the 15 hour work week and non-finite downtime

Nov 29, 2017 · 3 min read

“What we do during our working hours determines what we have; what we do in our leisure hours determines what we are.” — George Eastman

The idea of a great deal of leisure time can feel like something which should be reserved for holidays, and even then, the long unstructured hours can often feel hard to fill…

In our downtime we settle into the understandable balance between life and work, looking forward to the weekend and early mornings and coffee breaks. But what if the hours we worked were drastically reduced and we were able to live easily on only two or three hours of work a day and relish the other hours as those of our own? Being unencumbered by work and un-indentured by the nine to five routine, and free to engage how we want, and occupy ourselves with any activity we chose. Our leisure time could seem like an unending stretch.

A fifteen-hour work week may feel like an incredible impossibility now, in a culture like ours which often positions work over play, and those around us seemingly are judged by their careers rather than their character, but this is exactly what John Maynard Keynes predicted for us, back in 1930. He envisioned a future where we would only be working a mere fifteen hours a week as our material needs would be met with much more ease. He predicted that we would have much more leisure time due to our living standards increasing dramatically.

Keynes may not have been able to predict our overwhelming addiction to being connected to our technology, but we can still derive something from the idea. The fact we don’t have unlimited work time can give us the ability to prioritise what we do find important. So although we’re not always at liberty to change the structure of our entire working week, we can focus on the benefits of downtime in our lives. The idea that when we have too much of something we begin to not even see it, Perec spoke of the picture hung, to disguise the bareness of the wall and then seen so much that it became unseen. We can view our completely unstructured downtime like the picture that we enjoy until it becomes so well-known we can barely differentiate it anymore from the expanse around it. The benefits that come with a lessened work time can still be part of our busy lives.

How many people know the disbelief that comes from having time off and not getting anything that you had planned done? Many of us understand that having much less structure in our lives can often leave us with too many possibilities and we end up not knowing where to start. Even though we may have a longer working week, we do have the opportunity to view our downtime as a precious non-finite commodity, something which can be looked forward to, relished, and ultimately enjoyed more often. Having a clear time to focus on ourselves, knowing that it may be a small window in our day over a cup of coffee or reading a couple of pages of a novel we love, can help us to find calm in our busy lives.

Even if we don’t have a fifteen-hour work week just yet, the downtime we can associate with that style of life can encourage us to make the most of the peace we have outside of the connectedness of our work lives. The luscious lie in that feels unashamedly good, breakfast reading the papers, the first cup of coffee, or the time spent on a creative project…


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