Quotes from In Praise of Idleness

in-praise-of-nothing-bertrand-russellIn 1932, the British philosopher Bertrand Russell penned a poignant and paradigm-challenging essay titled “In Praise of Idleness.” In it, Russell critiqued an idea that has always been, like, fundamental to the organization of Western civilization—namely, the idea that work is inherently virtuous and an end in itself.

Following are some of my favorite quotes from this essay:

  • The conception of duty, speaking historically, has been a means used by the holders of power to induce others to live for the interests of their masters rather than for their own.
  • Nah, wage labor is pretty cool sometimes, but leisure is awesome too and produces great things. We have the technology and infrastructure to greatly reduce the forced workload of the average human, and that should be our goal—to liberate people from excessive work so that they can freely pursue the things that bring them intrinsic joy and happiness.
  • I want to say, in all seriousness, that a great deal of harm is being done in the modern world by belief in the virtuousness of work, and that the road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work.
  • The conception of duty, speaking historically, has been a means used by the holders of power to induce others to live for the interests of their masters rather than for their own.
  • Modern technique has made it possible to diminish enormously the amount of labor required to secure the necessaries of life for everyone. This was made obvious during the world war 1.
  • The war showed conclusively that, by the scientific organization of production, it is possible to keep modern populations in fair comfort on a small part of the working capacity of the modern world.
  • A man who has worked long hours all his life will become bored if he becomes suddenly idle. But without a considerable amount of leisure a man is cut off from many of the best things. There is no longer any reason why the bulk of the population should suffer this deprivation; only a foolish asceticism, usually vicarious, makes us continue to insist on work in excessive quantities now that the need no longer exists.
  • How pleasant a world would be in which no man was allowed to operate on the Stock Exchange unless he could pass and examination in economics and Greek poetry, and in which politicians were obliged to have a competent knowledge of history and modern novels.
  • Good nature is, of all moral qualities, the one that the world needs most, and good nature is the result of ease and security, not of a life of arduous struggle.
  • We should increase leisure — and make life more worthwhile — by producing only what makes for better lives. In turn, workers would have the satisfaction of producing things of real value.

If this was fascinating, I encourage you to read Russell’s essay, “In Praise of Idleness,” in full. It’s available online here.


Doing nothing on weekends

waiting-for-the-weekend-by-withold-rybczynskiThere have always been breaks from the routine of work–taboo days, market days, public festivals, holy days–we couldn’t survive without them. In Waiting for the Weekend, Witold Rybczynski unfolds the history and evolution of leisure time in Western civilization, from Aristotle, through the Middle Ages, to the present. Along the way, he explores how the psychological needs that leisure time seeks to fulfill have changed as the nature of work has changed.

A history of how the weekend came to be and an exploration of what it means to take a weekly break from work. To get an idea of whether you’d like the book (which is sadly out-of-print), read The Atlantic essay of the same name.

Withold Rybczynski ends Waiting For the Weekend with a warning: The weekend has imposed a rigid schedule on our free time, which can result in a sense of urgency (“soon it will be Monday”) that is at odds with relaxation. The weekly rush to the cottage is hardly leisurely, nor is the compression of various recreational activities into the two-day break. The freedom to do something has become the obligation to so something….”

The weekend has become the chief temporal institution of modern age, it was invested as a retreat and refuge from labor. Think about it, few of us regularly ask each other, “How was your(work) week?”. But the salutation and interrogative, “How was your weekend?” is common.

Weekends, Rybczynski suggests, are in danger of becoming their own antithesis. We try too hard to make up for the “pain and emptiness” of the week by doing things and staying busy all weekend long.

For too many of us, concludes Rybczynski, weekend represents a different and sometimes a more pleasant way of staying busy and consuming time. But he says, genuine free time, real leisure, must remain just that” “Free of the encumbrance of convention, free of the need of busyness, free for the ‘noble habit of doing nothing.'” And clearly, “doing nothing” does not describe the modern weekend.


Aristotle wrote, “We work, in order to have leisure.” Today, this is still true. But is the leisure that Aristotle spoke of, “the freedom to do nothing”, the same as the leisure we look forward to each weekend?


Benefits of writing short emails

While in the last post the focus on was that we write a novel worth of email an email and how making our emails five sentences or less can solve this problem. In the same blog I quoted Guy Kawasaki, author of APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, “proper email is a balance between politeness and succinctness, less than five sentences is often abrupt and rude, more than five sentences wastes time.”

I’m intrigued by this bit of advice from Guy Kawasaki on effective email writing, therefore I am going to focus on benefits of writing short emails.

When writing to recipients, keep your responses as short as possible, but no shorter. Even more important, if an email needs a response that’s going to take more than five sentences or more than 3 minutes of work, then you shouldn’t just automatically reply. If an email requires substantial effort to handle, it should be addressed in order of priority rather than being addressed now just because it arrived in an email.

The advantages to writing short emails:

  • It helps you focus on the purpose of your response
  • Your emails are clearer and shorter, which reduces miscommunication
  • Your emails are faster to create and proof-read, which reduces time spent composing email
  • It sets the expectation that short emails are okay, which can result in faster communication.
  • If you are worried about offending people, don’t be. A short, quick reply is more appreciated than a long, but delayed, response.

Final Thoughts: Plus, if your recipients are suffering from the email overload problem, your short but sweet emails will be a breath of fresh air. Most replies shouldn’t require more than five sentences. If you can respond to a message in less than 3 minutes, you should do so immediately, then archive.

Email Writing: Five Sentences Philosophy

One thing we need to know while writing email. If your message is too short you’ll sound abrupt. If it’s too long no one will read it.

The purpose of this post is to focus on length of emails we write everyday, yes I mean the emails we write everyday, not the emails we read or delete or dump into a folder.

Due to remote and geographically distributed teams, emails have became most widely used medium for daily communication, replacing phones calls and face-to-face meetings. Therefore we spend a lot of time writing emails, the average worker spends 28 percent of office time (11 hours a week) on email.

Given the fact that we all write a novel’s worth of email every year, did you see that, a novel worth of email, some us might have become an author if we spend that much of typing energy on writing actual books or articles.

Does writing long email helps in resolving the issue, entrepreneur-investor-author Guy Kawasaki tells

Long emails are either unread or, if they are read, they are unanswered … Right now I have 600 read but unanswered emails in my inbox.

Therefore in order to find the ideal length for an email, I found the website five.sentenc.es which suggests that an ideal length for an email to be fewer than five sentences. They outline the approach as such:

The Problem: E-mail takes too long to respond to, resulting in continuous inbox overflow for those who receive a lot of it.
The SolutionEmail Writing - Five Sentences Philosophy: Treat all email responses like SMS text messages, using a set number of letters per response. Since it’s too hard to count letters, we count sentences instead.

This is the easiest solution to essay type of email writing problem, by making our emails really really easy to reply by making them simple.

Since people are both busy and lazy, they’re “more likely to respond to information requests—whether important or trivial—if they’re easy to address,” as Quartz recently reported.

Proper email is a balance between politeness and succinctness, Less than five sentences is often abrupt and rude, more than five sentences wastes time. – Author Guy Kawasaki

ProTip: Before you fire an email off, take an extra 30 seconds and read it over. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is there a clear, easy-to-understand point to this email?
  • Is there anything I can take out that doesn’t add to the main point?
  • Can anything be simplified?

Now to conclude this long blog, about writing short email:

The ability to write a short email is a skill in itself. Writing short emails shows confidence in what you have to say.