I have recently read Carl Honore’s ‘In Praise of Slow’ (I recommend it) which agrees with so many things I’ve been thinking for a few years now about how we spend our time, the pace we live at and the things we could do without.
Not so many years ago I was routinely working twelve and fourteen hour days, and usually working six day weeks, often seven day weeks. I was writing, editing, marketing, busking, sometimes gigging (all the paid stuff) and then working as a volunteer for several organisations, and for my child’s school – which only had a few volunteer parents fundraising and helping out. I was running a folk club, a moot, and a singing group, and involved in organising rituals (all voluntary again) Before that, there were meditation groups. Then add in a young child to care for, and pretty much all of the domestic work for a three person household, including heavy jobs like cutting firewood, and lugging coal. There was always far more to do than there was time.
A number of things kept me working. The volunteering I did because there were things that needed doing, and I did not feel comfortable about saying no. At that time, my social life depended entirely on the musical and pagan things I was running, and had I not put in the work, life would probably have been very thin. I also felt under a lot of pressure to contribute financially, so I worked when I was ill, and when I was tired, and I very seldom took whole days off. I got into a cycle of intensive work, which would last about 6 weeks, followed by total burnout, which would usually involve my digestive system collapsing under the pressure and making me very ill for a few days. Repeat. Repeat. It was not a happy way to live. It’s one thing working all the hours you can to get something good done, it’s quite another when you’re effectively the servant of a person who spends most of their leisure time playing computer games.
I have slowed down. My doctor was very clear that if I didn’t make time both for gentle exercise and rest, that I was going to aggravate my illness, which I could not afford to do. And to be honest, I would not ask anyone else to do twelve hour days, seven days a week. I do not believe that life should consist entirely of work. It helped that I was supported in making changes.
Tom and I made a pact that we would have some time off every day, and that we would not work a full seven day week. We aim for a day off each week, but that sometimes turns up as two afternoons, if it makes more sense. We rarely take a whole day off, but sometimes we do, which is a joy. Having some down time before bed has improved my sleeping, and having enough time to sleep, and not waking still tired, to an alarm, makes a word of difference. When Tom is working on pages I tend to pick up more of the domestic stuff, but I haven’t cut wood since he’s been here, and anything else heavy, he undertakes. Faced with the example of a step father who regularly cooks, cleans and otherwise takes responsibility, my child has also started to sort out his own things, and take more responsibility. I used to have to fight him over that, but now it comes a lot more easily. So the pressure is off me. I find I do not have to run hard all the time just to keep up.
So we go for strolls in the evening. We read books, we take time for Radio 4 comedy and the radio 2 folk program, and sometimes also the radio 1 chart show. We hang out with people, go to galleries and museums. We go to local events. Life is richer, more interesting, and not so hectically paced. My health has improved dramatically, I am no longer living perpetually on the edge of burnout. My mental health is much improved. I am a lot happier.
But here’s the curious thing. Overall, productivity has gone up, not down. Tom can average at something like a page a day. That’s more than twice his speed before moving here. I get far more done in my time than I used to. This is partly because I am sharper from being rested, and partly because there is more inspiration in my life. The consequence of slowing down, has been to speed up, whilst feeling better about things. Win all round.