Seasons change, clients come and go, and my anxieties around work fluctuate around the conscious observation of how my time – the mortal ticks of the eternal clock – leaks from my reservoir of patience. During a peak moment of this anxiety, I found the lost predictions of John Maynard Keynes – an economist of the 1930s who thought our generation would only need to work about 15 hours a week. In those days, with the industrial revolution running rampant and machines making more stuff per hour, workers today could do in 15 hours what had previously taken 60 or more. The problem wouldn’t be that there wasn’t enough work to go around, but that there wouldn’t be enough opportunities to fill the leisure time.
For a lot of reasons, mostly greed, this didn’t work out.
In an article from last year, the annoying focus acolyte Cal Newport was issuing a label to the idea of Slow Productivity. The short version: it’s not about the number of hours on the job, but the number of jobs we’re asked to consider within an hour.
This all reminds me of Parkinson’s Law: work contracts to fit the time you give it.
My goal is fairly simple: restrict my “work” to 15 hours a week. Three, five-hour days sounds simple enough. But when someone asks what I do for a living I sardonically respond: “Whatever the hell I want.” This makes it difficult to draw the line between work, and not.
Admittedly, most of my days are spent at a desk in the studio on the second floor of the house. One side of the room is my wife’s desk that is solely used to support a pair of monitors should she need more real estate than her laptop screen can give her. My desk, which is in with the bookcases, hosts a hulking computer tower and a 26-inch monitor. I don’t really “buy a new computer” so much as I upgrade this setup with new versions of whatever breaks. Also on my desk: an array of pens, pencils, notebooks, book books, inks, cards, stickers, and art prints I have yet to dedicate to a specific place in the studio. Not to mention the little studio cart that sits next to my desk, providing three theirs of 12X18 inch trays to store whatever my desk can’t handle.
And before we call it “clutter” – I use everything within my sight at least once a week.
The thing is, when I sit at my desk for too long, I get antsy. I think it comes from the conflict between this machine, which can do so many things at once, and my brain – which can do exactly one thing at a time. Look at all of these tabs! Look at this ever-expanding list of to-dos, articles to read, links to click, and endless pits of distraction I can fall into! Of course, I get antsy! It usually means I’m spending too much time taking in sub-par content. All of this another reason to reclaim the brain.
Yet, this machine, this desk, feels like an extension of myself. This, after all, is where things happen. This is my connection between what I make and the rest of the world. Research for my paid jobs happens here, as does all of the outlining and writing and publishing. This is where I watch videos of artists as they draw and paint so I can steal their methods. This is where I peruse countless databases – from world-renown art galleries to small, regional literary magazines. This is where I edit photos and videos and create the thing I want to call art. This is where it starts, this is where it ends. Here, there is a comfort.
But here is where the “work” collides with the “not work.” The desk is where they both demand attention and the walls of my 15-hour work weeks start to collapse.
No one has hobbies anymore because every hobby turns into a side hustle. A leisure activity becomes something to train for so you can compete. It’s not a hobby if it is a way of life, a way of living. Hobbies should be slow, intentional. The slower they come, the more time you feel like you have. I’m looking at this year as a way to further establish the walls between work and not work.
The rule is simple:
“Working Hours” are between 1 and 6 PM; Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. Everything to be done in the week, all invoiceable jobs, all calls and meetings and discussions about client projects happen in those windows. I am NOT at the desk during those hours unless I am actively working on work. Beyond those hours, whatever – just no work.
What is work:
- Anything and everything that comes through the OutWord inboxes.
- Anything where I am teaching, consulting, or providing any sort of guidance, even if it is beyond the realm of copywriting, marketing, or creative consulting.
Some things that are not work (but not quite hobbies?)
- Anything to do with a camera (analog, digital, still, movie, and yes, even the one that’s on my phone).
- Writing ambitions that have no established budget.
- Anything to do with ink and paper – especially when the words turn into images, sketches, doodles.
- Browsing archives, digging into continuing education courses, and taking/ updating/ linking together notes.
- Anything that has to do with the continued growth and expansion of Error42 (this website/ blog/ Substack/ whatever you are currently reading).
- Dozens of other things best not written here.