Mindfulness and the 4-day week
After a decade of working a five-day week, amassing ever further responsibilities, working ever longer days and working six or seven days in reality, last year I asked my Head Teacher if I might reduce my workload and work a four-day week instead. My reasoning was that having started a four-year diploma in psychotherapy, and with all that this required, I couldn’t manage the course with a full working week. My Head Teacher gave her consent.
Asking to do less at work felt like a personal milestone. I am, like near everyone I know, a poster-girl for the Protestant work ethic. Give me a nugget of time and I’ll whip up a to-do list. In fact, I’ll collect a recent batch of to-do lists, amalgamate them and add more items. I am a worker-bee, most in my comfort zone, to borrow a phrase I first heard used by John Kabat-Zinn, as a ‘human doing’ rather than a human being.
One of the interesting things about working four rather than five days – and consequentially earning less money – is that I don’t really feel any poorer. I’ve got easily more than the basics covered and though I thought I’d hate to earn less, in practice it doesn’t seem to matter. I’ve also had the radical counter-cultural realisation that the less stuff I buy, the less I need to earn.
Another interesting thing about working four days rather than five days is that having keenly anticipated the delights of the day at home, I often feel a little lost at some point during the day off. I’ve got the limited protection offered by my to-do list, but the day isn’t propelled by the urgency and busy-ness of school days. At school, the timetable of classes each day means that there are near hourly deadlines for completing marking and planning, nipping to the photocopier to get resources ready, and then, after each class, there’s always a batch of new emails. I like the busy days, or rather, I like that place where I’m prepared enough to not be rushed, but busy enough to have a sense of purpose. On my day at home there is time… I sleep a little longer, take longer over breakfast, meditate and then go to my desk and begin to amalgamate my to-do lists and try to work out a schedule. How much of this precious time should I spend doing the washing up? What are the priorities for the day?
To be, or to do? And how much to try to do? And where does a mindfulness practice come into all of this? A few years ago I felt sure that I wanted to work more. I wanted to stretch myself as much as possible and catapult myself into positions of leadership. I think there’s no coincidence that the developing of a mindfulness practice coincided with a reassessment of what I wanted to spend my time doing – and a sense of self-determination that I could perhaps test the waters of asking my employer for a different arrangement.
What of that occasional feeling of uneasiness that I’m not doing enough, that I’m not busy enough? I think it’s more comfortable, for me, to feel I’m doing too much – but having had years getting familiar with that feeling, it feels fine, in the search of balance, to swing a little in the other direction.