Tag Archives: time off

Finding more hours in the day

As a self employed person, how I work is something I find it necessary to pay attention to. No one else sets my hours or considers what would be the best use of my time from day to day. No one sets my breaks, or time off.

During the worst patches, I’ve worked seven day weeks, and long days. During those times, work has been a slow, inefficient grind, dogged by poor concentration, difficulty with decision making and a lack of creativity. It’s really easy when self employed to feel like you have to keep working, especially if you aren’t earning much Fear that the work will dry up if you don’t say yes to everything is certainly part of the problem.

One of the things I’ve learned this summer, is that it is better for me to work in blocks rather than trying to multitask. Writing blog posts, dealing with email and doing social media work can end up sprawling across each other, with a lot of time squandered as I shuffle between, unable to remember what I was supposed to be doing or where I’d got to. Focused bursts get a lot more done. Focused bursts with small breaks in between them are even better.

By not multitasking, I’ve been able to cut my working morning by an hour, reliably. That’s including having a bit of time – ten to twenty minutes each day of promoting my own work, which I’d been neglecting to do. I’ve also cut my regular work down to four mornings a week, freeing up Wednesdays for doing something different – an uncontaminated headspace in which to create, should inspiration strike. It’s working. I’m doing as much work as I was before, I’m just not wasting as much time as I was.

It’s hard to notice lost time when it comes as a few minutes here and there, or each job taking ten or fifteen seconds longer than it might have done. Over a morning’s work, the lost minutes and seconds totted up to that hour or more that I now have at my disposal. Efficiency is a thing.

When business people talk about efficiency, all too often what they mean is getting people to work flat out and more like machines. Flat out isn’t efficient, it slows because concentration is not an infinite resource. Working like a person, and taking care of my person-ness as I work is what makes me more efficient. Not stinting on the breaks, allowing myself as much window gazing time as I need, moving about regularly – all the things that don’t look like efficiency actually get the jobs done faster.

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Time off, regardless of the behaviour

I’m not really here. The internet is very good at letting me appear to be here when in fact I am not. If all has gone to plan, I may not even have climbed out of the duvet as you read this. I wrote this blog last week, when I was plotting my time off.

One of the things I have learned the hard way is that I can’t work an event over a weekend and then get straight back into a regular working week and expect to function. So, this year, after spending the bank holiday weekend at a massive and wonderful steampunk event in Lincoln, I will spend the next day recovering. Recovery time is essential to mental and physical health, to concentration, productivity, efficiency and getting to be a person. I’ve stopped treating it like some kind of luxury and started recognising it as essential.

I’ve also noticed how much my thinking is affected by time off. I think better when I get decent breaks from doing that. I am more likely to have good ideas when I’m not especially trying to have good ideas.  There’s a definite correlation between downtime and creativity.

I’ve also learned over the last few years that I’d been under-estimating how much time I need to process big emotional experiences. Emotions take energy. Suppressing them takes even more energy. Making space for them is good. I have a better head if I make space for the feels.

As I write this, I know Asylum will be full of feels. There are lots of people I adore and don’t see very often at all. Some only at this event, in fact. There are people involved I would go so far to say that I love, and spending time around them will impact on me hugely. I’m taking out two public displays, one to try and get people involved in The Hopeless Vendetta, and one song based performance, and that’s going to have an emotional impact. No doubt there will be things I didn’t see coming – there always are.

Time to reflect, to absorb, process, make sense, digest – whatever needs doing – is essential. I don’t want to be bouncing carelessly, thoughtlessly from one experience to another. I want to live a considered life. Often that requires more time in the duvet, just chewing things over.


Time off – quality and quantity

I’m trying to get into the habit of not working at least one day a week, writing the odd blog post in advance and staying off the computer. I’ve had a lot of years where a whole day off each week has not been a reliable feature. One of the problems with being a self employed person who is not earning a vast amount, is that it never feels safe to stop. Improvements in my economic circumstances have certainly contributed to feeling like I can have a day off, as increasing issues with exhaustion and mental health made the need for it all the more pressing. No one can run flat out forever.

In the last week, a friend introduced me to the idea of time contamination, and the way in which women don’t reliably get time off. After all, when I step away from the computer there’s still meals to sort, parenting to do, cleaning, laundry, and often this is on my mind. Time contamination is the idea that even in our free time, we’re still thinking about responsibilities to others and things we should be doing, so time off isn’t wholly free. I do this, pretty much all the time.

I don’t know how to stop. I don’t know if I should stop. Would it be ok to stop? What might go wrong if I’m not paying careful attention to everything, all the time?

I don’t know.

I have read plenty enough stuff about freeing yourself from all of this to live in the moment, and I suspect that may work if you don’t have the kind of ongoing responsibilities that need ongoing attention. It’s a way of life designed for people living simply in a monastery, and that may need bearing in mind. It’s not compatible with vulnerable dependents of any variety. It’s not compatible with a job that can’t be firmly boundaried and safely ignored out of hours. It’s not compatible with living with someone who needs you to be paying attention to things – and generally people do, pets do.

There are always things to figure out, to learn, to do better next time. Things to plan, to remember, to notice. The life I have depends a lot on doing this well, day to day. For me, paying attention is a form of caring. If I don’t know what’s going on, how can I get things right?

I have questions to ask about the degree to which I hold myself responsible, and the degree to which I am not allowing myself to step down. There may well be better balances to find, that still seem honourable to me, but do not require my total attention all the time.


Learning to stop

I took a day off, yesterday. Almost a whole day (I sorted some laundry). This is rare for me. Normally, a day off is something that happens at a rate of one or two in a month, and means not putting the computer on. Instead I’ll end up doing a lot of domesticated things, or, in the case of September, the 21 mile epic of the five valleys walk.

It was tough in the morning. I felt like I should be doing something. (That was why I put laundry away). I wafted about a lot. What does a person do when they aren’t busy doing things that need doing or that are their work life or other people need? In the end I settled on a project that had been lying around for months – adapting a long strappy dress into a top with sleeves. Sleeved summer tops and dresses have been elusive to say the least. I hadn’t got round to it because overhauling a garment for me is a bit of a frivolous thing (trust me, it is a frivolous garment). I then spent the afternoon with friends, food and a film, and that was very relaxed and lovely.

By the time I got home last night, I was aware of a distinct physical change. My body had calmed to an unfamiliar degree. My mind had slowed as well. Often my thoughts ping about in fairly erratic ways and at high speeds – the mindset required for juggling kittens and chainsaws – which tends to be how it feels. There was nothing to juggle last night. Nothing that needed doing.

Back in January 2014, I was at a protest with a bunch of people who were talking about how nice it had been to have some days off. I’d had Christmas day off, but otherwise it had been work as usual. I hadn’t stopped, I didn’t feel refreshed and ready to dive back in. There just hadn’t been a break in my workflow and I couldn’t see how to make one. Plus, being a self employed person means a week off is a week not earning, and I’ve not felt able to justify that. This year is better. One of my stable jobs pays me for what I do but lets me organise it as I please – I’m not on call, and if I set things up far enough in advance, I can take as many days off as I please.  I saw at that protest how relaxed and cheerful people were, as a consequence of getting a break, and it showed me how different my life was to theirs. The problem with that kind of arrangement is that it will leave you feeling like a second class citizen. Other people are good enough to merit time off…

I’ve had a lot of years dealing with the judgement of others, where being able to demonstrate that I was working hard was something I could use to defend myself. That’s no longer the case, but the habits of anxiety are harder to drop. The habits of fear within my body. The habits of not stopping and not treating myself as entitled to a break. There are things it isn’t so necessary to think about when you’re running flat out. What is this for? What am I doing this for? What is the point of my life? Grief, pain and fear can all be blotted out just by running hard. I’ve always been the sort of person to use work as a way of overcoming and blotting out other issues, and that’s helped me not deal with the other issues.

In stillness, in silence, in not busyness, there is room for other thoughts to surface. Questions, discomfort, existential angst, new ideas; all the checks and balances to a fuller life. Not contemplation held as a formal discipline (although that’s good too and very important to me) but a making of space. A making of space that lets something else in.


Time off for good behaviour

I didn’t blog yesterday, or pick up my email. This is a rare thing for me. I did however, spend a lot of time wandering around Gloucester, and also a lot of time doing happy things with wool. That was all very pleasing. I’m starting to appreciate just how important rest is, in all manner of ways.

I have several friends who are really into fitness and activity, who talk about the importance of rest days. Now, my lifestyle often doesn’t allow that because I have no car, I am my mode of transport, and there are days when that’s a bitch. But, I’m making a point of trying not to cycle once or twice a week, and being gentler with me. Net result, less bodily pain. Time to heal makes a lot of odds. Time to recover from illness, and to let stressful things pass without being beaten up by them.

I’ve learned over the last few years that rest is essential to mental health. Time spent on quiet, gentle things that do not tax the mind and body allow me to find calm, and to keep things in perspective. If I rest, I don’t get as anxious, or as depressed (I piloted the boat all by myself for a little while yesterday and didn’t panic at all!). I sleep better if I take the time to wind down before bed. When I sleep better, I work more efficiently and don’t get as depressed – there are many cycles here.

When I try to run flat out all the time, I get ever slower and less inspired with the work. I’ve learned that the time when I’m not striving is vitally important. I consolidate stuff I’ve learned, for a start. I can then ponder and make connections. I can also daydream, play with ideas and let my mind wander. It’s often the times when I’m not trying really hard to get somewhere that result in the best ideas turning up. Creativity does not always flow to order, needs time to meander, and comes more readily when I’m not pushing like a mad thing. In undertaking to do less, I find myself able to do more and frequently better. That took a long time to get my head round. I feel like I *should* be working really hard all the time. That way lies rubbish output and burnout and misery. The time off matters.

I think part of my problem is that some people I’ve run into along the way basically assume that the creative life is a doss, an easy option, and involves never getting out of bed before lunchtime. I wanted to be taken seriously, I wanted to avoid ridicule. So the appearance of hard work became important to me. I started to believe that hours spent at the keyboard meant something. They don’t, necessarily. So I’m making a new space for myself, in which I can gaze out of the window for as long as I need to, or go for a walk, or appear to be doing very little. When I work, I work like a mad thing, because I can. I only get to do that if I pace it right, and I like the overall balance. There’s a self esteem, self respect thing here too, letting other people cause me to feel crap if I’m not working enough for their ideas about what I should be doing… and not rewarding myself with the time off and rest any person actually needs. These things make me feel less like a person and I have to get away from them or they will grind me down.

So, more ambling, and a ghost walk ahead of me, and I’m aiming to do something truly epic in the not too dim and distant. I’m not being lazy, I am brewing! And I no longer care whether others disapprove of me.


Making Pagan Time

Finding time to breathe, be calm and undertake any kind of spiritual activity challenges a lot of people. I had a fair bit of feedback around the last blog, On Retreat, about the difficulty of finding time. So I’m going to blog about how to do just that. Possibly more than once.

 

For the comic, I’ve been reading around Victorian stuff and I have noticed a thing. From the industrial revolution onwards, the effect of things claiming to be labour saving devices, has not been to free up time. Instead, ideas about standards are raised, or expectations around productivity. The new device does not help you live more easily, it creates a requirement to do more work. Particularly in the domestic sphere. Servicing the devices, and paying for them, takes time, effort, soaks up more life. And all for what? Because the adverts tell us our kitchens and bathrooms must shine, all the time. Our clothes must be fresh on and perfect, every day. Our floors must be immaculate, our houses need redecorating constantly, our gardens must be reinvented to keep up with the latest fashion. Our time is not our own, we are pushed to consume, and that’s a big part of the problem. There are others, I’ll do them another day.

 

The concept of ‘enough’ is essential. To keep my floor pristine when the towpath is muddy, I would have to clean every time someone enters the boat. I clean once a day. Sometimes there is mud on the floor. Social Services have not caught on to this yet, and oddly, no one has died as a consequence, or even caught terrible diseases. Once a day is enough. ‘Good Enough’ is not an easy thing to identify. Especially not if we’re conditioned to marketers’ ideas about how shiny and brand spanking new we should aspire to look.

 

There are always more jobs to do. There are always things that could be cleaned, tidied, improved, shopped for. You can make it a full time job, or you can say “no, I have done enough today, I am stopping.” It is possible to maintain a state of ‘good enough’ without using up all of your time and energy. It is possible to make healthy meals that do not take long. Having some time off makes it easier to think about what you are doing and figure out how to do it effectively. Ask what the effort to outcome ratio is and it’s easier to decide what’s worth bothering with. This is why I only made soufflé once! Ask what improves your comfort and quality of life, and what is just pointless. This is why I dry the windows regularly, but do not clean the top of the cooker every day.

 

I do housework (or boatwork as it now is) when I don’t have much inspiration for creative work. This works all round – not stressing over writer’s block, not cleaning when there’s something better on my mind. I do it when the weather’s bad and I’ve no desire to be outside. I also ease the process by using it as thinking time. While my hands are busy, my imagination wanders about. Sometimes I have the radio on, or I sing, and time at the sink results in a new song perfected, or an idea for a story, or some other thing I can make use of. I check the washing and stand outside for a few moments, not doing anything. Sometimes the trick is to steal odd moments between jobs. A little pause can be worth a lot.

 

No one lies there on their deathbed wishing they’d spent more time polishing the kettle. Keeping a home is and should be an art form. It should be a source of comfort and improved quality of life. All too easily, it becomes a kind of slavery, and a source of misery. There are issues of priority here, but being able to say ‘this is a pointless waste of my life’ is essential if you are going to stand a chance of stepping back. The sun is shining, the floor will do, I shall gaze out of the window and see what nature is up to, and then I shall perhaps go out again, and if I see an egret, I’ll stop and watch it because there is nothing more urgent. Also, if you keep away from the hideous adverts, you don’t get continual reminders of how shiny they’d like you to be, as you buy ever more of their labour inducing products.