My Dear Driven Artist and Compulsive Overworker,
I've always known that working 40 hours per week was not for me. It was always either 70 or 80, or 10/20 ish. I believe I'm really only productive when I'm working flat-out, obsessively, enjoying the rush and stimulus of expediting food for a conference of 1000s of attendees for example, or fitting in a leisurely 2 hour work period as I do in my late 30s, between caring for horses, large dogs, gardens, and packing or unpacking my things from whatever housing arrangement I have at the time.
Now I have scientific proof that working less is better for me, and is more productive in the end. I hereby present: The Ideal Workweek, According to Science, by Simon Parkin.
Basically, he explains that just because "we live in a culture that venerates overwork", doesn't make us more productive. In fact, a lot of the research shows that four hour stints of work is about as much as anyone, from artists to philosophers to athletes, can handle. And even that might be best broken up into one hour work segments, with 15-20 minute breaks.
My challenge, and perhaps yours too, is that my brain has been transformed by the ADD-inducing nature of social media culture, to the point that I can't seem to concentrate on a single task for more than 20 minutes before I'm actively looking for a distraction.
Ironically, when I'm "working" on social media content and surfing the web and Facebook for marketing opportunities, I can sit there, zoned out like a zombie, for hours. But when I'm standing in front of the computer doing some actual creative work to do with one of my documentaries, it takes about 20 minutes before my brain starts to drift, and if I can harness it at that point and wrestle it back to attention, I'm still only good til around the 40 minute mark before I have to do something else.
Why is that? Why can't I focus on the work that is most meaningful and will produce the most long-lasting feeling of satisfaction for me? At the end of a workweek, I don't look back on my social media posts and go, "wow, those were some creative pieces of work there, Tobi, well done!" OK, so I do pat myself on the back a little bit for the bloggy bits that actually take some storytelling skill. But when I think about what I've done that week in terms of "real work", it's only the time I've put in to actually putting bits of video on a timeline, or words on a page, or ideas and research in a publishable format, that I really feel a sense of accomplishment about.
The problem perhaps is, that the sense of accomplishment comes long after I've actually done the work, not while I'm creating. I usually have a sense of un-accomplishment while I'm creating something. It feels always rough, unpleasant, not enough, not polished, unhappily unfinished. So I go away from it with the nagging sense that I have to come back, and it bugs me. Whereas social media publishing work has an immediate sense of accomplishment, a reward right at the time of posting, and I feel a little rush and sense of satisfaction that makes me want to do more.
So instead of limiting myself to a single post, like an addict, I have to replicate that post's success, doing it in multiple groups and trying to get even more traction, chasing the dragon of more reach and interaction. But it's a high that never lasts, and I don't think about it beyond that limited period. The gain is instant, and instantly over.
But real work... the hard, uncomfortable stuff that I have to do daily if I'm ever going to finish one of my documentaries... the grinding, hair-pulling, sweat-inducing valleys and troughs I have to push myself through to actually lay track... this kind of work can only be done in short bursts.
I take hope in the evidence that far greater artists and thinkers than I am have traditionally worked in short bursts and then taken their leisurely time to do the rest of life, and let their mighty creative minds and juices slowly recover. Here's to a better workweek, and to working with less pressure and compulsion, for all of us.
Hang in there,