Why You Should Goof Off (Some) On the Job

Being more lazy/touchy feely/idealistic/free thinking/whatever, I thought it'd be nice to cut some of our own some slack. Maybe let hard workers work out on duty; or, indulge themselves with some down time (a.k.a., get them in tough with their inner fireman).

Author Dean Scoville Headshot

Perhaps you're reading this from the relative safety of your patrol car. If so, I hope you're backed against a high wall or some geographic barrier and situated so as to minimize the chances of some sneaky bastard getting the better of you (such as some patrol sergeant trying to make rank on your badge).

But then, I've always been out of sync with most administrative mindsets when it comes to entertaining peripherals while on duty (a.k.a. goofing off).

Now I'm a proficient rationalizer who shamelessly colors things to my advantage. But it's equally true that there are many anal-retentive SOBs who, on the one hand, never give a shit how disruptive our jobs can be to our personal lives, and on the other prove to be proficient martinets when it comes to counting minutes on the clock.

That insect mentality has always grated on me, and as the years went by and various familial adjustments had to be made in deference to changing shifts, courts proceedings, training sessions; fires, earthquakes, and the occasional act of civil unrest, I grew even more resentful of the one-sided impositions. Besides, I was growing old and I.B.S. makes one grumpy.

Perhaps most maddening was finding that those most vigilant about others' goofing off failed to see any irony in chewing out some poor bastard for taking five minutes longer than he should to eat, and then driving three cities away themselves - on-duty and in a county car - to watch their kids' afternoon baseball games. Or spending hours playing solitaire on their computer. Words and phrases such as hypocrisy and "cognitive dissonance" come to mind.

Being more lazy/touchy feely/idealistic/free thinking/whatever, I thought it'd be nice to cut some of our own some slack. Maybe let hard workers work out on duty; or, indulge themselves with some down time (a.k.a., get them in touch with their inner fireman). Just about everyone could use the occasional sanity break.

My posture is hardly surprising (Khalil Gibran wrote, "He who forgives another for a sin that he's not committed forgives himself for his own sin"). Equally unsurprising is the fact that I've gotten my ass chewed out for "goofing off."

One incident stands out: A lieutenant found a copy of a book on writing by Ray Bradbury I'd left behind in the sergeant's patrol car. Pissed off that I'd been reading while on duty, he chewed my ass out. (One can only imagine what he would have made of my porn stash. Jeez.)

But that eclectic reading helped me refine my own report writing, optimizing the likelihoods of convictions while simultaneously mitigating issues of liability. It also saved the lieutenant in question from having to correct grammatical and logical deficiencies—an amnesty not accorded by some of my peers. I may have come from the "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" school of thought, but there was a method to my madness.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not an advocate of wholesale goofing. But I do believe that some things that might be considered peripheral endeavors can be profitable. Apparently I'm not alone.

Study after study has validated the import of seemingly extraneous factors that foster better work habits (and therefore better work product).

Even recurrent training (bah!) can be enhanced through seemingly self-indulgent acts of distraction. One study on doodling showed that students who doodled during lectures had a 29 percent better recall than those who sat there looking attentive and fooling no one. It was theorized that the sketching allowed the listener's mind to be active while not straying from what they were listening to.

And these studies weren't conducted by Toys R Us or any of the usual suspects, but reputable institutions of higher learning.

Whether it's in-house or in the field, it's damn hard to pay attention all the time. Doris Jeanette, a psychologist with the Center for New Psychology in Philadelphia is on record as saying, "Humans can only concentrate for 45 minutes at a time." She advocates employees work for 50 minutes of the hour and use the other 10 minutes to change focus or shift gears. How many have that luxury? Especially in a training environment where it seems that the instructor gets paid to speak by the minute?

(BTW, how's this for a utilitarian concept: Rather than disrupt the sleep patterns of 30 people to have them attend training when they're going through the somnambulistic paces, have the trainers themselves go to the shift and train? Makes a hell of a lot more sense making one guy tired than screwing things up for everyone else.)

Part of me feels self-conscious trying to justify a little goofing off. But another part of me recognizes that people need help coloring outside the lines sometimes. In fact, while I thought goofing off came naturally to a great many people, I even found an online tutorial called "Goof Off at Work." (It would appear that a good many department spokespeople adhere to rule No. 1: Don't answer the phone.)

So if you're going to goof off or do something that one might not readily recognize as part of the vocational landscape, try to establish a nexus to it (memo: no barnyard porn).

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