The lost art of noble leisure time

Time off

I just finished the book Time of by John Fitch and Max Frenzel. This book is a treasure trove full of ideas of mindful living, productivity and how to be creative. Some of the key take aways from the book:

I am so busy busy busy

Our society is in love with busyness and a fake feeling of accomplishment. Busyness is seen by many as a batch of honor. The reason is that we associate busyness with success. Therefore if you are not busy, society puts you in the lazy and unproductive corner.

In recent years I realized that busyness also sneaked into our spare time. Seemingly successful people also have side hustles, sometimes more than one. This makes it difficult to enjoy spare time because we get the feeling that we should be making more of our precious time.

What is time off today

Time off is miss used to recharge our batteries to be able to go back to work. However, time off is a rare commodity these days. Time off is not hard to get but time off has a bad reputation. The constant connectivity, the endless options and possibilities that the internet offer make it impossible to switch off. Passive consumption combined with multitasking is the new definition of time off.

Just watching Netflix is not enough anymore. You also have to browse your phone researching something while being idle in front of the big screen. The attention economy does a great job not letting us wind down. Boredom is practically extinct because there is always something to do, to play or to consume. This trend is fulled by the fear of missing out (FOMO).

If you listen to people you will realize that vacation seem more and more like work. „Yes my week off was great but I am so tired that I need a vacation from my vacation“. Vacation have to be a unique experience with a full program and lots of highlights. Long gone are the days where slow living was celebrated and people enjoyed the simple tings in life with a lot of time on their hand.

What time off used to be

Time off was not always spent that way. Time off used to serve a different purpose than just to recover from work. Time off and boredom used to be an integral part of peoples life. This time of non activity helped to reflect and let creativity flow. Our mind needs time to process inputs to come up with fresh ideas.

In the book the authors mention an array of examples from famous people (Mozart, Mr. Money Mustach and Seth Godin).

The PHD student in Greece

One particular interesting case was a PHD student who went six weeks to Greece to write his PHD thesis. Normally this process is stressful and people overwork themselves while locked in a library.

This student did the opposite and filled his days with leisure activities. Between these events he planed deliberate time blocks reserved for deep work. The rest of the day were reserved to enjoy Greece, food and wine. With this approach his mind was so inspired that ideas and productivity spiked during the deep work blocks.

The result were six enjoyable weeks that the student has fond memories of long after he got his PHD.

Noble leisure

The authors coin the term noble leisure. Noble leisure is time where people don‘t pursue any activity. Noble leisure is spent by walking in the forrest or spending an afternoon in a hammock. During this time of non activities our mind is not idle. Noble leisure is a prerequisit for true creativity. It is a place with no expectations and no time pressure that produces the best ideas. All that is needed is pure leisure time without occupying the mind deliberately. It is called noble leisure because many people dismiss this sort of off time as it seems that time is being wasted unproductively. Quite the opposite is the case in fact.

The way we work

Unfortunately we are so obsessed with busyness that creativity is becoming a rare commodity. Japan is a country with the longest working hours on earth where people spend a lot of face time. Face time is being present but not really doing anything besides pretending to be working. It is no wonder that Japan is one of the most unproductive countries because of that bad habit. This might surprise you because we asosiate productivity with long hours. Other side effects of this life style are depression and suicide. Another trait that Japan is a front runner unfortunately.

Working in a multinational company I observe similar results. People are often overworked and instead of taking a break they work more. Burnouts are common and well accepted. People that quit are not being replaced only to make things worst. Instead of doing something against it most employees accepts this fact and keep doing what they are always doing…work long hours. I try to fight this teufelskreis by strictly following the mandatory working hours. Sometimes I even work a little less. I observe that colleagues critisize me for that by mentioning my lack of effort. They never mention this directly to my face but use remarks and jokes to bring it to my attention.

Do I feel bad about this? Rather the opposite, I pity people who treat their life time so poorly.

Artificial intelligence and the future of work

In the book time off the authors predict that there is hope on the horizon. Artificial intelligence (AI) will help us with that problem. Many busyness tasks such as email or paying bills will be done by machines soon. This will present a unique chance for humanity. Humanity will be able to do what it can do best by connecting the dots with creativity and out of the box thinking. This is something that machines will not be able to do for a long time. As a result future workers will have to be more creative and as a result will enjoy much shorter working days. They will benefit from a lot more noble leisure time. The future might not be far away so it is important to adjust our skills accordingly. As many of us are trained to be busy it will be essential to unlearn this bad habit to be useful in the new world of tomorrow. The future is bright.

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