Wasting time at work

According to new research, the average employee does just four hours of productive work a day because they spend so long fielding unnecessary phone calls and emails or, less nobly, wasting time surfing the internet and gossiping.

Four hours a day. I'm going to really have to pull my finger out if I'm going to reach those high levels of productivity.

As anyone with a job knows, it's child's-play to go into work, do what you're paid to do for eight hours and then make your way home in the knowledge that you've just put in an honest day at the coalface.

No. The real skill lies in spending eight hours at work without achieving anything discernible whatsoever, other than perhaps the odd purchase from amazon.co.uk or watching Sex, Lies and Rinsing Guys on 4oD or maybe booking an MOT or a smear test.

Everyone knows that if you make yourself indispensable at work, you'll soon find that you've been so well-organised that you've not only done all of your work, you'll have done most of everyone else's work, too.

Such over-exuberance will inevitably lead to you being given even more work to do until your boss runs out of jobs to give you, the company will be so efficient that its manpower will be downsized, you and your fellow co-workers will get the sack, everyone will hate you because it's all your fault and your family will have to live in a skip feasting on other people's leftovers and na�ve rats that pass by at arm's length.

And that's an optimistic view.

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If you're really unlucky, your company won't be downsized, but you'll still be expected to work 700 times harder than any human should have to and you'll never, ever, see Cash in the Attic or Homes Under the Hammer again because the only holiday you can look forward to is the one that ends with a one-way trip into the oven at a crematorium. In other words, it's important to know how to avoid doing too much work while still looking as if you're doing enough work not to get the sack or one of those 'inspirational' chats from your line manager where they tell you that you're rubbish in a really calm, pleasant voice which lulls you into thinking that someone thinks your contribution at work is worthwhile when no one actually does.

The new research reveals that lost productivity from employees is costing the economy �200 billion a year and is also taking its toll on workers' health, with three-quarters of those surveyed claiming that they're suffering from stress because of too many distractions in the office.

This is, frankly, a bit cheeky. You can't spend the day forwarding an email in which a chimp rides a bike, 'engaging with the audience' on Twitter about legendary Norwich graffiti and then complain that all your dawdling is leaving you feeling stressed.

It's a bit like moving into the city centre and then complaining because you've just realised you moved next to a concert hall and occasionally you hear a bit of noise, or opening a B&B close to a group of pubs and restaurants and moaning about the fact that some people have the audacity to want to sit on a table outside, talking and enjoying themselves.

Respondents' main gripe was with internal emails, 39pc of which, the survey said, are sent to a colleague sitting less than 100 yards away. Some companies have banned such emails, encouraging their staff to talk to each other face-of-face instead, in the na�ve belief that most internal emails are about genuine work enquiries rather than about the colleague who was seen leaving Ann Summers with six large carrier bags who then didn't turn up at work for 10 days on the trot.

Proper time-wasters do have face-to-face meetings, anyway. It's another excuse to waste time walking around the office asking people if they've got any spare paper clips or if they've seen the email with the chimp on the bike.

Luckily for me, being a reporter involves a huge amount of perfectly legitimate time-wasting in the form of 'research'.

A shiver runs down my spine when I remember the bad old days before the internet when I was a rookie reporter and we had to research our stories by talking to real people on the telephone and looking at those dusty things that live on shelves – books, I think they used to call them in the olden days.

Back then, writing a story really did involve an incredible amount of work and a great deal of hovering over fax machines waiting for people to send you an illegible pieces of hastily photocopied paper which required World War Two code-crackers to decipher.

These days, all you need to do is type a few words into a search engine and you'll find 1,903,671 websites packed full of pertinent information in addition to a further 2,098,632 websites packed with useless information which you 'need' to trawl through on the grounds of accuracy.

For example; if I'm going to be interviewing someone suffering from an unusual, or complicated, or plain revolting illness, I need to know as much about it as possible before I start knocking on their door so that I don't appear to be as stupid as I actually am.

I also need to know if I've got a chance of catching said illness and whether I need to knock on the door wearing surgical scrubs and a diving helmet. Additionally, I find it also helps if I've Googled 'Damian Lewis naked' before I conduct an interview, just to see if anything useful pops up, as it were.

Anyway, if researchers publish a scientific study saying that slacking at work makes us stressed and unhappy, it can't be long before we can be signed off on the sick because doing practically nothing at work has left us too depressed to leave the sofa.

That way, we truly will be being paid for doing nothing and matters will have come full circle.