And This Above All

Today, despite all the commercialised hearts and all the chocolate, romantic candlelight dinners, and romance films watched worldwide, I’m reflecting on creativity and how even a slight change in routine allows for more of it.

I’ve also been reflecting on how self-care makes a big difference to how I feel day to day. When you’re working from home, sometimes self-care goes out of the window, as it becomes more tempting to stay in your pyjamas and work through the day without attending to the kind of everyday self-care that people who go out to work do. Routine has to be bookmarked in some way: getting up, having breakfast, having a wash and shower, then getting down to work. Taking a proper hour’s break for lunch. Allowing for 5-15 minutes here and there to get a cup of tea or drink of water, or a piece of fruit. These things become more ‘take it or leave it’ than you mean them to be when you’re a freelance worker, mostly working from home.

This week, I’ve changed my routine. It’s early days, but I’ve already managed to write two essays, two poems, and this blog post. My productivity is up just because I’ve made the conscious decision to sit down and do my work. It was a struggle on Monday. I woke up, had a shower, got dressed, had breakfast, then went out to the studio. It took me 45 minutes to settle down and open up my laptop. I had trouble focusing, first, on what I wanted to do – to change the names of the sections in my book so they work together better. Once I did, I found that more, better ideas started to flow for any other essays I could write for the collection. The lesson from Monday was that sometimes, I have to allow myself time. Not for ‘inspiration’, but space for thinking and planning, as well as for writing. Inspiration does have to find you working, after all, as Picasso wrote.

I read a book over the past few weeks, called ‘Rest: How to Get More Done When You Work Less’ (you can see why it appealed to me!), by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. There was a lot about it that inspired me, and made me think differently about the way I’ve been approaching my working life. Equally, there were a lot of things that didn’t hold up in the book, such as how some of the lessons aren’t sustainable or practical for many people, particularly if women are also doing the bulk of the childcare or housework, for example – there was a conspicuous absence of a discussion about housework or childrearing, and very few examples of women given in his case studies illustrating his arguments.

There are a number of points about routine that he made. I think he made some excellent points about how we view rest in our fast-paced, time-poor society, that we see it as separate from our working life – that busy-ness is a badge of honour and productivity. He cited studies that made the point about how length of working time (the hours worked) didn’t necessarily mean we got more done, or better quality work done – that working without breaks or time to refresh ourselves means we suffer burnout and exhaustion, anxiety and sometimes depression. Time is precious not because we need to fill it with as much doing as possible, but because time is our life.

I think it’s worth noting that the book is probably more useful to people who work from home, have flexibility in their schedule, or are freelancers. It isn’t really a ‘how-to’ guide, and at the end of each chapter, sometimes I found myself wondering how to put these things into action. In the end, there are around 8 points he made in order to structure a life that holistically incorporates good, effective rest into your working life:

  • Begin the day quietly, without distractions, reading, eating breakfast, and planning the day ahead.
  • Work for four to six hours a day, broken up into blocks of time, preferably starting in the morning, and a second block in the afternoon.
  • Take refreshing naps – either 30 minutes in length, or 90 minutes in length to allow for a full sleep cycle. He backs this up with neuroscience and examples from the lives of famous scientists and writers (again, his examples were mostly rich upper class men).
  •  Go for a daily walk to think and refresh yourself.
  • Sleep for 7 hours minimum a night.
  • Stop your work before you’ve completely finished it. This especially pertains to writers and creative types so that they have somewhere to begin the next day, rather than facing a blank page.
  • Add physical pursuits to your hobbies and routine. This one was a difficult one, because not everyone enjoys things like mountain climbing, rowing, or other competitive sports, plus it could be ableist too. I took it to mean that an exercise of your choice can be deeply restorative (such as Yoga, swimming, climbing, walking, running, etc).
  • Engage in ‘deep play’, taking up and engaging in hobbies that have a personal meaning to you, that you love doing, and can be developed over time.

He also wrote about taking ‘sabbaticals’, which isn’t sustainable for most people. He argued that even one week of a sabbatical can be helpful, using the time in whatever way you see fit to seek out ideas, experiment, and try new things in the context of your work. Again, I think this is much more useful for creatives, scientists, and people whose work allows them to do such a thing.

I found the 4-6 hours section interesting, mostly because it offers a framework for freelancers to bracket that time in for focusing on intense, unbroken, distraction free work. Especially for creative workers. It doesn’t mean that you don’t work for all the rest of the day, more that focused, hard work is sustainable for only 2-4 hours at a time, because our concentration and energy levels start to go downhill after that. Mostly, this book argues that rest is as much of a purposeful, essential thing as work is for living, and we shouldn’t discount the importance of it. Even if you don’t like the ideas he puts out in the book, it still offers a way of thinking about your life and how you would like it to be, adding pockets of time for things you love doing, like reading, writing, hobbies, exercise, and so on.

Even though I have a long way to go before I completely overhaul and get used to having a better, more focused routine, I’m already shifting my mind towards how I can use my time and days. I’ve been feeling a lot more excited about my work again, which is the aim, in the end. Not to see my work as a chore (even though, as with any work, some days are better than others), but as work with purpose. No matter what work you do, it is important to feel that sense of purpose, whether that comes from your job or from something you do or believe about your life. I do think rest, family, friends, and community have a lot to do with that feeling.

Today, there are a few things that you might like to take a look at and read:

  1. Unstuck’s ‘Be Your Own Valentine’ collection of essays, videos and other media.
  2. Laura Jane William’s Ice Cream for Breakfast or Becoming – both wonderful with different purposes!
  3. Flow Magazine’s ‘A Book That Takes Its Time‘ – a beautiful, mindful book perfect for a treat for yourself or someone you love.
  4. Talks For The Hopeless Romantic from TED Talks.
  5. Talks about The Weird Science of Love via TED again.
  6. And four films I love: Before Sunrise, Amelie, A Very Long Engagement, and You’ve Got Mail!

Happy V-day, whatever you’re doing today!

‘You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.’ – Buddha.

5 thoughts on “And This Above All

  1. It was such a pleasure to read this article. Now I really feel motivated. This is useful for me because I am all day long at home too. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It makes me so happy to your posts! I hope the book is coming along well – hopefully we’ll get to see it this year. 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Good to remember – sleep for a minimum of 7 hours. I am reading a great book you might find interesting too – The Wonderbox Roman Krznaric – I will try and write a blog on it – but basically its full of insights to help us find meaningful lives. History and culture knitted together to create new perspectives to how to live.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Wonderbox is brilliant. I reviewed it a couple of years ago here – still love dipping into it from time to time. Hope you enjoy it!

      Liked by 1 person

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