From today, I don’t work Wednesdays. And neither should you.
I live in the city, and run a theatre company working with children. It’s a fun job; it’s creative and inspiring. But from September to December, our company took on a big project, an underspend from the previous financial year. It was well-paid work with one proviso: that twelve months of work be completed within three months. This project called for many extra hours of work per week. Plus my main work colleague was freelancing on other projects during that time, leaving me to mostly run the ship alone. So during Autumn 2010, I didn’t stop. Many of my working weeks were 60 hours plus.
Ironically, this arrived at a time in my life when I was looking for less. In 2010 I started to reduce the number of possessions I owned and the number of creative projects I started. I’m not alone in this. If you follow the excellent blogs or Twitter feeds of Rowdy Kittens, Upcycled Love or Be More With Less, you will see that there is a growing movement worldwide that is anti-greed and pro-gratitude.
I want to honour each moment. I want to take the time to feel my feet on the ground, to really sense and breathe in what is happening to me. The demands of this project really highlighted how important these goals are. During its lifetime, I dreaded getting up in the morning. I started to feel worn out – by my art!
“This isn’t meant to happen!” I thought to myself, “I’m an artist! Surely dread is only felt by blue-collar workers, trapped in a 9 to 5?”
That Autumn, I got the flu – twice. I felt more stressed than usual. My relationship suffered. I really wanted to slow down. Yes, the money was nice and allowed me to do a lot of fun things, but what’s the point if quality of life is compromised?
I knew these demands were only for the life of this project, but began to seriously question what I do, and how I live my life. Although I had committed to reducing, we had accepted a project that was all about more-more-more. It seemed that saying no to work was much harder for me than giving away all of my books.And it’s not always easy to say no when you’re self-employed. I hadn’t worked at all during July and August, so this project was to compensate for my lost earnings during that time.
So working all those hours from September to December felt so alien, so unnatural! I didn’t find the time to replenish myself. I didn’t have time to reconnect with the forces that inspire me. I felt like I didn’t have time to savour each moment. I took breaks. I didn’t work relentlessly. But demands on my time really did feel greater than the resources I had available.
Thankfully, I have a spiritual practice and good friends, because I don’t think I would have made it through that period without them.
I wasn’t sure what to do about my working life. In the short term, I didn’t want to quit the project. Long term, I didn’t want to drastically change my career.
During these same months, I listened to the audiobook of The Diamond Cutter by Geshe Michael Roach. It’s brilliant. It’s about how to run your work and life according to the principles of the Buddha.
One practise described in the book is that of the Circle Day. Geshe Michael Roach doesn’t work Wednesdays, and it’s because Wednesday is his Circle Day. A Circle Day is a day that you devote to revival. On a day like this, you refresh yourself. Geshe Michael spends the morning in silence, meditating, and then goes for a walk. He turns his phone off. He suggests you could do voluntary work on a Circle Day, or spend an hour in prayer, or take that class in Spanish you always promised yourself. Anything that really comes from your heart and invigorates you.
Wow! I was inspired. Life had sent me a message: here’s how it could work.
So from now on, I don’t work Wednesdays. Other people can. Meetings can go ahead without me. Work can still be delivered. But I won’t be there. I’ll work damn hard the other four days, mind you. My schedule often includes a ten or twelve hour day. But not Wednesdays. Wednesdays is me time. Wednesdays is my time to reconnect, to remember what I truly believe in and resonate with.
On Wednesdays I will meditate all morning, pray, do voluntary work, practise yoga, make masks, play the guitar, write poetry maybe… it’s up to me. And I plan to take it easy on those days.
One thing I believe I must never ever do, is break my deal and offer to work on a Wednesday just this once. If I do, I’ll only do it again, and before I know it, I will be working Wednesdays again. I felt guilty the first few times somebody said “I can only meet on Wednesday that week,” and I had to say “Sorry, can’t do Wednesdays,” but it got easier.
This is totally do-able for a freelancer. We freelancers might not want to say no to an entire project; financially that could be a disaster, but it’s okay to say no to Wednesdays. It’s not unusual for someone self-employed to be unavailable on a certain day because they are teaching, or working elsewhere.
The concept is strange in some ways. I think we are conditioned to work, work, work in this country. That ‘hard work pays off’. That by not working, we are being lazy. But I am sure if we all cut our workload by a fifth and spent the extra time doing something we loved, our work would benefit. Rather than not getting enough done, we would probably do more, because we would have more energy.
Google recognises this. Their employees must fulfil their company obligations 80% of the time, and then are free to spend the other 20% of their time doing something creative. The New York Times has a great article about Google’s policy here.
Today was my first I-Don’t-Work-Wednesday. It’s been fun, and spacious. Now I feel centred again. Ready for tomorrow.
You might wanna think about joining, “I don’t work Wednesdays”.
Or, as my friend Ben Skirth, the talented animator and designer from White Locust replied, “Or Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays.”