Back at work (which means removing the rejected Quality Street from the kitchen table for me, as for many others), I was stopped by a Twitter post I noticed while scrolling between tabs. “Productivity culture is a scam,” it said.
It’s a message that in the past year has gained traction from enforced inactivity, furloughs, short-time jobs (if you’re in Germany) and other initiatives whose results have pushed work out of the spotlight and into the spotlight, leaving some of us space to wonder if it’s all cracked up to be. We are still a long way from Keynes’ expected 15-hour work week, but employers are urgently searching for new work models, people are rethinking their commitment to unpredictable and unreasonably challenging career paths, and the movement is gaining traction for a better and healthier four-day work week. The importance of work falls under examination as we are compelled to pose existential questions: the old body snatch becomes less abstract. Recently, the lovely article by Elle Hunt explaining the discovery that she used work as a self-soothing coping mechanism sparked an eerie recognition.
I will never say that I work hard – all my work is done sitting down, for starters – but for no especially good reason, I work long hours.
The spring of 2019 was my last holiday. I found myself telling people with an unbearable combination of pride and self-pity, wearing my eye disorder as an honor badge and dabbing behind my ears the scent of a burning martyr. Time to break free. “And it was four days,” I promised to relax over Christmas, read thick books, and have genuine conversations with my sons. Day 1: I wrote a self-righteous note from the office and flipped my laptop shut. This is how it went.
After a long stroll, I laid under the electric blanket on the sofa, ignoring The Mirror & the Light of Hilary Mantel in favor of an oddly convincing Australian cooking show. “Vacations are fantastic!” I said cheerfully to my husband. “I’ve been telling you that for years,” he said. He did two last year, which I declined to accompany him on. Another episode?”Another episode?”Absolutely. “Absolutely. ” “Hello,” I said. How are you?”How are you?”All right,”Fine,” Do you feel like something nice for lunch? Can I cook?”Do you feel like something nice for lunch? I could cook?”Nah.”Nah.” Both are very clear without my illusory sense of professional intent. Day 3: Angry at the absence of self-imposed success metrics, I developed a “family geography challenge” and printed out loads of cards. Everybody, myself included, dismissed them.
I had read three pages of coats and for around 67 hours watched Australians making gnocchi.
My mood was in free fall: we went for a walk and I got angry about the habit of my husband walking half a step ahead of me. Day 4: For hours, I didn’t feel like getting up and dozing listlessly. “When I wasn’t distracted by color-coded spreadsheets, there were so many things to be angry and distracted about that I was slumped next to the washing machine at lunchtime (the only place I’m sure not to pick a fight), almost catatonic with rage and whispering, “I hate everything: “I hate everything.” I allowed myself to do some work at this point. I’m sure this was a cold turkey – a process I couled
I might never be able to confirm that, though, because I can’t go through that again in any way.
I’m beginning to worry that I’m the guy on her deathbed who needs her to spend more time in the workplace.
Mmm, from the office.