Nothing is Productive for Eight Hours a Day

Or fun, for that matter. Sleep is the sole exception I will allow for. A necessity, actually, so not comparable to what I discuss here.

Turmuhr Riva

Take my hobbies – the things I do even though nobody pays me to do them – intrinsic motivation par excellence:

  • Reading. Best thing to happen to us since sleep, but 8h a day five days a week would eradicate all the fun. No time to reflect and process, and a very sore butt. Sure, larger piles of books read, but my overtasked brain would jumble them and probably miss many valuable life lessons. Not quite the point of a once pleasurable activity.
  • Writing. Makes me feel incredibly accomplished, but my brain is drained after much less than 8h. It’s a complex activity – imagination, vocabulary, structure, research, editing. Of course I can’t do all that effectively for eight hours.
  • Running. Great way of connecting with my body, but if I tried it for 8h a day, I’d collapse long before the end of day one. Even a one-hour “lunch break” would contribute little to reaching that arbitrary goal. It would be the antithesis of sustainability, too, because as my running history predicts, I’d be out for months due to injuries. Probably starting on day two.
  • Coffee and chatting with a friend. Best thing to happen to us since books, but if I tried that for 8h, I’d be left with nothing to say, a stomach ulcer, and an introvert hangover. That is the best-case scenario.

Now think about your more externally motivated tasks, such as what your employer pays you to do – how much of your workday is spent doing these productively – in the sense that they lead to the results your boss wants? How much of your workday is lost in endless email threads, pointless meetings, procrastination, mindless organizational tasks, never-ending distractions?

Having more than one task makes things no more fun, either – I used to have a job where I researched scientific literature, organized a database, coordinated email communication, plus miscellanea. But boy was I glad that that was not full-time. Sure, the tasks differed, but all required brain capacity and focus of an intensity that I believe to be unsustainable if required for 8h+ every day.

Obviously, there are many things we could try to do for eight hours a day – most people with jobs do that every day. But that doesn’t mean we actually do them – how often does the internet distract you from a work task? Nor does it mean we should. If I knew I could work fewer hours, the work-procrastination ratio would improve significantly, possibly even making up for the “lost” hours. I’d probably be sick less, making up for more “lost” hours.

Working 8h+ days is not making us more productive, it’s draining us. It keeps us in a web of obligations with little room for creativity. It keeps us unhappy. So we seek instant gratification as soon as we finally get to leave – and the marketers of conspicuous consumption rejoice.

If we had more free time, we’d know how to handle it: how to spend it productively in the sense of fulfillment. Imagine you had two extra hours Every. Single. Day. – you could exercise regularly, nap, read, go for a walk with a loved one, repair something broken, volunteer, evaluate your life…

Minimalism is a tool to achieve not having to participate in the 8h+ rat race – you need less, so you work less. Less money means less stuff, but more time adds more to your life: fun, friends, love, exercise, creativity, learning, growth, sleep, more of whatever it is that you could almost do for 8h a day.

And if we radiate enough happy minimalist leisure, maybe, just maybe, the world will follow suit…

PS: The Environmental and Financial Benefits of Using Something a Year Longer + How to Unplug + 33 Things to do Other Than Shopping.

What an Imperfect Dressing Gown Taught Me

I’ve long wanted a perfect dressing gown – the kind of silky but casual sexiness they wear in old movies I never watch, or lingerie commercials I avoid for fear turning the want into a purchase. But then again, the kind I wanted was too expensive for me to seriously consider buying one. Large amounts of silk do not come cheap. Shocker, I know.

Love Imperfection Dressing GownSo my friend and I decided to sew our own. I bought beautiful blue fabric – not silk, see above, but fancy-enough looking jersey. Plus, have you m
et my sewing skills? Not something you’d want to let loose on expensive materials. That shopping excursion happened a year ago.
A month later, we met to cut the fabric for the pattern. My friend finished hers soon after. I, however, told myself that I’d get to it “next week” and then went abroad for five months, sans sewing machine. After my return, it was at the top of my to-do list. Promise. Three weeks after coming home, I did two seams and was fed up (they were the shoulder seams, thus the shortest of the entire garment). My sewing machine blocked valuable desk real estate for another three weeks until I finally finished the thing in a single day.

You may rightfully ask what caused that surge of productivity. Well. I had decided that sewing was not an actual hobby, but a fantasy-self hobby. Finishing the gown was going to be a goodbye ritual. I also decided that since sewing was not really my hobby, I was no expert and would therefore not be able to sew a perfect garment – the kind about which no one would think to ask “Did you make it yourself?” because it looks so professional. Finally, I remembered that dressing gowns are generally not worn in public. Ergo, I did not need a perfect dressing gown. That was not in the realm of possibilities anyways. I was either going to have an imperfect dressing gown or a few cut-out pieces of fabric that would not sufficiently cover my body if I were to try to wear them. I preferred the imperfect dressing gown.

Without the specter of perfection looming, the sewing was almost fun. Knowing that after this, I would never pressure myself into sewing something again made it even more so.

I don’t know why I have held on to this hobby for so long. I practice it infrequently and have long known that I was unwilling to put in the necessary time, effort, and money to get good, or even just decent at it. I also still feel that I have too many clothes whenever I open my closet, despite constant minimizing – why on earth would I spend time producing more? That I would be embarrassed to wear, as they would absolutely advertise my lack of sewing skills? Talk about inefficient resource allocation.

Knowing that I would make enough money to buy a book or two from the sewing machine sale helped, too. I set the price too low, but I sold that thing the same day and freed up a lot of closet space. I also got rid of all fabric and abandoned any residual sewing projects I had conceived years ago and forgotten about. Obviously nothing I needed in my life. Minimalism win.

But that is life: sometimes, perfect is not an option. If I wanted my blog to be perfect, chances are, you wouldn’t be hearing from me at all. I wasn’t going to spend 100+€ on a perfect dressing gown, and I was unable to sew one. So I sewed an imperfect one that turned out better than expected (just don’t look to closely at the inside seams) and that absolutely does the job of making me feel sexy and sophisticated when I throw it on after rolling out of bed.

PS: 33 things to do other than shoppingIn Defense of the Default

25 Lessons in 25 Years

I turned 25 last month, so I wanted to share the wealth of things I’ve learned – one for every year:25 Bday_Fotor

  1. Crying will lead to food. Unfortunately, this no longer works.
  2. Walking and talking.
  3. I assume I was potty-trained then. Very valuable life skill indeed.
  4. Speaking English.
  5. I suddenly have a sister. Interesting.
  6. They want me to speak German in Kindergarten in Germany.
  7. Riding a bike.
  8. Reading and writing.
  9. Swimming.
  10. Going to the library by myself.
  11. Inline skating.
  12. Latin.
  13. Biking to school by myself.
  14. Not all friendships are forever. Sometimes people suddenly annoy you.
  15. Puberty is even worse when it’s your sister.
  16. Picking a country I might like to spend a year in.
  17. Travelling with friends instead of parents.
  18. Rules for PDA in German and American High School are exact opposites.
  19. There is less sugar in German food, compared to American food.
  20. The Dutch are simultaneously laid-back and efficient.
  21. Nuance.
  22. Navigating a complex subway system as part of daily life.
  23. Knitting socks.
  24. Putting in an IV.
  25. Speaking French somewhat properly.

A more figurative version will follow soon!