FIND­ING BAL­ANCE IN THE AGE OF ‘TO­TAL WORK’

Why down­ing tools reg­u­larly makes you more pro­duc­tive

Fairlady - - CONTENTS - By Marli Meyer

‘Work be­comes to­tal when all of hu­man life is cen­tred around it; when ev­ery­thing else is not just sub­or­di­nate to, but in

the ser­vice of work,’ writes prac­ti­cal philoso­pher An­drew Tag­gart.

Sounds fa­mil­iar, right? Even af­ter putting in long hours at the of­fice, we never truly switch off. We might leave our work­place, but we’re al­ways con­nected to our work lives – check­ing emails, plan­ning the work week ahead and mak­ing sure we sleep enough to max­imise our work out­put. We even ex­er­cise to man­age work stress and, on week­ends, try to com­plete to-do lists dur­ing our down­time. And when we do take time off or even just sleep in, we’re racked with guilt be­cause there are things we be­lieve we ought to be do­ing.

Ger­man philoso­pher Josef Pieper first coined the term ‘to­tal work’ af­ter World War 2 – at the time, it was noth­ing more than a pre­dic­tion for the fu­ture. Now we’re liv­ing it.

‘To­tal work,’ says Tag­gart, ‘is the process by which hu­man be­ings are trans­formed into work­ers and noth­ing more, while more as­pects of life are slowly trans­formed into work.’

You could even ar­gue that we’ve be­come con­di­tioned to like the way our jobs and per­sonal lives are in­ter­twined. Ryan Avent, an edi­tor

at The Econ­o­mist, reck­ons that ‘our jobs have be­come pris­ons from which we don’t want to es­cape’.

He writes: ‘Per­haps we just live in a night­mar­ish arms race – if we were all to dis­arm, col­lec­tively, then we could all live a calmer, hap­pier, more equal life. But that is not quite how it is. The prob­lem is not that over­worked pro­fes­sion­als are all mis­er­able. The prob­lem is that they’re not.’

But there are ways to cre­ate mo­men­tary dis­tance from work­think – and it’s cru­cial that we do. Imag­ine fac­ing re­trench­ment or pro­fes­sional fail­ure if your iden­tity is built on your work life – your whole sense of self could im­plode.

The good news? There are ways to re­dress the bal­ance. These steps are about re­fram­ing rather than form­ing dis­ci­plined new habits.

STEP 1 ‘The bet­ter you are at rest, the bet­ter you are at work­ing’

Af­ter get­ting much more done while he was on sab­bat­i­cal than he did at work, Alex Soo­jung-Kim Pang, a busi­ness con­sul­tant in Sil­i­cone Val­ley and vis­it­ing scholar at Stan­ford Univer­sity, de­cided to re­search the sub­ject, even­tu­ally pub­lish­ing the book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less.

First off, he sug­gests we broaden our def­i­ni­tion of rest: ‘We usu­ally think of rest as the op­po­site of work, or a neg­a­tive space de­fined only by the ab­sence of work. Con­ver­sa­tions about work-life bal­ance im­ply that work and rest are com­peti­tors. In the lives of the peo­ple I write about, work and rest com­ple­ment and com­plete each other. Rest isn’t this op­tional left­over ac­tiv­ity. Work and rest are ac­tu­ally part­ners. They’re like dif­fer­ent parts of a wave. You can’t have the high with­out the low.’

Rest also doesn’t need to be to­tally pas­sive. Pang found that de­lib­er­ate rest – what he clas­si­fies as ac­tiv­i­ties of ‘se­ri­ous leisure’ – is the most restora­tive. Things like long walks, hik­ing and moun­taineer­ing, paint­ing, gar­den­ing and any such pas­times fall within his def­i­ni­tion of de­lib­er­ate rest.

While the more pas­sive forms of rest (like binge-watch­ing Net­flix) have their place, de­lib­er­ate rest is most ben­e­fi­cial be­cause it al­lows space for creative re­flec­tion.

‘The ex­pe­ri­ence of hav­ing the mind slightly re­laxed al­lows it to ex­plore dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions of ideas, to test out dif­fer­ent so­lu­tions.’ No mat­ter how you spend your leisure time the key, Pang writes, is to aim for a restora­tive ex­pe­ri­ence – a term coined by psy­chol­o­gist Stephen Ka­plan.

‘He wanted to un­der­stand why walks in the park, or even look­ing at a pic­ture of a land­scape, can recharge your men­tal bat­ter­ies,’ ex­plains Pang. Restora­tive ex­pe­ri­ences, he dis­cov­ered, share these traits:

• ‘They’re fas­ci­nat­ing: un­like a con­fer­ence call or spread­sheet, they hold your at­ten­tion with­out ef­fort.

• They pro­vide a sense of trans­port­ing you from your usual life and en­vi­ron­ment.

• They strike a bal­ance be­tween com­plex­ity and com­pat­i­bil­ity: they’re rich and fully re­alised worlds, but you can make sense of them.’

Restora­tive ex­pe­ri­ences aren’t just lim­ited to ac­tiv­i­ties either. ‘Nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ments like parks and beaches, and built spa­ces like churches and gar­dens, can be restora­tive. So can the the­atre or good books.’

In order to make enough time and place for these se­ri­ous leisure ex­pe­ri­ences, it’s im­por­tant to un­der­stand that rest and leisure aren’t op­tional ac­tiv­i­ties, squeezed in if we have time. Work and leisure are equally im­por­tant, or as Pang puts it: ‘The bet­ter you are at rest­ing, the bet­ter you will be at work­ing.’

STEP 2 Take longer sab­bat­i­cal-style hol­i­days

Restora­tive ex­pe­ri­ences cre­ate the ideal space and time to think, con­tem­plate, con­sol­i­date and in­vig­o­rate cre­ativ­ity. But this can be near im­pos­si­ble to achieve in your day-to-day life. That’s where long hol­i­days, or sab­bat­i­cals for those who have the op­por­tu­nity, are highly valu­able. Fre­quent short breaks like long week­ends away are great, but to truly get to a phase where you’re re­laxed enough to think deeply takes more than that. Which would ex­plain why sab­bat­i­cal-type hol­i­days are mak­ing a come­back. Sta­cyLee Swart, a 30-year-old se­nior art direc­tor in ad­ver­tis­ing, did some­thing sim­i­lar when she took a two-month hol­i­day to Rus­sia:

‘Be­cause it was so long, it al­most felt like I’d quit my job. I could for­get about ev­ery­thing and im­merse my­self in our trip. Com­par­ing it to the seven-day trip to In­dia we did three years ago where we barely got a chance to re­lax be­fore we were on our flight back, I’d def­i­nitely rec­om­mend this style of trav­el­ling in­stead (if

‘It’s im­por­tant to un­der­stand that rest and leisure are not op­tional ac­tiv­i­ties, squeezed in if we have time.’

your work al­lows it, of course).

‘I told my com­pany a year pre­vi­ously that I wanted to take two months off. They didn’t re­ally be­lieve me at the time, but six months be­fore we left I gave them my set dates and put in my leave form. They dis­cussed it with the CEO, who wasn’t 100% con­vinced, but I rea­soned with them that most women my age are tak­ing ma­ter­nity leave at this point in their lives, so this was mine ex­cept my baby was a back­pack and I’d be com­ing back with vodka and amaz­ing sto­ries of Rus­sia in­stead.’ Per­son­ally, I also ex­pe­ri­enced the ben­e­fits of a lengthy break when I took a month-long hol­i­day last year. Dur­ing week one and two, I was just so re­lieved to be on hol­i­day; by week three I fi­nally re­laxed but was ex­hausted from the stress­ful time lead­ing up to the break. It was only in week four, when I’d fi­nally got enough dis­tance from work, that I felt men­tally and phys­i­cally recharged.

Em­ploy­ers are also cot­ton­ing on to the value of longer hol­i­days. Richard Bran­son en­forced an un­lim­ited leave pol­icy shortly af­ter Net­flix an­nounced it would. In 2016, web de­vel­op­ment com­pany Base­camp CEO Ja­son Fried an­nounced that em­ployee ben­e­fits would in­clude a month-long sab­bat­i­cal ev­ery three years, four-day work­weeks dur­ing the sum­mer months and a flex­i­ble leave pol­icy where em­ploy­ees would get three weeks of hol­i­day plus some per­sonal days to use at their dis­cre­tion.

STEP 3 Take back your lunch break and go out­side

No lengthy hol­i­day in sight? Shorter in­cre­ments of rest are just as im­por­tant, as they al­low us to turn a men­tal page if we’re stuck. A study con­ducted by the Har­vard

Busi­ness Re­view found that when par­tic­i­pants took reg­u­lar breaks be­tween the creative think­ing tasks as­signed to them, they gen­er­ated the most novel ideas.

Get­ting out for your lunch break will make you more creative in your prob­lem-solv­ing ap­proach, which means you’ll get the same amount done in less time and there­fore have more down­time.

Go­ing out­side into a park or among trees for your lunch break can have a more pro­found ef­fect than we re­alise. A study pub­lished in Bio­Science found that con­nect­ing to na­ture can lessen an­ti­so­cial be­hav­iour and in­crease so­cial con­nec­tion and har­mony.

‘For­est bathing’ has taken off, first in Ja­pan and now in the US. Loosely trans­lated, the Ja­panese word ‘shin­rin-yoku’ means ‘tak­ing in, in all of our senses, the for­est at­mos­phere’. Re­search has proven the ben­e­fits of for­est bathing on our stress lev­els and brain func­tion, and even in­flam­ma­tion. If you don’t have a for­est close to your of­fice, short bursts of ex­po­sure to na­ture can have a pos­i­tive ef­fect, and the im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence is a break from your phone and emails.

All these steps have the same end-goal – to re­con­nect us to life: with peo­ple we love, places we want to see, things we’d like to ex­pe­ri­ence, worlds only our imag­i­na­tions can visit. By nur­tur­ing that side of our­selves, we’ll ul­ti­mately be able to do what Tag­gart says is the se­cret to achiev­ing bal­ance in the age of to­tal work: ‘de­tach[ing] our no­tion of suc­cess from that of hap­pi­ness’.

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