Recently on here I’ve been writing about being self-employed and the kinds of work I do. About how much I like variety in the work I take on and the stress it caused me recently when I found myself doing too much of one thing.
So when I read this article by Owen Jones in The Guardian, suggesting that a four day working week could be good for our economy, our society and our health, I remembered.
I remembered that ever since I began leaving my day job in the mid-1990s and becoming self-employed one of my objectives in doing so has been to work less. Not that I don’t enjoy the work I do. I do, and one of the big things I’ve always gone on about is finding and doing the work you love. And I have, mostly. But a core part of living the life I’ve had over this last 22 years has been to have more time than I used to have for me.
To do what? Well, we’ll get on to that.
But let’s go back to those middle 1990s. I’ve been working in a housing association for the best part of 20 years. Loved the first ten of them doing radical, neighbourhood based, making it up as we went along work. Then, as we professionalised, the next ten years had been just ok. By 1993 I’m a Director of the place, going in every day in a suit and tie, still talking up the good work we’re doing, but knowing increasingly in my heart that it’s not for me any more. I get sick and depressed more than I used to.
Sarah and I have met and recently moved in with each other, having long dreamy conversations about working together. What would it be like if we didn’t have jobs and could work out a way of earning our livings from working together?
The full story of these years is elsewhere on this blog, but in essence, we both negotiate working four days a week to have extra time to think and experiment. And in doing so we make up our escape plan. Which is called ‘a sense of place.’
In going on to four days a week I lose a company car and my job as a director. And I return to doing some of the kinds of work that had attracted me to the place in the first place. Working with tenants, in the neighbourhoods where they live, on how life could be better. Working on a sense of place.
What I don’t do because I’ve dropped to four days is go to so many meetings or spend so much time doing the ’round the office socialising’ thing that is so much a part of having a job. I haven’t got the time. So the place gets some of the best work out of me that it ever did as I gradually leave.
By November 1995 Sarah and I have set up our company, a sense of place, and before long we’re working too much. So the day jobs are gently relinquished (to the credit of both employers by the way) and we set off on our own with the mixture of art, neighbourhoods, future stories, dreams, clearing space and social enterprise that will, as it turns out, support us for a good many years to come.
Learning from our experiences of working four day weeks when we had jobs we book days in our diaries when we don’t work. We call them ‘learning days’ at first and sometimes can be seen conscientiously reading books and magazines that will ‘continue our professional development.’ Mostly though we’re just off. Because our work, though rewarding, is hard. And in between the doing of it we need time for ourselves. To rest, walk around and enjoy being alive. Together and alone.
Some of this idleness is where we create some of our best ideas. Idleness can be good for that. And some of it is probably why we’re so well and so happy in these years.
When websites get invented we even talk this up, this not working. At first we blatantly say ‘we don’t work Monday mornings and we’re always off on Fridays.’ But actually find this squeezes our work into too few days and leaves us less choice with living our lives. So we become more subtle as time goes by, not so much minding working on a Friday if we can have a quiet Wednesday, out walking with not many people around, instead.
So it’s good for us, these days of working together as ‘a sense of place’ as the nineties turn into the new century. These days of not working all the time.
Which brings us back to Owen Jones and his ‘Four Day Week’ article. About which I’ll have more to say, maybe later today, maybe tomorrow, as I pick up the story we’re in the middle of here.
Meanwhile, it’s just after 10 on a Thursday morning and I’m off to do some work. Back in a bit…
Evening now, of the same day.
And I did do some work, some. Steadily sorting this and that while outside the rain buckets down and makes me glad I’m not outside.
Then towards mid-day the sun comes out and Sarah appears from where she’s been working elsewhere in the house. We don’t work together any more, our partnership as ‘a sense of place’ having run its course, but we’re still living our lives together. And she suggests we go out, in the sunshine, to her allotment to build a new dead hedge she’s been thinking about. Which we do.
We can do this because our time is our own. Though we’re both working, we have no appointments with other people today and so the sunny afternoon is not wasted.
Tomorrow we’ll each do the work we didn’t finish today while we were out in Sarah’s garden, while we were having the times of our lives. And all because of back then in the 1990s when we decided to have a go at creating more time for ourselves.
That Owen Jones? He’s onto something.
I may still have more to say on this, there could be a Part Two of the story. Meanwhile all of the parts of what Sarah and I did as ‘a sense of place’ are here.