If you think for a living, you cannot not work

Thinking for a living

If your work is cognitive non-routine – as it increasingly likely is – you can’t break away from it.

Let’s say you have an important presentation a week from now. You have planned to start the day after tomorrow and use two days for creating the presentation. On the day before the presentation you would rehearse. However, today you catch a cold. The day after tomorrow you wake up with a sore throat, a mild fewer and a runny nose. This time you decide it’s better to stay home instead of spreading the flu to your colleagues.

Now, would you stop thinking about the presentation altogether and not lift a finger before the presentation? You are, after all, on a sick leave or enjoying your free time during the weekend. You are not obliged to work, right?

If you worked in a factory, doing manual work, and had to stay home due to a sickness, no matter how much you thought about your tasks
they would not make themselves. At a manual job, you are either at work or you do not work. Fortunately, the employer could hire a substitute to fill in for you and make the exact same task you were making – be it on a poorer quality, perhaps.

You can, of course, get a substitute also in a cognitive, non-routine job. But, either you create the result, or it is a different result. For example, given this topic, a different person would write a totally different text.

A cognitive, non-routine job is an integral part of our life. We cannot stop thinking about our work outside the office. Our minds do not stop processing even when we are asleep. Actually, sleep is probably one of the most important activities for a person making decisions. All our other activities also shape our experiences and affect the way we process “work-related” material. For example, physical exercise improves memory and the way we eat has an effect on learning.

If our job relies on processing abstract material, producing ideas and making decisions, we are always at it. We really cannot not work.

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