Good News: Wasting Time on the Internet Makes You a Better Worker

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As a work-from-home writer, the lure of the Internet is all too familiar. All day long, Twitter beckons, my news feed filled with delightful distractions from the blog post at hand.

Fortunately, a new study from the University of Copenhagen suggests that wasting time on the Internet may actually be beneficial.

According to the New Yorker, test subjects were divided into two groups, both instructed to watch a video and count the number of times it showed people passing a ball back and forth. One group got to watch a funny video beforehand, while members of the other group had to go straight to work while listening to the laughter of their peers. Turns out, the group that watched the funny video first made fewer mistakes on the job than the group that was prohibited from slacking off.

Sure, it’s not a real-world test, and you could argue that the worker group might have performed better if it wasn’t distracted by the other group’s laughter. But with a smartphone in your pocket and websites that your company hasn’t blocked yet, there’s always a distraction lingering somewhere.┬áThe idea behind this study and others is that people have a finite amount of willpower. Keep them from distractions like the Internet for too long, and eventually they’ll become less focused and effective.

The New Yorker’s James Surowiecki suggests that companies give their employees “Internet breaks,” during which they’re free to do whatever they like. It’s not too outlandish of an idea; Google employees have long enjoyed “20 percent time,” allowing them to do as they please for a fifth of the day. That could include creative projects like Google Reader, or it could just be time to unwind.

I’m all in favor of these ideas. The problem for folks like me is that there’s no one around to crack the whip when Internet break is over.

In the spirit of distraction, the classic viral video that’s the source of the image above, followed by my favorite remix: