Last year I worked from home. It wasn’t a very fun year, but I didn’t have a huge number of other options, and it paid the bills. The bit about not having many other options is only partly true, though. I worked from home. I was sent work, and given perhaps a month in which to complete it. And Parkinson’s Law (“often used in relation to time usage: the more time you’ve been given to do something, the more time it will take you to do it”) more or less ruled my life. The same article from which that quotation comes (don’t worry, link to follow) suggests that of an 8-hour business day, most working people only spend 3 hours doing productive work. I assume that most working people then spend the remaining five hours gossiping round the water cooler about Youtube videos of cats and the results of Bake Off (you can tell me now; I’ve finally managed to watch the final).
The article I’m talking about also talks about how an 8 hour working day is something big businesses promote: “Under these working conditions people have to build a life in the evenings and on weekends. This arrangement makes us naturally more inclined to spend heavily on entertainment and conveniences because our free time is so scarce”. You should read this article – it makes for depressing reading but it might also make you feel better if you spend all your working hours looking at cat videos.
It made me very happy, though. As well as depressed. Working from home didn’t suit me – I hated how long simple jobs seemed to take, how lonely and demotivated I felt, how somehow leaving the house or putting some thought into my clothing or hair seemed like a luxury all of a sudden. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t feel much better if I’d been doing the same job but had to go to an office to do it. The work – when I did it – was genuinely quite enjoyable – but there was no reason for it to take over my day. Somehow I felt more time-pressured last year, trapped in my house in front of my laptop, than I had the previous year, dashing between work, musical engagements and university commitments with a healthy dash of social life, hobbies and other commitments thrown in – even though the previous year definitely felt far busier.
Now, training to be a PGDE, I am once again spectacularly busy. I’m on the staff-student committee, I’m still holding down that healthy social life, and for crying out loud I’m doing an insanely large fraction of a master’s degree alongside a very intense training course. When I get home at the end of each day I am satisfyingly tired, and I know I’m only going to get more so as the weeks go on, once I’m in school four days a week.
And I know (as I hope many of you do) that my time in school will all be full-on, full to the brim. I couldn’t possibly do in three hours what I do in eight, because I’m going to spend more than three hours of each day up in front of a class, and there’s no way you can really make children learn faster than they do (or certainly very little you can do once they reach you at the age of 11). And if you could make them learn faster, you’d get them to learn more, rather than telling them to go home early. You’d hope that they’d want to. The school day runs for six-and-a-half hours at my school. I will then be working in the evenings to get ready for the days yet to come – on lesson planning and organisation and marking and all my own course requirements. I might waste the first few hours of each evening, and do some more work later, but work will happen. And Parksinson’s Law barely gets a look-in because I don’t have the time to let the task fill that time. I will be using very nearly all the time I have.
So big business won’t have stolen my inclination to use my leisure time for all my hobbies. Work will steal my leisure time, and what I manage to salvage has so far been used on things that make me genuinely happy. Although I’ll admit that alongside all the smug running and visiting of tourist attractions and wandering by the seaside, that sometimes includes Bake Off (and cat videos).
If, meanwhile, your 40-hour workweek, and the sapping of your energy for all the amazing wonderful free things you used to do with your spare time, has made you long for a simpler life and less material joy, think carefully. This article from the Guardian brings together lots of peoples’ experiences of poverty, in the UK, here and now. People have written of their experiences of poverty as elderly people, students, highly-qualified ex-professionals – ordinary people like you and me, having an unimaginable time.