Read “Shadow Work” And Get A Grip On Where Your Time Is Going


The author compiles a long list of unpaid jobs and tasks that we've taken on as a society. Read Shadow Work and ask yourself if that's how you want to spend your free time.

Shadow Work

If you buy something through our links, we may earn money from our affiliate partners. Learn more.

Rhonda: How’s your day going?

Me: Ughhh … I’ve been busy all day, but only got one important thing done!

“Shadow Work” Is The New Time Bandit

There’s a new villain in town — well, it’s not “new” exactly. It just now has a name and it’s “Shadow Work.” The idea is that you are doing all kinds of “free work” for companies all around you and it’s gotten to the point of hijacking your day, your work, and your life.

The book “Shadow Work: The Unpaid, Unseen Jobs That Fill Your Day,” by Craig Lambert (@craigalambert), is a field guide to understanding that you don’t have less time, you have less free time. And this is an important distinction.

Are We Not Men? We Are “Shadow Workers”

“Shadow work includes all of the unpaid tasks we do on behalf of businesses and organizations. Most of us do not recognize it or realize how much of it we’re doing, even as we pump our own gas, scan our groceries, execute our own stock trades and assemble our IKEA furniture. Scores of shadow tasks have infiltrated our daily routines, settling in as habits as we drive our kids to school or make her lunch at the salad bar.”

Lambert uncovers this insidious connection between our desire to receive certain benefits and giving away our free time. In some ways, we are slaves to tech billionaires who eagerly collect, store and resell the information we share for free. Think Facebook, LinkedIn, Yelp and every other social channel, not to mention credit card purchases and making our own travel plans.

Lambert lays out six chapters and 250 pages of examples in the book “Shadow Work” of how we’ve given away our free and leisure time. What’s ironic is that we are constantly talking about and working for “financial freedom” — the whole thing is really ridiculous.

Great … So Now What

Now, I have to tell you that I have a love hate relationship with “Shadow Work.” This is a super smart book, loaded with wonderful insight and data. But, and maybe this is me being too emotionally involved, I finished the book feeling frustrated and unfulfilled.

Lambert creates a very strong case for the fact that shadow work exists, but there wasn’t enough discussion on what to do about it.

The obvious answer is to simply opt out of certain activities and Lambert covers the two extremes of this spectrum, those people “living off the grid” and the ultra wealthy who practice what he calls the “DNY” (or “Do Nothing Yourself”) lifestyle. That’s where you only consume the pleasant components of any task. As you would imagine, neither extreme is really an answer.

Learn to Value Your Time

The biggest and best lesson you will get from reading “Shadow Work” is to value your time and to become more conscious of how you’re spending it and for whom.

And to Lambert’s credit, I want to say that he gives so many outstanding examples from all facets of life that, as you read through each of the chapters, you will have enough data to notice exactly how you are spending your time and whether you would choose to keep spending it that way or to do something else.

Overall, I feel that “Shadow Work” is a fantastic book for those who feel time slipping away and want to get the best use of the time they have.

About the Author

Craig Lambert is the author of “Mind Over Water: Lessons on Life From the Art of Rowing.” He is the former deputy editor at Harvard Magazine and has also written for Sports Illustrated and Town and Country.

Get discounts and special offers on new and classic business books with an Audible Premium Plus membership. Learn more and sign up for an account today.

Ivana Taylor Ivana Taylor is the Book Editor for Small Business Trends. She is responsible for directing the site’s book review program and manages the team of professional book reviewers. She also spearheads the annual Small Business Book Awards. Ivana publishes DIYMarketers, where she shares daily do-it-yourself marketing tips, and is co-author of "Excel for Marketing Managers."