Friday, August 13, 2010

Seizure of More Leisure

Today was another summer Friday off from work, and it’s been a superb one (again). When you’re used to the 9-to-5 office grind, there’s something liberating about being able to unhurriedly take care of errands and swing by a bookstore and the wine shop at 1:30 p.m. on a weekday, in between curbside chats with the neighborhood teenagers who walk, bike, or drive by. It seems like a lot of offices in NYC have some sort of official summer-hours schedule, and my heart goes out to the employees whose offices do not.

These temporary three-day weekends have done wonders for my mind and mood. I’ve been gifted with more time to sleep, read, write, cook, clean, return personal phone calls and e-mails, plan near-future vacations, take stock of things. On the traditional productivity front, this extra day off has allowed me to get more tasks done (and done more calmly and rationally, since I’m better-rested than usual) inside and outside of the office. At work, when I know that I only have 4 (instead of 5) days to get all my professional ducks in a row, I take the hour-to-hour workday more seriously – which is something I know (from both personal experience and published research findings) that many of today’s full-time office employees don’t consistently do.

But all good things sure do come to an end; “nothing is permanent” (Buddha). Today was my last summer-hours Friday of the year - but I’m not the only one who doesn’t think it should end here. At a recent conference I was sent to, a renowned sociologist promoted the notion of having a shorter work week (resurrecting an old FDR/New Deal-era idea), in the interest of building time wealth (while also lowering the unemployment numbers). She argued that reducing the number of weekly hours worked (i.e., changing the standard work week from 40 hours to 30 hours) will lead people to become more constructively innovative and creative as their time is freed up, for the greater good.

She’s onto something. I was once only marginally employed for about a year – and that was exactly when I finally started turning my attention to a number of different creative projects that I had been putting off for most of my adulthood. Going down this path is gradually changing my life for the much, much better, and I know I could have accomplished more with that extra free time on my hands if I hadn’t had to deal with the constant distraction of worrying about how and when my next paycheck would come. And this is just an illustrative snapshot of me and my designs – imagine the kind of output the significantly smarter and more talented people would be able to yield.

The U.S. has now become a country that’s packed to the gills with uncommonly brilliant people. I predict that this place will get even more functional, interesting, and bearable as soon as a greater number of them have more financially-secure quality time to freely and independently think and create. We’re probably not going to end up stumbling onto life-enhancing breakthroughs, like the cure for cancer, until they do.

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