyone needs to read Laziness Does Not Exist, by Devon Price. A good chunk of it is about exactly this: work-life balance and upending rigid expectations.

  86. Irish Teacher*

    I felt a bit this way during the two lockdowns. As a learning support teacher, some of my work just couldn’t be done online and I also had some students who needed all their time for their mainstream subjects and either doing live classes with them or preparing work for them would only be placing extra stress on them or taking time away from their work in their mainstream classes and I also had students who simply didn’t engage, either at all or who engaged only with mainstream classes. So I had a fair bit of downtime and was not working the same number of hours I would be in the classroom. But on the other hand, I was adapting my practice to meet all my students’ needs. For some, that meant easing off. For others, it meant continuing as if we were in the classroom.

    And like you, my bosses were happy with what I was doing.

  87. river*

    “Downtime is sleep for creativity” Just like your body needs sleep to function, creativity needs downtime to function.
    Driving yourself relentlessly will destroy your creativity (and maybe you).
    You are living in the best possible way. Don’t feel guilty! You have discovered the right path for you!

  88. Michelle Smith*

    Sorry but I find this hilarious. OP please read back your letter again. You’ve been doing this for 20 years, you’re very good at what you do to the point of efficiency, and you’re the most productive person on your team. Rather than asking if you should feel guilty, maybe rethink the entire system of toxic productivity in capitalism that makes you equate your worth with how many hours you spend chained to a desk. Enjoy your life and keep doing what you do well.

  89. Efficiency queen*

    This is exactly me. Extremely efficient and always recognized for the high quality of my work. I often feel guilty too, but my partner says that I am paid for the job, not for the number of hours I work. I am always willing to pitch in and help others when needed. I am coming to terms with it and am ok with napping in the afternoon or catching up on personal pursuits while ensuring that I am available when something comes up.

  90. Bow Ties*

    This one really resonates with me. I’m not in sales but everything else is the same. I’ve been feeling quite guilty. I keep reminding myself 20 years when I job shared with another person (we had to switch jobs every two weeks for reasons I never understood). She would be really busy particularly in one of the jobs whereas I had so much time on my hands in both jobs. I work productively and fast. Most of my jobs over the years have had off peak periods where I have little work but I know that I’m organised and I work fast. I cut and paste the letter and response so I can re-read it when I feel guilty about only working a few hours a day when I’m WFH.

  91. Starbuck*

    Id’ think most about reframing this
    “Despite all this downtime, I am still a rock star”
    to perhaps it’s this:
    “[because of] all this downtime, I am still a rock star”

    Rest and downtime are necessary for keeping your stamina and productivity. Sounds like OP is in a really great place for herself, but has our toxic hustle-culture messaging making her think she’s doing something wrong. Not so!

  92. Me And Only Me*

    This person could be me. I’ve been doing my current job for 22 or so years, I’m approaching retirement (>5 years), and I do my job fast. Never any complaints about the quality, I’m maxed out on compensation and potential re-classifications (I have had three reclasses in 11 years), and it is what it is. I have NO desire to be management, my compensation is satisfactory, and I don’t want the bullsheet that comes with having to be in management. I do manage a small team, but they tend to run themselves after training. I DO feel guilty about the time I’m not actually working but getting paid, but I’m also salaried, so, I feel like it evens itself out over the years. I’m ALWAYS available when someone is looking for me, even when I’m doing something non-work-related during my workday, via TEAMS, which I carry around on my phone. I struggle on the two days a week I need to be in my office, trying to look busy, when at home I’m online early, doing all the things, I attend all the meetings, train the people, etc. Have written a full 100+ procedure manual for what I do, so the next person that comes in won’t have to struggle with where things are or how to do certain things, have learned all the ins and outs of my extremely niche field, present at conferences and receive requests for help all the time (which I have time to do, so I do it). Yet, here we are, some days I might have 6 hours of actual work, some days only 3. I feel your guilt. But I also don’t think you’re doing anything wrong. I think this is how REAL work gets done and always has gotten done, but when you’re at home there’s no shared lunches in the conference room, or chitchat around the water cooler, or time needed to walk to some meeting somewhere else in the work complex. You’re filling your hours with mundane life chores, and yes, your brain is still “on” and I have no doubt you’d jump in on something if it were needed immediately. I know I do. Honestly, it feels LOVELY to have this kind of work/life balance, and I feel for those whose jobs are not going to be able to work that way. But I also look at it this way: I WORKED MY WAY HERE. I worked hard for many years, learning new things, polishing procedures and processes, creating best practices and shortcuts that have made it possible to be where I am now. You got to this point honestly.

  93. KJ*

    I’m in the same boat and my boss knows it. They consider me just being available and ready to jump in when needed an excellent resource. My experience is my value. It is hard seeing much younger much lower paid colleagues always scrambling but it is what it is.

  94. Chilipepper Attitude*

    I did not read all the other posts but did you know there is research showing people over about 40 are more productive while working part time?

    You are perfect as you are says this internet stranger!

    1. Adalind*

      Is there? That’s really interesting. I’ll have to poke around the research a bit! I feel like I relate to that – my job isn’t super busy, but when it is I get the work done pretty quickly and efficiently. Since we wfh a lot I feel like I should be doing something “productive” instead of other tasks around the house, but I always get good reviews/praise for what I’m doing. I feel I don’t deserve it. haha

  95. That guy*

    I would love to hear feedback from this person’s manager and/or coworkers. Based on my own experience with the wildly divergent assessments regarding wfh productivity between self-professed “rock stars” and their managers who have actual accountability in my own company, I suspect this is an example of drastic and hilarious myopia.

  96. Mizzle*

    Coming at this from a different angle: if your workplace cares about work-life balance and preventing employee burnout, you actually have a wonderful opportunity to show your colleagues that it’s possible to be successful without overworking oneself. If, instead of worrying that you’re doing it wrong, you can go all the way to being confident that you’re doing this right, that could be a real boon both to your colleagues’ health and your company’s long-term success.

    (Ideally, managers would be promoting this in both word and deed, but they seem to struggle with it at least as much as regular employees.)

  97. WillowSunstar*

    It depends on the job and company. My current dept actively discourages down time to the point where we must track in detail every minute spent on projects. Some days it feels like I have to beg for more work from supervisor/boss to get the minimum in, which is just under 7 hours. They do take into account our breaks for hourly employees. But it’s very anxiety inducing and you know the data will eventually be used to make layoff decisions. Company never has done this in any other dept and I’ve been there for over a decade.

  98. That One Person*

    In a way though it’s nice to compare the “then and now.” Back then it took so much time because you were building your personal archives of experience and knowledge. It’s going to be easier to see the changes to your rhythm of work too when you compare the early days with the current – it’s kind of like comparing someone’s art style between early and later art pieces (it’s fun for me to see these differences and evolution in things like manga that expand years and years of drawing). It might help to try and consider what your work rhythm looked like more throughout time though I won’t fault you if its harder to remember – the beginning and end can be so memorable, but sometimes chunks of the journey there can fall through.

    I’m really happy for you though as it looks like you’ve achieved a great level of “work smart, not hard.” You have some personalized break methods that help refresh the brain so you can have those spontaneous problem solving moments and flashes of inspiration. I think also the work days people have promoted as “normal” are due to the office environments. I had this one driver twice where the rideshare was a side gig and he admitted without all the office interruptions he basically finished his day’s work in 4-6 hours. He had thought it was silly they wanted so much time from him when his experience let him finish so much faster, and really the main thing slowing him down before was just constant interruptions from coworkers. To be fair I don’t think he really missed the social aspect either and his work wasn’t a really collaborative type. Working from home helped him realize though how much time was eaten up by other people and how much time his work actually took compared to the artificial time his company believed it should take. So its also not just you whose finishing earlier than they expect.

  99. MillennialHR*

    I really enjoyed reading these comments. I work hard and I meet deadlines (or complete work before them) and often have to self-implement deadlines because my role is ever-changing and developing, so some standards do not exist. I’ve felt guilty that it seems like I can speed through my work and complete my tasks on time, but I need time to do things like read AAM or additional research into different topics (developing more comprehensive e-learning courses is a great example).

    Knowing that I’m not alone makes me feel so much better and much less guilty!

  100. H3llifIknow*

    Oh to some level this could be me. I do have a BA and an MS and some professional certifications that make me very marketable and I’m well known in my field. But I also do about 4 -5 max of “real hours” of work a day. I have created my own templates, processes, ways of getting the analyses automated to some degree etc…so I do NOT feel guilty. I do hate that because I work as a contractor for the govt. we have to “account for 8 hours of work daily” but basically everyone just enters 8 regardless of the actual number and since we’re salaried I don’t feel it’s that big a deal. But as I said, I used to also worry about being lazy but I watch others in my office or my field do their jobs sooooo inefficiently or spend so much time complaining, I’ve given up on the guilt or feeling lazy. ENJOY your success and downtime. You have earned it!

  101. cucumber*

    I also wanted to add – if you haven’t read it, I would highly recommend the book Rest by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang to everyone! It’s not a huge book, and has a ton of really interesting and scientific information about why both active and passive rest are absolutely critical to high performing work, and why the human brain wasn’t designed to work the amount of hours we’re currently expected to work. It radically changed how I view my work day.

  102. CheerfulPM*

    Sorry if I missed the specific thread on this – but what happens if you’re in this situation (been at a job for 15+ years, you’re very efficient and can often get your necessary work done in 20-25hrs a week, willing to scale up on launch weeks or system down events) but now expected to come into office twice a week (was 4 days a week pre-pandemic)? I’m in this situation and since my downtime is harder to mask when in the office, it has really started to stress me out and make me resentful. I’m job searching, but conversations around full remote or just once a month in the office have been meant with staunch no’s.

  103. Nora*

    Ohhh this really resonates with me. I was recently diagnosed late (common in women!) with the strain of ASD that would once have been called Asperger’s. While I’ve been the top performer everywhere I’ve ever worked, sometimes doing four or five people’s jobs at once during transition periods, I’ve always felt like it’s a dirty secret how much my fast, high-performing capacity requires a lot of what would look to other people like not working— lying on the floor, taking a walk, taking a break to do laundry or play my fiddle, etc. Remote work has been SUCH A GIFT for me, because I can spend less time performing work, and more time doing what I need to do to perform at a high level. The fluorescent lights, small talk, cold temperatures, confusing nonsense rituals, and pressure to constantly LOOK like you’re working made offices a living hell, and left me with less than zero in my tank at the end of the day, creating a cycle of burnout, chronic illness, and utter misery.

    I’m lucky now to work fully remote and have a boss who gets that workers are adults and that performance can be measured my results. It has taken an enormous amount of stress off to know that I’m exceeding expectations but don’t have to feel like I’m slowly killing myself. My immigrant family work ethic has been hard to reconcile with this, but I’m starting to see the ways that my need for all that decompressing and self-regulation is actually tied directly to my capacity for high performance— that for some people, you just can’t have one without the other. Some folks are work marathoners and some are work sprinters, and as long as the work is done and everyone’s happy, we should be allowed to manage ourselves in the way that works.

  104. Florida Fan 15*

    “If you were my manager and you knew the truth of how I spend my time, would you be upset?”

    I’m the director of an office of 50. We have target production goals. If my staff is hitting or exceeding those targets and the work is quality, I couldn’t care less how many hours they’re spending to do so. Currently, some of my staff isn’t hitting target and we spend a fair amount of time talking about time management, expectations, etc. But for those that are, no way in hell am I going to find fault.

    Please ease up on yourself, OP. There’s nothing magical about an 8-hour workday.

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