In one episode of the Friends series, the group is talking about the benefits of being a man and a woman. Here's the script:

Rachel: Come on! You guys can pee standing up.

Chandler: We can? All right, I'm tryin' that.

Joey: Ok, you know what blows my mind? Women can see breasts any time they want. You just look down and there they are. How you get any work done is beyond me.

I don't get this part exactly: "How you get any work done is beyond me."

Here's my guess: You must be so busy looking at your breasts all the time that you don't have time to do any work? Am I right?

  • 1
    This may help parse the two idioms: This question ["how you get any work done"] is too hard ["beyond me."]. Commented Aug 29, 2023 at 15:15
  • 2
    One way to look at it is that if you are in a high school physics class, and the teacher brings up something esoteric (like, say, quantum entanglement), you can say "Sorry, Mr. Smith, but quantum mechanics is beyond me" - I'm comfortable with simple machines, but what you are talking about is beyond my ability to comprehend.
    – Flydog57
    Commented Aug 29, 2023 at 22:02

7 Answers 7


Your guess is correct, and while other answers have already confirmed this, I just wanted to share the "missing parts" of the sentence that might help you gain a better understanding:

(The method of) how you get any work done is beyond me (in another realm of understanding, unreachable for the speaker)

The speaker, a male, makes the joke about the fact that (in his opinion) breasts are distracting (from the sexual viewpoint of a male), to the point of not being able to do anything else but looking at them.
However, one of the key points of the joke is that the speaker is not taking into account the fact that women do not feel the same way about their own anatomy.


If someone says that something is 'beyond them' they are using an idiom meaning, strongly, that they do not understand that thing.

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    I would say it is a very strong form of that statement. To me it implies: 'beyond my ability to understand'. That is, 'I cannot understand and never will be able to'. This is often a non-literal exaggeration, however.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Aug 29, 2023 at 19:11

Yes, you have interpreted the sense correctly. (Obviously, the joke is that a person's own anatomy is not 'distracting' in that way.)


Here's my guess : You must be very so busy looking at your breasts all the time that you don't have time to do any work? Am I right?

That's the overall gist, but you're missing part of the meaning.

[...] is beyond me.

This is a way of stating that you do not understand [...]. It's synonymous with:

I don't understand [...].

Now you interpreted Joey's statement as:

You must be so very busy looking at your breasts all the time that you don't have time to do any work

But that would be a statement of fact. Here, Joey would be saying that women are indeed distracted by looking at their own breasts, and they are indeed not getting any work done.

But this is not the case. Joey is actually stating the opposite, he is remarking that women still get work done, but that he doesn't understand how they are not getting distracted looking at their own breasts.

The bolded part there is exactly what Joey is communicating when he says

How you get any work done is beyond me.


Another way to analyze the sentence is grammatically.

In this sentence, “How [...] is beyond me” is the main clause. As others have already said, this means the same thing as “How [...] is beyond my understanding,” or “I don’t understand how [....]”

The subject of this sentence is the dependent noun clause, “[h]ow you [are able to] get any work done” (despite those distractions). In this sentence, how functions as a pronoun, like that in “That you get any work done is amazing.” (You could also say, “You still get any work done! How is beyond me.”)

So a more explicit way of saying this (which wouldn’t be as funny) is:

I don’t understand how you are able to get any work done.


How you get any work done is beyond me.

That is a shortened, slang-ish(?) variant of the underlying phrase:

It's beyond my comprehension.

And that means:

It surpasses my capacity to comprehend.

It surpasses the volume of complexity that I am capable to comprehend.

Which, expressed in everyday language, is:

I don't understand.

Which, with the original emotional sentiment reassigned to it, could also be:

I have no clue (how)

I can't fathom

And back to the original context, and to your final question:

I just can't fathom how you people don't keep getting distracted all day long.


"X is beyond me." means "I don't understand X."

So it means "I don't understand how you get any work done."

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