WTF: weighted total futility

Posted in: Comment, New Publications

An article in the Economist's Bartelby column this week served to inform and amuse.  But should it have done?

It begins:

"Few things are more depressing than estimates of how much time people spend on a specific activity over the course of their lives.  You know the sort of thing: you will spend one-third of your life asleep, almost a decade looking at your phone and four months deciding what to watch on streaming services. A new study, by academics from the Maryland and Delaware Enterprise University Partnership (MADEUP), applies this approach to the workplace. By conducting a time-use survey of 5,000 office workers in America and Britain, the researchers identify the number of minutes that people waste on pointless activities each working day.  (Meetings are excluded: they often turn out to be useless but not always and not for everyone.)  The authors then extrapolate these figures to come up with a “weighted total futility” (wtf) lifetime estimate of time that could have been better spent. The results are literally unbelievable. ..."

Here are a few examples:

Correcting typos takes up an average of 20 minutes in every white-collar worker’s day, the equivalent of 180 days, or half a year, over a 45-year career.

months are wasted trying to remember passwords, entering them wrongly or updating them. Just as much time is spent waiting for something to happen, a great economy-wide period of vacant staring at a screen.

Deleting emails takes up about six weeks of your life.

Shakespeare wrote “King Lear” in the time an average office worker spends changing font sizes during their career.

Co-ordinating diaries for meetings that will later be cancelled: a month.

Waiting for people to repeat themselves because they were on mute by mistake: a fortnight.

Spending hours crafting an email and then leaving it in the drafts folder: two days.


So much of the article rings true that it's hard to believe that it is MADEUP.  Had it appeared on April 1st, I'd have been sure ...


Posted in: Comment, New Publications


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  • I'm so confused by this article. Is it satire? I didn't think Bartleby was satire, but "MADEUP" obviously is a joke.