Reading Fortune Magazine’s “Leading Indicators” in the September 4, 2006 edition, I ran across this tidbit:

$1.1 billion. Projected value of work hours used for playing fantasy football this season. The player (there are 36.8 million of ’em in the U.S.) earn on average about $36 an hour and will spend about 50 minutes playing each workweek.

This kind of projections are sneaky, because the next step is to claim that Fantasy Football is “costing” business $1.1 billion/year. But that “cost” assumes that if they weren’t playing fantasy football, the people playing would be happily producing, producing, producing.

This is bull pucky, for two reasons:

First off, it assumes that if people weren’t playing fantasy football, they’d be making money for the business. Why do we believe that? It may be that people spend 50 minutes each workweek relaxing, and at the moment, that relaxation happens to take the form of Fantasy Football.

Second, people can’t work continuously. We need breaks. The Power of Full Engagement documented that thoroughly. Insisting people work during the time they currently play Fantasy Football would likely not increase productivity, because they wouldn’t be getting the breaks they need.

Second and a half, unless you work on an assembly line, productivity isn’t tied to time. Though that attitude pervades our collective psyche, it’s idiotic. White collar work depends on creativity, insight, and thought. Sometimes those happen in sudden flashes of inspiration. Other times, they require long dry spells. In no event are they proportional to hours.

Third, and most deeply, it simply isn’t the case that everyone should be working all the time. In an efficient business, the only person or system working continuously should be the bottleneck. Everyone else should experience times of calm and no needed work. In that case, working when the business doesn’t need you to actually reduces efficiency by creating excess inventory or worse, scattering energy into irrelevant projects that take on a life of their own. (See The Goal for a detailed discussion of this point.)

(For a sample article on the topic, see here. If employers really want to help employees recapture 10 minutes a day, I’ll bet simply requiring meetings to have an agenda and firm end time would have far more effect than eliminating Fantasy Football.)

Fantasy football costs business $1.1 billion/year.…

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